Visas Legal Information

OVERVIEW

Visa lawyers help immigrants, tourists, temporary workers and others apply for a visa from the government of the United States. They can help by providing expert advice on how to handle the application itself; explaining how the process works; and guiding clients to the correct visas for their situations. If something goes wrong during the visa application process, they can also advocate for clients with the correct federal agencies and help with appeals.

It’s possible to do all of this without help from a visa lawyer, but experts don’t usually recommend it. Immigration is a highly politicized issue in the United States. As a result, immigration law is very complicated and changes frequently. Visa lawyers have the knowledge and experience to evaluate your case and help you make the best decisions much more quickly than you might on your own.

In addition, the agencies that handle visas, tourism and immigration are large government bureaucracies. They may be underfunded or suffocated by red tape. Clients may need help understanding complicated rules, choosing the right visa, smoothing the process, or with English-language skills. A visa lawyer can often make the process much easier and faster for clients.


“DOES EVERYONE WHO WANTS TO VISIT THE U.S. NEED A VISA?”

There are three situations where you won’t need a visa to enter the United States. One is when you’re just passing through on the way to another country. You won’t need a visa for this, although you’ll need to show identification and explain your travel plans briefly.

The second situation only applies to citizens and nationals of Bermuda, Canada and Mexico. Canadians and Bermudans without legal trouble or unusual immigration status may travel to the United States temporarily, using proof of identity and citizenship. Mexican citizens must have either a non-immigrant visa or a Border Crossing Card, a semi-permanent “laser visa” that allows restricted travel within the United States for ten years. Nationals of a third country who want to travel from one of these North American countries to the United States will have to apply for a temporary visa.

Finally, 27 other countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, allowing them to travel to the United States temporarily without a visa. (U.S. nationals are also free to visit these nations without visas.) Most are European nations, but not all European nations are included, and the list does not overlap with the list of nations admitted to the European Union. Non-European nations in the program include:

  • Australia
  • Brunei
  • Iceland
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore

“WHAT KINDS OF VISAS ARE AVAILABLE IF I’M JUST VISITING OR WORKING TEMPORARILY?”

Visas for visitors are known as non-immigrant or temporary visas. The majority of these are work visas, but they also
include the following types of temporary visas:

  • Tourist visas, B-2, which are for vacationers, those visiting family and people seeking medical treatment in the United States.
  • Business traveler visas, B-1, for people attending to temporary employment-related matters.
  • Student visas, which are F-1, M-1 or J-1 visas, depending on the type of student.

Among work visas, the most commonly requested are:

  • H-1B visas, which are available to foreign nationals with college degrees and a sponsoring U.S. employer. The recipient can stay for three years, may renew the visa once, and is eligible to bring over any spouse and minor children.
  • L-1 visas, which allow a foreign national who works for an overseas branch of a company to be transferred to a U.S. branch of the same company (or a company owned by their company). They last for seven years.

There are many more kinds of work visas, including ones available to workers with less education, workers in specific categories, and visitors with special skills in the arts, academics or sports. Work visas require sponsorship by an employer. A visa lawyer can help you and your employer find the best visa for your situation.

 

“WHAT VISAS ARE AVAILABLE TO POTENTIAL IMMIGRANTS?”

The first step toward becoming an American citizen or legal permanent resident is usually to apply for an immigrant visa. Even if you are already in the country legally on a temporary visa, you may still have to apply for an immigrant visa.

To get an immigrant visa, you’ll have to be sponsored, either by a family member or by an employer.
Family immigrant visas are available to:

  • Immediate family members, fiancés/fiancées, and recent widows or widowers of U.S. citizens.
  • Spouses and children of people with green cards.
  • Children under 18 who will be adopted by U.S. citizens.

Work-based immigrant visas are available to:

  • People with extraordinary or exceptional ability in education, business, arts, sciences or athletics.
  • Skilled or professional workers.
  • Foreign investors.
  • People with jobs considered “shortage occupations.”
  • Former employees of the U.S. government abroad, and religious workers.

Applying for these and proving your case is complicated, and it’s easy to be denied if you don’t have help. If you’re in violation of immigration law (for example, because you overstayed a temporary visa), you’ll definitely need help from a visa lawyer.


“WHY WOULD THE U.S. GOVERNMENT DENY MY VISA?”

The government will deny your visa if it thinks you might pose a danger to people living in the United States. This could be for any of the following reasons:

  • You have a long criminal record, are known as a drug user or prostitute, or have been convicted of drug trafficking.
  • You have a highly communicable disease like tuberculosis, or haven’t shown the government good proof that you’re immunized against such diseases.
  • You have a serious mental or behavioral problem that could pose a danger to others.
  • The government believes you are a spy, terrorist or Nazi.
  • You can’t show that you have enough skills or resources to support yourself.

Because the visa process is very bureaucratic and competitive, it’s possible that the agency reviewing your visa made a mistake. If that’s the case, you may be able to get a visa after all, by proving that it made a mistake. You can sometimes also get a visa by showing that your mental or physical illness is cured, or that a doctor or other official made a mistake on your first application. In some cases, if you have a strong application, you may be able to get a waiver.

It’s also possible that you left information out of your visa application or made some kind of mistake. A visa lawyer can help you correct these mistakes and provide everything the government needs.

 

PAYMENT

Visa lawyers will charge either a flat rate or an hourly rate, depending on the services you need. Simple or routine applications are most likely to be charged at a flat fee, while complicated matters like appeals are more likely to be hourly matters. A few immigration lawyers offer “a la carte” services, like reviewing a completed application for mistakes, for a flat fee. In either fee structure, you can expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars, and sometimes many thousands.

Be careful of “immigration consultants” or “notarios,” non-lawyers who are in the business of helping people with visa-related legal matters. These are usually people who illegally practice law without a license. There’s nothing to guarantee that they’ll behave honestly or deliver the services they say they’ll deliver. Beware of anyone who claims to be a legal professional who promises a specific outcome to your visa application -- he or she doesn’t have that power.