[This month’s ABCs of Immigration issue is adapted from Greg Siskind’s book, co-authored by Elissa Taub, The Physician Immigration Handbook.]

Most nonimmigrant visa applicants acquire their visas prior to their entrance into the United States. Exceptions to this general practice include visitors using the Visa Waiver Program, Canadiens entering at ports of entry at the U.S.-Canadian border, and individuals in the United States with expired visas who take short trips to contiguous countries and adjacent islands and re-enter using a process called automatic visa revalidation.

Though visa processing is similar from one U.S. consulate to another, there are distinct and important variations to remember. All U.S. consulates have websites and most have information pertaining to the specific requirements for nonimmigrant processing. Typically, the website will include information on the hours of operation, the procedure for scheduling a consultation, how to pay fees, and how long visa processing usually takes.

Every U.S. consulate is a part of the Department of State, which has centralized parts of the nonimmigrant visa application process. Depending upon the type of visa being sought, important differences exist in the overall process. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS’) preliminary approval in H-1B and O-1 visa categories is needed before one can apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate.

Furthermore, each type of visa classification requires documentation which demonstrates qualification for that visa type is necessary as well as the general documentation required for nonimmigrant visa processing. Physicians who seek J-1 visas, for example, are required to present a Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status, prepared by Educational Commission on Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), in addition to either a contract or letter offer from the teaching hospital in which the physician is planning to train.

How does one begin the nonimmigrant visa application process?

Applicants can start the process by submitting a Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application online.

What information is necessary in order to complete the Form DS-169 application?

The Department of State recommends having the following documents and information available when completing the application form:

  • Passport;
  • Travel itinerary, if travel arrangements have been made. A travel itinerary is especially imperative for visitor visa applications;
  • Dates of the last five trips to the United States, for individuals who have previously been to the United States. The Department of State may also request information regarding international trips made in the last five years;
  • Curriculum vita. It is possible the application requires information about work and education history;
  • A copy of the Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, for H-1Bs, O-1s, and other categories requiring that form; and
  • Information of proposed employment, including the employer’s address.

Can questions on the Form DS-160 be left blank?

Generally, it is a requirement to answer all questions, though some questions listed as “optional” obviously do not require an answer. It is also possible that a question is not applicable, to which applicants may answer “Does Not Apply.” Questions pertaining to one’s circumstances and purpose of travel must be answered or else the application will be automatically rejected.

Can a Form DS-160 be saved in the middle of the application and completed later?

Yes, when beginning the form the applicant will receive an identification number after he or she answers a security question. This number along with the answer to the security question can be used to return to the form later, with the information contained within the form retained for up to 30 days. After the 30-day period, it is still possible to enter information from a form saved on a computer. The instructions to do so can be found at http://1/usa.gov/1lm8v7t.

Can information on a DS-160 be accessed for later applications?

Yes. Individuals whose applications were completed after November 1, 2010 can re-populate a new Form DS-160 with information from a previous form.

What happens after the Form DS-160 is filed electronically?

Once the form is filed, the applicant then goes to the website of the U.S. consulate that is responsible for processing his or her visa. The most effective staring point is the consular page of the U.S. embassy website in the home country. That page will generally have information regarding which consulates cover which geographic areas and what types of visas each location handles.

Once the appropriate U.S. consulate website is determined, the applicant should seek information on nonimmigrant visa processing, where he or she can then locate information on how to schedule an appointment, pay the application fee (generally taken care of before the appointment by third parties such as banks), and what documentation he or she needs to bring to the interview. The documentation will include a printout of the Form DS-160, which will have a bar code which the U.S. consulate will be able to read.

Can a different U.S. consulate than the one indicated on the DS-160 form process the application?

Yes. The consular officer at the new U.S. consulate will need the printed DS-160 form with the bar code. He or she will then be able to access the same information as the original consular officer.

What are the photo requirements for nonimmigrant applications?

Applicants are able to upload their pictures as part of the DS-160 online application process. It is possible, if this method is not successful or completed, to provide the U.S. consulate with a photograph that adheres to the Department of State requirements, which can be found at http://1.usa.gov/1rFviqU. The photo, according to the Department of State, needs to adhere to the following requirements:

  • Must be in color.
  • Must be sized such that the head is between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches (22 mm and 35 mm) or 50% and 69% of the image’s total height from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.
  • Taken within the last six months to reflect the applicant’s current appearance.
  • Taken in front of a plain white or off-white background.
  • Taken in full-face view directly facing the camera.
  • Taken with a neutral facial expression and both eyes open.
  • Taken in clothing that the applicant would normally wear on a daily basis.
  • Taken without a uniform, except religious clothing that is worn daily.
  • Taken without a hat or head covering that obscures the hair or hairline, unless worn daily for a religious purpose. Your full face must be visible, and the head covering must not cast any shadow over the applicant’s face.
  • Taken without headphones, wireless hands-free devices, or similar items.
  • Taken without dark glasses.
  • If the applicant normally wears glasses (without tinted lenses), a hearing device, or similar articles, they are acceptable. Glare on glasses, however, is not acceptable.

