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Key Concepts and Overview

Nonimmigrants are subject to multiple sets of rules governing what they can do in the U.S. and for how long.  These sets of rules consist of nonimmigrant visa categories, denoted by letter, that now range from A through V.  All of these main categories have at least one sub-category, and some have several.  The O and P categories are among the few work-related classifications, and to acquire O or P classification, a U.S. petitioner must first file a petition with USCIS to qualify the alien (not the dependents, who are dealt with later in the process).

Our Filing Timeline outlines the many steps involved in the visa petition process.  Aliens seeking permission to work in the U.S. in O or P classification must first obtain USCIS approval of a petition filed with one of the two USCIS service centers. Obtaining petition approval takes time and planning. The petitioner - who cannot be the alien - must select the appropriate nonimmigrant classification, prepare the necessary forms, and gather the required evidence, including a union consultation if needed. The petitioner must know which of the two USCIS regional service centers to use, provide the correct filing fee, complete the forms properly, submit the correct number of copies, and file sufficiently far in advance of the required entry date to account for processing times, visa application times, and the unexpected. Following the rules carefully should yield an I-797 Approval Notice.

Once USCIS approves the petition, the alien then applies for a visa at a U.S. consular post abroad, unless no visa is required, as in the case of Canadian citizens.  The alien completes a visa application form, pays any necessary fees, and applies for a visa in the category selected. With the visa, the alien will be able to appear for inspection at a U.S. preflight inspection facility (PFI) or port of entry (POE) (an airport or a land border post) to be admitted in the appropriate status, for the required length of time. Once in the U.S., the alien might seek an extension of stay or a change of status by filing a petition or application.