What types of US visas can you apply for as a UK citizen?
Thinking of moving stateside and not sure which visa you can apply for? Checkout our helpful US visa guide for British nationals.
Making the move from a relatively small island like the UK to the vast United States of America might seem like an alluring option.
However, there process of moving there can be a long and complicated one.
So, what are your options if you want to visit or even start a new life across the pond?
What types of visas are there?
There are two types of American visas - immigrant and non-immigrant.
An immigrant visa allows someone to move to the US permanently (to live with American family members, for example).
A non-immigrant visa allows someone entry to the US on a temporary basis for various reasons such as tourism, medical treatment, business, work or study.
There are many different visa categories for different purposes, all named by letters and numbers, such as H1-B.
Do I need a visa to go on holiday to America?
UK citizens can apply for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) for trips of less than 90 days. This is a visa-waiver which allows you to enter the US as a visitor only (no working allowed). ESTA currently costs $14. It can be used for each trip you make within two years, and you simply apply online at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta.
Please note: The US government eased its travel restrictions on 8 November. The US is open for travel to those who are fully vaccinated with any COVID-19 vaccine approved for emergency use by the World Health Organisation or approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
How can I stay longer?
If you want to make your stay even longer and be legally allowed to live temporarily in America, you only have a few options - study, work, love or money.
How can I get a visa as a student?
If you want to study in the US or participate in an educational exchange program, there are several types of visas you can apply for.
As a student, you could qualify for F-1, M-1, J-1 or Q-1 visas, depending on your course of study. You must be enrolled in an approved school or university in the United States which is part of the Student and Exchange Visitor programme (SEVIS).
As part of the application process, you must prove you have significant ties to your home country (for example a home you own, close family connections, financial commitments) and attend an embassy interview.
Do I need a visa to work in America?
Yes. America is well known as the land of opportunity, and with high salaries and good working conditions it’s no surprise that many Brits dream of coming Stateside to further their careers.
But doing so is not an easy process, and you must first be hired by an American employer who is willing and able to sponsor you before you have any chance of getting a work visa stamped inside your passport.
How can I get a work visa?
My husband and I first came to the US as teachers on three year J-1 visas (mentioned above). We were part of a cultural exchange programme, teaching our American students all about Britain.
At the end of our contracts, we were required to return to the UK as a condition of our visas, although this period can now be extended up to 5 years. J-1 work visas are also available for medical graduates (seven-year stay), professors and researchers (5-year stay), au pairs/nannies (one-year stay) and summer camp counselors (4-month stay).
Other work visas are available to journalists, actors, musicians, entertainers and religious workers, and are generally limited to the length of your contract in the US. There are also short-term temporary visas for occupations where there is a shortage of staff, such as farmworkers, although these may be seasonal and are subject to review.
Another option is to apply for one of the various categories of L-visas for company transfers. This type of visa allows foreign workers to relocate to their corporation's US office, initially for three years.
To qualify for a L-visa, you must be coming to America in an executive, managerial or specialised knowledge capacity to be employed by a US parent, subsidiary or affiliate company (Coca Cola and Apple are obvious examples).
You also need to have been working for this organisation in the UK for at least 12 months at the time of your application.
What is a H1-B visa?
The most popular long-term work visa is the H-1B.This is a dual-intent visa which means that once granted, you are allowed to apply for a Green Card to become a permanent US resident.
However, the H-1B is only available to those with speciality occupations, such as doctors, teachers, lawyers, IT professionals and architects. This visa requires a higher education degree and/or 12 years' work experience in your specialist field.
The number of new H-1B visas each year is also limited - currently capped at 85,000, and each H-1B visa can be extended up to (and even beyond) 6 years.
If I don’t have a job, are there other ways to get a visa?
Yes, love and money can also get you a visa. But you need to be extremely serious and deeply committed in both cases.
Which visa is for investors?
The EB-5 visa is for investors who can create jobs to boost the economy, particularly in deprived or rural areas of the USA. So if you are an entrepreneur who fancies funding a new or existing business with jobs for at least 10 Americans, this visa could be your ticket to a new life in the US.
It can even lead to permanent residency (a Green Card) for you, your spouse and children. But be warned, this investment doesn’t come cheap.
How much money do I need to invest?
If you are interested in this visa option, be prepared to spend at least $1,8 million. If your investment is in a designated targeted employment area then the minimum investment requirement is $900,000.
How can I get a finance visa?
If you fall in love with an American citizen, you can apply for a K-1 visa once you are engaged. You must have seen each other in person within the previous two years, and you must get married within 90 days of your arrival in the United States.
When applying for this visa, you must pass a medical exam and prove your relationship is real (“bona fide” in immigration-speak) and be prepared to show photos, correspondence and written statements from people who know you both as a couple, for example.
Alternatively, you could get married in the UK, and then your American spouse can sponsor you for a Green Card.
Which family members can sponsor a Green Card?
If you have an immediate family member (spouse, parent, child or sibling) who is an American citizen, you may be able to get a Green Card allowing you to emigrate permanently.
However, this can be a lengthy and expensive process, as your relatives must sponsor you and prove they can support you financially (this includes having enough funds to cover any medical costs, which can be extremely expensive). Family-based applications are a very popular route to US immigration, and the State Department limits the number granted each year, so you may be in for a very long wait.
How has Covid-19 affected US visa applications?
According to the Davies Legal team of lawyers which has offices in London and Atlanta, the pandemic has had a huge impact on visas and immigration. “There has been a seismic decline in the number of business visas being processed through the US Embassy in London, which has operated at limited capacity since March 2020, says immigration attorney Kaitlin Davies.
However, her firm also reports that there have been speedier application times for spousal visas. Some of these visas have been approved in about 8 months, rather than the usual 12-18 months.
The bottom line
Getting a visa to come to America is certainly not easy or straightforward. It is highly recommended that you work closely with a specialist immigration lawyer or attorney, and be prepared to pay hefty application fees too (which are not refunded if you are refused).
You will need to attend an interview at the US Embassy in London and, if successful, be subject to strict conditions to keep your visa status valid. But having said all that, if you are determined to make the move and overcome any obstacles you may face, your American dream and a wonderful new life Stateside is definitely worth jumping a few hoops for.