Immigration

Transit C Visa

Hundreds if not thousands of citizens from other countries come to the US every day. Some of them enter the country illegally. Some come in the hopes of starting a new life and raising a family in America as naturalized citizens. Others come to study at a university or college for a few years.

Many foreign nationals, on the other hand, enter the US with no intention of staying for more than a few days or even a few hours. By cruise ship, airplane or car, travelers from all over the world come to the US everyday as part of their travels to some other country. What you may not realize is, even if you don't intend on staying here, you may need a transit C visa to enter the US as part of your journey.

If you're planning a trip that includes a stopover in the US, you should know if you need a transit visa and how to go about getting one.

Specifics on Transit C Visas

Generally, you need a C visa if you're a foreign national ("alien" or non-US citizen) who is passing through the US on your way to another country. For example, you need a transit visa if you're:

  • A passenger leaving from a foreign port on a cruise ship or other vessel that has a final destination other than the US and, during the course of the journey, the vessel stops at a US port
  • Traveling with a layover in the US, and during the layover, you plan on visiting friends or sightseeing, or simply want to be able to leave the airport, seaport or other layover site
  • A crewmember who's traveling to the US as a passenger to join a ship or plane that's in the US

A transit C visa is good for a maximum of 29 days. The idea here is to give you enough time to complete the US portion of your journey, with allowance for unforeseen delays in travel, such as weather-related events, as well as time to do other things that are incidental to your trip, such as sightseeing.

Do You Qualify for a C Visa?

There are number of things you need to be able to show or prove to get a C visa. Specifically you have to show that:

  • Your entry into the US is solely for immediate and continuous transit through the US to some other foreign destination. In short, you have to be able to show that you have no intention of staying in the US and that you're headed someplace else
  • You have definite, finalized travel plans to your destination. For example, you need a plane ticket or some other proof of your travel plans
  • You have enough money to support yourself while in the US
  • Another country has given you permission to enter after you leave the US. A valid passport is good evidence of your ability to enter the other country
  • You have a home in another country where you'll return at the end of your stay in the US and/or when your travel is complete. Proof that you have family, own property or have business obligations in the foreign country is usually enough to show that you have a home to return to

A critical factor in qualifying for a transit C visa is that you have to be "admissible" before you'll be allowed to enter the US. "Admissibility" is based upon a number of factors listed in the US immigration law. For example, you may be inadmissible if you've been convicted of drug-or narcotic-related crimes, such as drug trafficking; or if you have a serious and contagious disease, such as HIV-AIDS.

Applying for a Transit C Visa

The application process involves:

  • Completing the electronic version (e-form) of the Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-156. This form must be completed for each person listed on your passport, such as your children or spouse. Right now there's a $131 filing fee (US Dollars) for this application
  • If you (or a traveling companion) are between the ages of 16 and 45 years old, you need to complete the Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-157, which details your travel plans. Also, citizens 16 years old and over from a "state sponsor of terrorism" must complete Form DS-157. Currently, Cuba, Syria, Sudan and Iran are designated as state sponsors of terrorism

Also, before the visa can be issued, you'll also need to have a valid passport for travel to the US. The passport must be good for at least six months after the date you intend to leave the US. For example, if you're planning on a layover in the US in June 2009 and intend to leave June 5th, your passport must be valid until December 5th, 2009.

The US Embassy or Consulate in your country will process the application, and, if you're between the ages of 14 and 79 years old, an embassy or consular official will interview you about your application and intended travel plans and verify all of your documents.

Some Don't Need a C Visa

There are two exceptions to the general rule that a foreign national needs a C visa to travel through the US.

Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Here, citizens of certain countries can travel to the US for tourism and sightseeing (or for short-term business purposes) and stay for up to 90 days without a visa. In addition to being a citizen of a listed country, you must have a valid passport and be able to show that you have plans to leave the US and that you have enough money to fund your stay while in the US. Some of the listed countries include Australia, Ireland, Germany and the United Kingdom. The US Department of State has a complete listing of countries in the VWP, as well as additional details on the program.

Citizens of Canada and Bermuda don't need a visa to enter and stay in the US, in many cases. For example, unless a Canadian citizen is traveling as a treaty trader (E-1) or one of the other listed categories, he can travel to and stay in the US without a visa. Similarly, a citizen of Bermuda can travel to and stay in the US for up to 180 days, provided she's not traveling for one the restricted purposes. If you're a citizen of Canada or Bermuda, you need to check the US State Department's Web site for more information before you plan a trip to the US.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can I apply for permanent US residency while I'm in the US on a transit C visa?
  • My transit C visa will expire in a few days. Can I get an extension?
  • My cousin was denied a transit C visa. Can she re-apply? Can you help her from here in the US with the application?
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