What is the A-1 visa?
As mentioned, the A-1 visa is the visa that only government employees can obtain. This includes the following government positions:
- Head of State like the President
- Consular officer who will serve at your country’s consulate or embassy in the United States
- Ministers or cabinet members of a foreign country who travel to the United States for government purposes
- Representatives of the European Union (EU) or African Union (AU) government.
- This also includes immediate family members of these groups, such as spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21. The A-1 visa is the only nonimmigrant U.S. visa that allows senior government officials to enter the United States for purposes related to the development of diplomatic relations between the United States and a foreign country. For this reason, local government officials are not eligible for the A-1 visa.
The A-1 visa allows its holders to engage in a variety of activities in the United States. The most important privileges enjoyed by A-1 visa holders are as follows:
- A-1 visa holders can travel in and out of the United States for an unlimited time, as long as their visas are valid
- They cannot be tried in any American government court, despite the crime
- Their visas are processed faster than any other non-immigrant visas
However, depending on your intentions within the country, your A-1 visa may be revoked. This can include cases such as:
- If you are planning to overthrow the US government through illegal means or terrorism
- If you intend to commit crimes, engage in espionage, or export valuable or sensitive information that is prohibited in the United States
- If the Secretary of State determines that there are adverse foreign policy consequences when you enter the United States
- Additionally, A-1 visa holders are not permitted to begin employment in the United States. They are in the country for government purposes, so the US government will not allow them to work. Additionally, A-1 visa holders cannot enroll in study or academic programs, as this does not give them time to focus on the main purpose of the visit.
What are the A-1 visa requirements?
To qualify for the A-1 visa, there are some requirements that government officials must meet. If they are not in an eligible government position, they should look for other types of visas that can help them achieve their goals of visiting the United States. The following people are eligible for the A-1 visa:
- High-level officials such as heads of state or ministers, as well as judicial officers and legislative leaders
- Ambassadors or consular officials who visit the United States for diplomatic purposes
- All representatives of foreign states that maintain diplomatic relations with the United States
- Representatives of countries that do not have diplomatic relations with the United States may be allowed to obtain the A-1 visa if it is determined that visiting the United States is in the country’s best interest
- In addition to meeting the requirements for positions within the government, each applicant must also show the purpose of their visit. The purpose must be government related, otherwise applicants will not be able to apply for an A-1 visa.
How to apply for the A-1 visa?
The application process for the A-1 visa is quite simple and involves fewer procedures than other non-immigrant visas. However, the application cannot be initiated unless the applicant person has a diplomatic passport. So, if you have just been appointed to a government position that qualifies you for the A-1 visa, you must obtain your diplomatic passport before applying.
If you are in the United States on another type of visa, you can send your A-1 visa applications to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but if you are outside the United States, you must go through an embassy or a U.S. consulate located in your country of residence.
After obtaining the diplomatic passport, the procedure for applying for the A-1 visa is as follows:
- Fill out form DS-160
- Form DS-160 is an online application form used for nonimmigrant visas. Depending on the visa you are applying for, it will have the appropriate fields that you will need to fill out. Collects your key personal information as well as information about the purpose of your visit. At the end of the application, when you submit it, you will receive a visa confirmation code or page. You need to save this, as you will need it later in the application process.
Submit the necessary documentation for the A-1 visa
Along with Form DS-160, you will also need to send a folder of documents to the US Embassy or USCIS, depending on where you are applying from. These documents are necessary for your A-1 visa application to be complete:
- A valid diplomatic passport. Your passport must be valid for more than 6 months after your intended departure from the United States.
- The Form DS-160 confirmation page you will receive when you complete the form.
- A photograph that meets the US visa photography requirements
- Diplomatic note written by the government of your country. The note must include:
- Your full name
- Date of birth
- Position within the government
- Travel proposal
- Description of your duties and job position
- Estimated travel period
- Names, dates of birth and relationship to your dependents, if they intend to travel with you
- Names, dates of birth and job positions of assistants or servants, if you need them to travel with you
- Other than the DS-160 form and supporting documents, A-1 visa applicants will not need to undergo any other procedures. Visa interviews usually held for other types of US visas, but are not required for A-1 and A-2 visas. However, the US Embassy may request an interview if it sees reason.
How long is the processing time for the A-1 visa?
Once you submit your A-1 visa application, processing times are extremely short. There are many cases where the visa response is provided immediately on the same day you submit your application. The US embassy officer will stamp your passport and you can then start making travel arrangements for the US if you are applying from another country.
How long is the A-1 visa valid?
Once you obtain your A-1 visa, the U.S. Embassy may grant you a validity period only for your intended travel dates or indefinitely. So, if you travel between September 1st and October 1st, the Embassy may choose to enforce your visa for that month only. However, if you are granted the visa for an indefinite period of time, you may remain in the United States as long as the U.S. government recognizes your government position as qualifying for an A-1 visa.
If you resign, you are not required to immediately return to your country of residence. The Department of State (DOS) takes time to update its records, and when they recognize your resignation, you are required to return.
If your validity period is about to expire, you can request an extension by submitting it to the DOS. You must also have a letter from your government explaining the reasons why you need an extension of stay.
Additionally, you can also apply for a change of status while you are in the United States. To do so, you must submit Form I-566, Interagency Record of Request – A, G or NATO Dependent Employment Authorization or Change/Adjustment to/from A, G or NATO status. This form must be submitted to DOS. If your dependents also request a change of status, you must include them on the form.
Can an A-1 visa be used to obtain a Green Card?
With an A-1 visa, obtaining a Green Card is challenging but not impossible. To become a lawful permanent resident of the United States, A-1 visa holders will have to renounce their diplomatic status. This means they will not have the privileges they had with an A-1 visa. To do so, they must file Form I-508 – Waiver of Rights, Privileges, Exemptions and Immunities.
Thereafter, A-1 visa holders can apply for a green card through marriage, investment, or if they can demonstrate that they cannot safely return to their home country.
Can my dependents accompany me on an A-1 visa?
As previously mentioned, A-1 visa holders may bring their spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 into the United States. They may also invite close relatives or members of their personal family. Dependents can work after obtaining an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS and can also study and enroll in an academic program in the United States.