There are specific requirements the digital photo needs to meet if it is uploaded with the Form DS-160. Additionally, some U.S. consulates require applicants to bring photographs with them regardless of whether they uploaded the photo with the Form DS-160. For more specific information, consult the U.S. consulate’s website or e-mailed instructions.

How are family members processed?

It is required that each family member who is entering with the principal applicant receive separate visa approval. Generally, the family members will need to document their relationship to the principal applicant, in the form of a birth certificate or marriage certificate, as long as the applicant provides a certified translation. In the event that family members are not processing at the same time as the principle applicant, the family members need to provide documentation that the spouse is in compliance with the terms of his or her visa, (recent paystubs, a letter from the employer, and a copy of the principal applicant’s visa, I-94, and other items such as Forms I-129 and DS-2019), as well as the normal items provided as part of nonimmigrant visa processing.

If the family is processing together, all of the applications can be submitted together. Once the principal applicant completes the DS-160, he or she is provided the opportunity to create a family or group application. While each family member will still need to create individual applications, information from the principal applicant’s application will automatically populate in each family member’s individual applications.

What additional information should be provided for each type of nonimmigrant visa?

B-1 visitor visas

Physicians seeking to enter the United States to prepare for graduate medical training should present the following documents when applying for a visitor visa:

  1. Documents required by the specific U.S. consulate, which may include:
    1. Appointment confirmation page from online scheduling website;
    2. DS-160 confirmation page with the bar code;
    3. Visa photo;
    4. Fee payment receipt; and
    5. Current passport valid for at least six months.
  2. Documentation of nonimmigrant intent, including:
    1. Evidence of a residence abroad;
    2. Evidence of ties to the home country, including, but not limited to, evidence of:
  1. Having a job abroad;
  2. Owning property;
  • Enrollment in school outside the United States;
  1. Close relatives residing in the home country (such as a spouse and/or children who are not travelling with the applicant); and
  2. Other social and cultural ties to the home country.
  1. A return airline ticket that is consistent with the length of time necessary to take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), interview with programs, or participate in an observership.
  2. Evidence of the physician’s medical credentials, such as diplomas or licenses.
  3. Documents relating to the reason for the visit to the United States, such as:
    1. USMLE test registration documentation, if applicable;
    2. Interview confirmation letters, if applicable;
    3. Observership or clerkship pre-approval letter; and
    4. A letter from ECFMG confirming USMLE registration and the necessity to travel to the United States for this purpose before a specific date. ECFMG will issue this letter upon request after registering for USMLE Step 2. The letter can be requested at ECFMG.org
  4. Documents relating to the itinerary of the physician, including hotel stays, car rentals, etc.
  5. Documentation that the physician, or someone else assisting the physician, can pay for the trip, including demonstrating that the physician has the funds to cover expenses during the trip to the United States.
  6. Documentation of the physician’s medical credentials, including diplomas, test results, certifications, etc.

E-2 visas and Form DS-156E

The procedures for E-2 visas are significantly different from one U.S. consulate to the next. The physician’s immigration attorney will generally submit the Form DS-156E, Investor Visa, Treaty Trader Application, by mail and the treaty visa officer at the U.S. consulate will review the case. This review at numerous U.S. consulates takes several months to complete. Typically, the consular officer notifies the physician’s attorney once the case has been reviewed and the physician will be invited to attend the interview at the U.S. consulate. It is possible that the consular officer may request the physician bring additional items to the interview, which is generally a longer proves than other types of visa applications.

Though E-2 visas are not dual intent, evidence of a residence abroad is not required. Regardless of this, if an applicant can present documentation of ties to the home country and/or evidence that the applicant is going to return to the home country once the E-2 status is over, it can be beneficial.

J-1 visas

J-1 applicants should provide the consular officer with the following:

  • The Form DS-2019. One for the J-1 and separate ones for the J-2 applicants;
  • Documentation of nonimmigrant intent;
  • The contract or offer letter from the graduate medical training program; and
  • Whine not technically a requirement, it is highly recommended to have documentation available which was previously submitted to ECFMG when obtaining the DS-2019, including the ECFMG certificate, USMLE test results, transcripts, etc.

H-1B and O-1 visas

It is not necessary for H-1B and O-1 visa applicants to document nonimmigrant intent. They should, however, bring copies of documents submitted to USCIS as part of the I-129 application and documentation that the job offer, and by extension the basis for the petition, is still valid. A letter from the employer confirming that the job continues to be offered on the same terms as included in the H-1B or O-1 application will usually suffice.

H-1B1 and E-3 visas

The same documentation included in H-1B visas should be included in H-1B1 and E-3 applications. Neither N-1B1 nor E-3 visas are dual intent, so documentation of nonimmigrant intent should be included, with the exception that E-3s are not required to prove residence abroad.

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Disclaimer: This newsletter is provided as a public service and not intended to establish an attorney client relationship. Any reliance on information contained herein is taken at your own risk.

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