Skip to main content

Obtaining a Nonimmigrant Visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate Abroad

Overview

In general, anyone who travels to the United States in a nonimmigrant status (e.g. H-1B, L-1, O-1, B-1/B-2) must possess a valid nonimmigrant visa stamp in his or her passport, issued by a U.S. consular post abroad. The visa application process generally consists of two steps: (1) completing Form DS-160, Application for a Nonimmigrant Visa; and (2) paying the visa application fees and scheduling the visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.

This memo outlines the nonimmigrant visa application process at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. For more information about completing Form DS-160, please click here. Once Form DS-160 has been submitted, it is best to print the confirmation page – with the barcode – since this information will need to be submitted at to the U.S. embassy or consulate that will conduct the visa interview.

The next step is to visit the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate where you will attend the visa interview. The website will have specific information regarding visa application fees, reciprocity fees, return of passports after the visa interview, and other local logistics. Links to the websites of U.S. embassies and consulates around the world can be found here: http://www.usembassy.gov/. From the home page of an embassy or consulate, applicants can use the navigation pane to find information about that embassy or consulate’s nonimmigrant visa application process.

Payment of the Visa Application Fee

The Department of State has implemented a tiered structure for nonimmigrant visa application processing fees, also called the Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) fee.  General information regarding visa application fees can be found online at:  https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/fees/fees-visa-services.html.  Instructions for submitting visa application fees to specific U.S. embassies or consulates can be found through the websites of those particular embassies or consulates.

It is important to print the payment confirmation page once the visa application fees have been paid. It is also important to note that, in some cases, there may be additional reciprocity fees which will only be assessed if the visa is approved. Applicants are generally not informed of the additional reciprocity fees until the conclusion of their visa interview, and at that time, the reciprocity fees are paid directly to the consulate.

Scheduling the Visa Interview

Following payment of the MRV fee, an applicant may schedule his or her visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.  Applicants should select a date and time that works for them, keeping in mind that U.S. consulates and embassies may take several business days after the visa is approved to process the visas and return passports to applicants. Up-to-date interview wait times and visa processing times can be found here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/wait-times.html

When scheduling the visa interview, applicants can generally add their dependents (spouses and unmarried children under age 21) to their appointment, so they can attend the interview as a group. Note that children under age 14 are generally not required to attend a visa interview, and the appointment scheduling system usually alerts applicants when this is true.  In these cases, parents may bring their child(ren)’s completed DS-160 visa application(s) and passports with them to their interview.

What to Expect at the Visa Interview

Before a visa interview, it is recommended that applicants ensure their passports have at least one blank (clean) page for the visa stamp to be added. Please note that if an applicant’s passport expires before his or her Form I-797 approval notice or Form I-129S, the visa stamp may still be issued for a date beyond the expiration of the passport. However, once the applicant seeks admission to the U.S. through a U.S. Port of Entry, U.S. Customs & Border Protection may limit the applicant’s period of admission based on the expiration of the passport. For more information about seeking admission to the U.S. through a U.S. Port of Entry, please click here.

Prior to arriving at the interview, applicants should review any security policies available on the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate that will conduct their interview. In general, applicants will be required to go through a security checkpoint. In addition, electronic devices, including cellular telephones, are not permitted in most U.S. consulates or embassies.

On the day of the interview, applicants should arrive at the embassy or consulate approximately 20 minutes before the time of the scheduled appointment. Generally, they should bring the following items with them to the interview: 

  1. Visa appointment confirmation page;
  2. MRV fee receipt(s);
  3. The DS-160 confirmation page(s);
  4. Valid passport with clean page for visa stamp;
  5. Any other passports containing U.S. visa stamps (including expired passports);
  6. One (1) passport style photograph per applicant (taken in accordance with the Department of State specifications listed here);
  7. Original Form I-797 approval notice or Form I-129S, if applicable;
  8. Copy of any underlying petition approved by USCIS, if applicable;
  9. If applicable, proof of relationship for each dependent (including original or certified copies of marriage certificate and/or birth certificate(s)), plus items 1-6; and
  10. Any additional documentation required by a specific U.S. consulate or embassy.

At the U.S. embassy or consulate, applicants are generally fingerprinted and interviewed by a Visa Officer. At the conclusion of the interview, the visa officer will inform the applicant of the result of the nonimmigrant visa application.

Some visa applications are selected for additional administrative processing. If an applicant is selected for administrative processing, he or she must carefully follow all instructions provided by the Visa Officer. Additional information about administrative processing is available here.

Return of Passport

U.S. embassies and consulates generally return the passports of visa applicants by local mail or courier service, according to the local embassy or consulate’s procedures. Assuming no delay for administrative processing, passports with issued visas are usually returned within 3-5 business days. Typically, in-person pickup of passports is not allowed, except in extreme emergency situations.

Upon receipt of the passport containing the nonimmigrant visa, applicants should be sure to check the information on the visa to make sure their name, date of birth, and visa classification are correct. 

Subscribe To Viewpoints