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Visiting the U.S. While Waiting for Immigration Visa Approval

Posted on in Visas

New Canaan immigration visa attorney visitor visasGiven the long waiting times for U.S. family immigration visas, many people wonder if they can visit their family in the United States while their visa application is pending. The short answer is yes, but as explained below, visits require advance planning.

The Waiting Time for an Immigration Visa Can Be Months or Years

The estimated processing times for Form I-130 petitions for family immigration are currently:

  • Five to seven months for a spouse or child under age 21 of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or a parent of a U.S. citizen. 
  • 67 to 87 months for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident filing for an unmarried child over age 21.
  • 71 to 92 months for a U.S. citizen filing for a married child over age 21.

The wait is much shorter for the first category, because there are no annual limits on visas for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, while there are quotas for the other categories shown above. Wait times are for September 2018 at the Vermont USCIS service center.

Visiting the U.S. While a Family-Based Immigration Visa is Pending

While awaiting approval of an immigration visa, a person may enter the U.S. as a short-term visitor. Depending on their home country, visitors must apply in advance for either a travel authorization or nonimmigrant (visitor) visa, as explained below. 

Note that a travel authorization or visitor visa is not a guarantee of admission to the U.S. Upon on arrival in the United States, the visitor will be screened by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials. During this screening, be sure to honestly answer any questions asked. CBP agents can refuse admission if they suspect that a visitor is attempting to skirt U.S. immigration laws.

Visitors from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) Countries

If their passport is from one of the 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), a foreign citizen can visit the U.S. for up to 90 days for either business or tourism without applying for a visitor visa. The VWP covers most European countries, as well as Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. 

Prior to travel, one must apply through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will determine whether an individual poses a law enforcement or security risk, in which case travel authorization would be denied. 

Visitors From Non-VWP Countries

Citizens of non-VWP countries (with some exceptions for Canada and Bermuda) must apply for a nonimmigrant business (B-1) or tourism (B-2) visa. These visas allow visitors to remain in the U.S. for up to six months, but a CBP official may assign a shorter deadline upon entry to the U.S. 

Apply for visitor visas well in advance of travel. A traveler may have to wait as long as six weeks to get an interview appointment at a U.S. embassy or consulate. The visa may be issued at the time of the appointment, but in some cases, a traveler might have to wait up to 60 days for additional processing. 

There is a chance of denial, particularly for citizens of countries with a high level of immigration fraud, visa denials, and/or visa overstays (e.g., China, India, Mexico). Travelers should be prepared to show evidence that they intend to return to their home country and not overstay their visa. Such evidence may include a return plane ticket, proof of a permanent address and/or employment in their home country, and sufficient money to pay for their planned stay in the U.S. People who have already applied for an immigration visa can expect extra scrutiny when they apply for a visitor’s visa and when they enter the U.S. 

Trust a Savvy Fairfield County, CT Immigration Attorney 

If you want to sponsor a family member for immigration to the United States, let a seasoned Stamford, CT immigration lawyer take the lead. At Gonzalez Law Office, LLC, we can help smooth the pathway to immigration for you. Contact us at 203-323-1440 to arrange a consultation. 






Fairfield County Bar Association Connecticut Bar Association American Immigration Lawyers Association Connecticut American Immigration Lawyers Association
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