For most foreign nationals the process of applying for a nonimmigrant visa involves filling out a DS160 form, gathering supporting documents and visiting a U.S. Consulate for an interview with a consular officer. (There are some limited exceptions for Canadian nationals who are able to enter the U.S. without a visa for tourism and can also get certain nonimmigrant visas at the border such as the TN visa and L visa). Applicants that are from certain countries may also bypass a formal visa by applying for ESTA through the visa waiver program. This application process is done online and the applicant does not have to go to a U.S. Consulate abroad. If you have to apply for a visa at a Consulate and you meet all the eligibility requirements for the visa, the consular officer will collect your passport to put a visa stamp in it. Below are some important points to keep in mind if you have or are applying for multiple U.S. visas.
You are permitted to have two concurrently valid visas, but not two valid visas of the same type
If you apply for two types of visas and are eligible for both visas, consular officers are permitted to issue two concurrently valid visas. For example, you may have a B1/B2 visa for tourist purposes that was granted for 10 years and also be issued an E-2 visa to run a business in the United States. In this scenario your valid B1/B2 visa would not be cancelled when you received the E-2 visa and you could enter the U.S. on either visa depending on the purpose of your trip.
However, you are not permitted to possess two valid visas of the same type in your passport at the same time. For example, if you had an H-1B visa in your passport that was valid until July 1, 2017 and you then changed employers and got a new validity date of August 2, 2019 and went to a Consulate to get a new H-1B visa stamp, the officer would cancel your previous H-1B visa and put a new H-1B visa stamp in your passport that reflected the updated validity period. You would not be permitted to have two valid H-1B visa stamps in your passport at the same time. While you will only have one visa stamp in your passport, you may be permitted to work at other employers in the same visa category provided USCIS approval was obtained. For example, a person can be approved for one H-1B visa (eg. a part-time position) and obtain a visa stamp at the Consulate. They can then obtain USCIS approval for a second H-1B employer in the U.S. and can also work for that employer. Similarly, a Canadian or Mexican national can have multiple TN jobs in the U.S. as long as they are approved to work at the employer.
You can only use one visa to enter the U.S. and the visa you enter on will control your status
While you are permitted to have multiple valid visas in your passport, you can only enter the U.S. with one visa. After you have been inspected at a port of entry and lawfully admitted to the United States, you will be granted a status, which gives you certain rights and controls the activities you may lawfully engage in while they are in the U.S.
You can learn more about the difference between a visa and a visa status here.
When you have multiple visas you should enter on the visa that is most appropriate for the activities you plan to undertake in the U.S. to ensure you do not violate your status. Going back to the example above, if you have a B1/B2 tourist visa and an E-2 visa and you plan to work in the U.S. during your trip, you must enter on your E-2 work visa. If you enter on your tourist visa you will be in in B-2 status and will not be authorized to work.
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