It used to be the case that getting a visa to travel or work in the USA was relatively easy, but this is not the case anymore. Ever since the USA started to tighten its borders after the events of September 11th, getting entry has become a longer and more complex process – although one that is by no means impossible.
Many travellers choose the USA for their gap year and if you are one of them, we’ve come up with this handy guide on getting a visa for the USA with the least amount of hassle possible. So, don’t let getting a visa scare you away from a gap year in the USA – let us guide you through the process instead!
Who Needs a Visa?
The answer to this question really depends on what you are coming to the USA for. Those from certain countries – including the UK – might well be exempt from needing a visa if they are simply travelling to the USA for tourism purposes. Many other countries are also eligible for this too, under the Visa Waiver Program. To find out if your country applies, please check this website. If your country is not covered by the scheme, you’ll need a visa to enter the USA.
On the other hand, anyone coming to the USA with the intention of working will need a visa, including those coming to work in jobs associated with gap years, such as summer camp counsellors and au pairs. There are no exceptions to this rule, regardless of where you come from – even Canadians need a visa to work in the USA.
Types of Visas
Working out which visa you need when travelling to the USA is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome, but really it doesn’t need to be tough. The basic US visas gap year travellers apply for are explained below:
- B-2 Visa
This is the standard tourist visa and is needed if you are travelling to the USA simply for pleasure – not to work. Many citizens from certain countries are exempt from needing this visa, so getting into the USA if you are from one of these countries is really easy. If not, you’ll need to pay $160 to obtain the B-2 visa, which is pretty pricey.
- J-1 Visa
This is for those looking to work in designated jobs in the USA, such as camp counsellors and interns. To be eligible for this visa, you will need to already have a job lined up in the USA before travelling. The type of work you can do will be outlined on the visa, and straying from this type of work will put you in breach of the conditions. When the visa comes to an end, it is possible to apply for an extension, which will cost an extra $246. You can find out more about the J-1 visa here.
- F-1 Visa
If you are planning on going to the USA to study, you will need to obtain an F-1 visa, which will last for the length of the course of study you are enrolled in. If you are studying a non-academic subject, you’ll need to apply for an M-1 visa instead. The cost of both of these visas is generally $160. Find out more about both of these US visas by clicking here.
How to Apply
Applying for a US visa is not as simple as some other countries, as you actually have to attend an embassy in order to have the application processed – something that can be a pain if you live hundreds of miles away. At least the first couple of steps can be done online though, which does help slightly.
Firstly, you’ll need to go online and fill out the DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form, ensuring that you answer every single question as well as possible. When complete, print out the confirmation page, which contains a barcode unique to you. Make sure you double check your form before submitting it, as it can’t be changed once you’ve sent it. Next you’ll need to visit www.usvisa-info.com and create an account, pay them some money and schedule an appointment at your nearest US embassy.
Next comes to the annoying bit – getting to the embassy and completing your application. The reason for needing to attend the embassy is so that you can be given an interview in order to assess your suitability for a visa. The interview is not short either – expect to be inside the embassy for around 3 hours. You must also ensure you bring the correct documents with you, which are detailed here. If you do not bring the correct documents, you will almost certainly be turned away and not get the visa you need. Once the interview has been completed, you should receive your visa within five working days, although it can take longer in some circumstances.
Visa Refused/Cancelled: What Next?
If you have been refused a visa, the chances of getting the decision overturned is a slim one, as the general consensus is that the embassy’s decision is final. The only chance you have is if a Waiver of Ineligibility is filed, which will allow the visa to be issued despite circumstances declaring that it shouldn’t. You will be advised whether you can apply for this by the consular officer. If you aren’t allowed to, you’ll have to begin the application process again and you will not be refunded any of the money you’ve paid.