The process of applying for a visa to come to the United States is lengthy and complex, even at its best. Two bills currently pending in the U.S. Congress would modify various aspects of the visa application process, and they could possibly complicate the process even further for some prospective immigrants. H.R. 5203, the Visa Integrity and Security Act (VISA) of 2016, would affect how petitions are submitted, the extent of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) background checks, and the burden of proof to establish visa eligibility. H.R. 5253, the Strong Visa Integrity Secures America Act (SVISAA), would modify procedures for vetting visa applicants and for sharing information within DHS and between DHS and the Department of State (DOS).
U.S. immigration law provides for two broad categories of visas. An immigrant visa allows a person to come to the U.S. with the intention of remaining permanently, usually after qualifying through a family member or an employer. Someone who comes to the U.S. on an immigrant visa often applies to adjust their status to lawful permanent residence, also known as a “green card.” Once they have been in the U.S. long enough, they might be able to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. By contrast, a nonimmigrant visa allows a person to come to the U.S. temporarily for a specific purpose. A B-1 tourist visa, for example, allows a person to visit the U.S. but not to work, while an H-1B visa allows a person to hold a job in the U.S. while the visa remains valid. Nonimmigrant visa holders who remain in the U.S. after their visa expires are said to be “overstaying” their visa.
A person petitioning for a visa typically files the petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is part of DHS. A prospective immigrant located outside the U.S., however, has to go through a U.S. consulate in the country where they are located. The U.S. consulates are part of DOS.