Visas to the U.S. for Individuals Without U.S. Citizenship

Please Note: This article is for non-immigrant visas only, and applies primarily to Olim who are married to native Israelis.

You and your spouse may both be Israeli citizens, but when you decide to visit the U.S., if your spouse is not a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder), s/he will most likely need a U.S. visa – a visa is issued by the U.S. State Department at an overseas Consulate.

This visa allows a foreign national to travel to the United States. However, it does not guaranty entry. At the airport, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer can deny admission to any foreign national, even someone with a visa and a U.S. citizen spouse and U.S. child.

Who Doesn’t Need a Visa?
If besides being an Israeli citizen, your spouse is a citizen of one of the 36 countries in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) or a citizen of Canada, a visa will most likely not be needed. The countries in the VWP are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom.  Israel is not in the VWP.

Under the VWP, a foreign national can visit, but not work, in the United States for up to 90 days. There are no extensions, unless a person is hospitalized or there is a death in the family – and an immigration lawyer should be retained to get the extension from U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS).  If someone overstays the 90 days, even by one day, s/he will never be allowed to use the VWP again.

Before traveling on the VWP, foreign nationals must register online with the new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), ideally more than 72 hours before traveling:  http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/id_visa/esta/  

Canadians may be allowed in for as long as six months.

Who Is Not Admitted to the U.S.

  • People who have overstayed authorized stays in the U.S. in the past
  • People who have stayed over 90 days when on the Visa Waiver Program in the past, and do not present visas
  • People who do not answer questions honestly
  • People whom the CBP Officer believes want to stay permanently in the U.S.or will violate the terms of their visa or the VWP
  • People who have the wrong visa for the purpose of their visit
  • People without unexpired biometric passports
  • People with criminal records

If an individual’s personal history includes one of these disqualifiers, it is advisable to consult with an experienced U.S. immigration attorney before traveling or applying for a new visa.

Obtaining the Right Visa
Non-immigrant visas are distinguished by alphabet letters. The most commonly used by Israelis are B (visitor for business or pleasure), E-1 (treaty trader), F (student), J (exchange visitor) H (specialty occupation), L (intracompany transferee), O (extraordinary ability), and R (religious worker.)

Visitors (B-1 and B-2)
As long as the visa applicant can provide strong documentation of the intent to return to Israel at the conclusion of the authorized stay, an applicant for a B visa can generally apply for the visa without a lawyer’s assistance.  Producing evidence of a  continuing lease of an apartment, ownership of a home and/or car, unrelinquished employment, or employment that necessitates travel to the U.S. for a business meeting or school enrollment, usually suffice.  

The procedures for applying for a non-immigrant visa and making the necessary appointment are on the Consular websites for Tel Aviv (http://israel.usembassy.gov/consular/niv/nonimmigrant.html) and Jerusalem
(http://jerusalem.usconsulate.gov/non-immigrant_visas.html). It is important to complete all forms 100% honestly and bring an original and photocopy of all required documents to the visa appointment.  Before beginning the process, it is important to understand the regulations and limitations of your particular visa. This information can be found on the website of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (USCIS) at www.uscis.gov. Click on the left side where it says “New to U.S. Immigration?” then click on the left side where it says “Visit the U.S.”  

Students and Exchange Visitors (F-1 and J-1)
Applicants for F (student) and J (exchange visitor) visas must bring the official forms given to them by the school or sponsoring program to the Consulate. A student needs to present Form I-20 and an exchange visitor Form DS-2019. U.S. schools and sponsoring programs have Foreign Student Advisors whose job it is to guide the applicants through the application process. Detailed information about the F and J visa programs is on the U.S. Department of State website:
For F visas: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1268.html  
For J visas: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1267.html#6

Applicants for F and J visas also have to satisfy the Consulate that they have non-immigrant intent.

Working Visas (E-1, H, L, O, R)
While E and R visas can be applied for directly at the Consulates, the requirements for these visas are highly detailed and a U.S. immigration lawyer should be consulted to assure success. There has been tremendous scrutiny of religious worker visas over the years by both the State Department and USCIS because of widespread fraud. No one should apply for an R visa unless s/he is truly going to work full-time in the religious capacity described to the Consulate.

In order to apply for an H, L, or O visa, the applicant is required to have a prior approval of the status from USCIS.  Again, the complexity of the requirements makes consultation with an experienced U.S. immigration lawyer essential.

Other Situations
There are other non-immigrant visas besides the ones discussed above, and special classifications available for citizens of Canada and Mexico (NAFTA Treaty Entry), Australia (E-3 entry), and Chile and Singapore (reserved H-1B visas).

U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (green card holders) can file petitions to obtain lawful permanent residence for their family members. These are immigrant visas and beyond the scope of this article.

Thank you to Jo Anne Adlerstein for preparing this article. Jo Anne is a U.S.  immigration lawyer who made Aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh. For further information, please contact Jo Anne at: jadlerstein@ctswlaw.com