Timeframe to Get a Nonimmigrant U.S. Visa Approved

If you are applying for a nonimmigrant visa to the United States, learn how long it will take your application to be approved and make sure the visa is ready in time for your trip.

Updated by , Attorney · University of Arizona College of Law

If you are applying for a nonimmigrant visa to the United States—that is, a temporary visa for business, travel, study, medical treatment, or some other allowable reason—you'll need to plan ahead to make sure it's ready in time for your trip. This typically involves:

  • researching and preparing any needed documents
  • checking on the typical wait times to attend an in-person interview at your local U.S. consulate
  • attending a visa interview at a U.S. consulate (unless this requirement is waived or lifted in your case), and
  • the consulate handling visa processing, printing, and delivery.

Visas to legally enter the United States are processed through the State Department, via U.S. embassies and consulates around the world.

Note also that if you're from a country on the United States' list of "Visa Waiver" countries, you don't actually need a visa to come to the United States for a brief (90-day) trip for tourism or business. You can simply apply through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and present yourself at a U.S. border, airport, or other entry point. To learn more about the Visa Waiver Program, and access the State Department's list of participating countries, go to the Visa Waiver section of the State Department's website.

Preparing Advance Documentation in Support of Visa Application

No matter what type of U.S. nonimmigrant visa you're applying for, you're expected to bring some supporting documentation to show that you meet the basic eligibility criteria and aren't inadmissible to the United States. For example:

  • If you're seeking a B visitor visa (for tourism), you'll need to fill out an application form online (DS-160) and bring documentation showing ties to your home country and financial stability, such as proof of employment, income, property ownership, and savings.
  • If you're seeking an F-1 student visa, you need to have an approved Form I-20 from the school you plan to attend, showing that it has admitted you. You will also need to show how you will pay for your tuition and living expenses in the United States.
  • If you've been offered a job with a U.S. employer, the employer will probably need to submit a petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker) and get it approved before you can prepare and submit your visa application.

Some of the above steps can require weeks or months of planning and communication with U.S. government agencies.

Checking Approximate Wait Times at U.S. Consulates

When ready to submit your application, you will normally make an appointment at a U.S. consulate in your home country. To find out the exact procedures, check the website of your local U.S. consulate.

Then, to find out how long you will likely have to wait to get an interview there, go to the State Department's Web page on Visa Appointment Wait Times. There, you'll be able to select your country from a drop-down menu and find out typical waits at that consulate for not only the interview, but for visa processing after the interview.

As alluded to above, the consular interview requirement can be lifted in certain cases. Most notably, to deal with backups, the Department of State announced that beginning in January, 2024, U.S. consular officers can waive the visa interview requirement for:

hat the following categories of interview waivers are in the national interest. Changes based on that determination are implemented by consular officers, who now have the authority and discretion to waive the in-person interview for:

  • first time H-2 visa applicants (temporary agricultural and non-agricultural workers), and
  • other applicants for nonimmigrant visas who:
    • Were previously issued a nonimmigrant visa in any classification, unless it was a B visa, and
    • are applying within 48 months of their most recent nonimmigrant visa's expiration date.

      Of course, if the application contains signs of potential ineligibility for the visa in question, and interview is likely to be scheduled.

      What Happens at a Visa Interview at the U.S. Consulate

      At your visa interview, you will meet with a U.S. consular officer and present your documentation. Don't expect a sit-down meeting—it's more likely to be conducted through a glass window, and to happen very quickly.

      Although the consular officer might give you a provisional okay at the end of this encounter, you're unlikely to receive your actual visa on the same day. First, your name, fingerprints, and other biographical information will need to be run through various security and fraud checks.

      Assuming you pass those, your visa will be delivered to you through a delivery service or you'll be asked to return to the U.S. consulate to pick it up on another day. Unfortunately, if you have a common name, or if any questionable information arises, these security checks can take several weeks.

      Seek Professional Advice

      If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to discuss your options and opportunities with an experienced U.S. immigration attorney, ideally in the state where you plan to enter the United States. (Immigration law is federal, however, so an attorney in any state can give you general advice.) But if you have trouble at the airport or other entry point, it's handy to be able to call a local attorney for help.

      Talk to an Immigration attorney.
      We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.
      There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
      Full Name is required
      Email is required
      Please enter a valid Email
      Phone Number is required
      Please enter a valid Phone Number
      Zip Code is required
      Please add a valid Zip Code
      Please enter a valid Case Description
      Description is required

      How It Works

      1. Briefly tell us about your case
      2. Provide your contact information
      3. Choose attorneys to contact you