According to U.S. immigration law, an immigrant visa is defined as a type of visa document which allows a foreign national to enter into the U.S., and eventually apply for lawful permanent residency. Generally speaking, lawful permanent residents are granted the same rights as natural-born citizens. This includes the right to work in the country, as well as the right to pursue citizenship.

Immigrant visas can be thought of as three broad categories. Generally speaking, a person who is seeking an immigrant visa must first find a person or organization who will petition them to relocate to the U.S. Because of this, immigrant visas are generally categorized according to the applicant’s relationship to their petitioner.

An example of this would be the following types of immigrant visa categories:

  • Family-Based: Some of the most common petitioners may include immediate relatives, close family members, fiancés, and/or other people who are willing to help the applicant receive their visa;
  • Employment-Based: Employers may act as a petitioner in order to petition a worker to relocate permanently to the U.S; and
  • Special Immigrants: An example of special immigrants as employees would be religious workers, or applicants who are from selected countries.

It is important to note that for some employment-based immigration visas, work certification may be required. What this means is that the employer will need to verify that the person is filling a legitimate employment need.

Immigrant visas are largely characterized by the applicant’s general intent to relocate permanently to the United States. This is in contrast to other types of non-immigrant visas, in which the applicant only intends to stay temporarily. An example of this would be student visas, or temporary work visas.

An applicant for nonimmigrant status will need to prove that they do not intend to stay or live permanently in the United States. Additionally, there are specific factors that may exclude an applicant from receiving a non-immigrant visa, such as a criminal felony record.

What Is An Accompanying Visa?

An accompanying visa is a specific type of visa that is issued to family members who may be traveling with a foreign national to the U.S. The original visa applicant is referred to as the “principal applicant,” and they must be qualified to travel to the U.S. based on the visa category that they applied under.

When the principal applicant has been verified, an accompanying person may travel with them if they are granted an accompanying visa. Generally speaking, the accompanying visa will be issued within 6 months of the date that the principal was issued their visa. However, keep in mind that application requirements and processing times largely depend on what type of visa has been provided to the principal who is traveling to the U.S.

Additionally, it is important to note that not all visa categories allow for accompanying visas. In general, accompanying visas may include:

  • The H-4 Visa: An H-4 Visa is the accompanying visa for the H1-B working visa. An H-4 visa is a non-immigrant visa that is meant for the close family members of someone who is on a H visa. It allows the spouse and/or unmarried children (as long as they are under 21 years old) of an H visa holder to enter the United States. They may live with the visa holder while the H visa holder is employed in the U.S.
    • In order to qualify for a H-4 visa, you have to be the spouse of an unmarried minor child (under 21 years old) of a H visa holder. H-4 visas are generally issued overseas by the U.S. consulate of the country that you are in. However, if you are already in the U.S. you must file form I-539 in order to request a change of status.;
  • The J-2 Visa: The J-2 Visa accompanies the J-1 visa and is generally available to the spouse or dependents of a J-1 visa holder. The J-1 visa allows people to temporarily reside in the United States in order to participate in cultural exchange programs, which are sponsored by schools, businesses, or other U.S. State Department authorized organizations.
    • Similar to other “family” or “dependent” visas, the status of the J-2 visa holder is entirely dependent upon the status of the principal J-1 visa holder. If the visa of the principal J-1 visa holder expires, and the participant must return to their home country, so do their dependents who are on J-2 visas;
  • The L-2 Visa: The L-2 is the accompaniment for the L-1 working visa. The dependents of L-1 visa holders, including spouses and unmarried children under 21 years old, are eligible to accompany their relative who is on an L-2 visa. The period of stay is the same duration as the L-1 visa holder. What this means is that you can remain in the U.S. for as long as your L-1 spouse or parent has a valid status.
    • The initial period of stay for L-1 visa holders is three years, with the option to extend the stay until total validity has been reached. As such, if your spouse or parent is an L-1A holder, you can stay in the U.S for a total of seven years on an L-2 visa. For L-1B dependents, the maximum stay is five years; and
  • The E3-D Visa: The E3-D visa accompanies the E-3 visa, which is considerably specific and is the work visa for Australians.

What Are The Requirements For Obtaining An Accompanying Visa? What Are Some Examples Of Restrictions?

Requirements for accompanying visas can vary depending on which category of visa the principal is traveling under. Generally speaking, most accompanying visa applications will require the following:

  • Evidence of the person’s relationship to the principal;
  • Payment of various filing fees;
  • Submission of various travel documents, including but not limited to passports, photo IDs, and medical records;
  • Indications that the person is not staying in the U.S. with “the intent to deceive immigration authorities,” meaning that they will not overstay a visa; and
  • Any other records or documents that are being requested by immigration authorities.

One other requirement is that the applicant can have no criminal record. This information will be obtained from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (“FBI”) within 3 months of the issuance date, and must be certified by the U.S. State Department.

These requirements may vary according to the nature of the visa, as well as the overall purpose of the visit. Any violations of visa terms and agreements can result in legal consequences, such as removal or citation.

To reiterate, the people who can apply for an accompanying visa are generally limited to:

  • The spouse or fiancé of the principal; and/or
  • The child or children of the principal, if they are under 21 years of age.

One of the restrictions for those who enter the U.S. under an accompanying visa is that they usually are not permitted to work, even if the principal has entered the U.S. under a work visa. However, there may be exceptions if the accompanying person can work. An example of this would be how J-2 visa holders can sometimes work in the U.S., while H-4 visa holders cannot work.

Do I Need A Lawyer For An Accompanying Visas?

Accompanying visas are generally issued as a privilege for travelers. If you need help with an accompanying visa, you should speak with an immigration lawyer who can assist in navigating the complex immigration procedures required.

Additionally, your attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, should any issues arise.