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Visa FAQ

General Questions


What is a visa?

If you're a citizen of a foreign country, in most cases you'll need a visa to enter the United States.

A visa does not permit entry to the United States.  A visa simply indicates that your application has been reviewed by a U.S. consular officer at an American embassy or consulate, and that the officer has determined you are eligible to enter the United States for a specific purpose.   Consular affairs are the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State.

A visa allows you to travel to the United States as far as the port of entry (airport or land border crossing) and ask the immigration officer to allow you to enter the country. Only the immigration officer has the authority to permit you to enter the United States. He or she decides how long you can stay for any particular visit. Immigration matters are the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

There are two categories of U.S. visas: Immigrant and Nonimmigrant.  Immigrant visas are for people who intend to live permanently in the U.S. Nonimmigrant visas are for people with permanent residence outside the U.S. but who wish to go to the United States on a temporary basis, i.e. for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work, or study.  back to top

Where Should I apply?

U.S. Embassy and Consulates Liberalize Interview Appointment Policy

In order to improve customer service and keep wait times down for nonimmigrant visa appointments, beginning February 17, 2011, all applicants in China will have the choice of applying for their nonimmigrant visas within the consular district where they reside, or at another U.S. consulate in China where the average wait time for the past month is shorter. This change will ensure that applicants throughout China can still apply wherever average wait times are shorter, while preventing wait times from getting too long in places of highest demand. Please note that wait times vary hour-by-hour, and can change dramatically from one day to the next and even within the same day.  The only authoritative source of wait-time information is the Call Center at the time you book your appointment.  We welcome the ongoing increase in travelers from China to the United States, and appreciate your patience as we continue to improve the experience of those applying for a U.S. visa!

In 2009, almost half a million people received non-immigrant visas in China, more than ever before.   The United States government is committed to increasing mutual understanding between the United States and China through people-to-people exchange.  We hope the elimination of geographic restrictions on visa applications will promote this exchange by making the visa application process simpler and more convenient. 

For more information on how to schedule a visa interview appointment, please consult our web site:

We also invite you to visit our Visa Unit blogs! (U.S. Embassy Beijing) (U.S. Consulate General Chengdu)   back to top                                   

How long before my planned travel date should I apply for a visa?

Because of significant demand for U.S. visas, there is usually a wait for visa interview appointments. If you need a visa interview, you may have to wait several weeks for an appointment. You may check current visa appointment wait times on the Department of State's website.  Additionally, your visa may not be issued for a period of time because of post-interview processing. When additional administrative processing is required, the timing will vary based on individual circumstances of each case, but usually takes between one to three months. Therefore, we encourage all visa applicants to call the China-wide Visa Information Call Center at 4008-872-333 to make an appointment as far in advance of their anticipated travel plans as possible. If you are a frequent traveler or someone who may be required to travel on short notice, we encourage you to keep your visa valid and apply to renew your current visa before it expires. Please plan ahead and apply early! Thank you for your cooperation.  back to top 

How to Request an Emergency Interview Appointment?

Under certain circumstances, applicants who cannot wait for a normal visa interview appointment may request an expedited appointment.  Please visit the following web page for detailed information on how to request an expedited interview appointment: to top   

Who can cancel my U.S. visa?

Only a U.S. government official has the right to cancel a U.S. visa! If someone else cancels your visa, please inform the Visa Unit by sending a fax to (8610) 8531-3333. 

I am a third-country national living in China. Can I apply for a nonimmigrant visa here in China instead of returning to my home country? 

Citizens of countries other than China may make appointments and apply for nonimmigrant visas at Beijing or any nonimmigrant visa issuing post. However, please remember that all nonimmigrant visa applicants must demonstrate strong ties abroad in order to qualify for a U.S. visa, in accordance with U.S. immigration law. The interviewing officer’s lack of familiarity with local conditions in other countries may make it more difficult to determine a non-Chinese citizen’s qualifications for a visa. Applicants who apply for a nonimmigrant U.S. visa outside of their country of origin may have difficulty establishing their ties abroad. back to top 

What if I have problems with my PIN number? 

Contact the Call Center's Customer Service Help Desk (Shanghai local number): (021) 5062-3880. This service is available from 8:00 AM to 5:00PM, Monday through Friday, excluding Chinese Public Holidays. This service is currently answered in Mandarin only. The caller is responsible for any long distance charges incurred.

Refunds for unused PIN numbers 

For more information about how to obtain a refund for unused PIN numbers, please click to learn more about the Refund Policy of the Visa Information Call Centerback to top   

Can my wife and I apply for visas together on the same day if I was refused before while she was not? 

Normally, refused applicants are given interview appointments later than non-refused ones. You and your wife may apply together on the later appointment.  back to top  

Duration of Stay: How long can I stay in the United States? 

If you are allowed to enter the U.S., the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official will determine the length of your visit on the Arrival-Departure Record  (Form I-94). Since Form I-94 documents your authorized stay in the U.S., it’s very important to keep it with your passport. Please carefully consider the dates of your authorized stay and make sure you are following the procedures under U.S. immigration laws. It is important that you depart the U.S. on or before the last day you are authorized to be in the U.S. on any given trip, based on the specified end date on your Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94. Failure to depart the U.S. will cause you to be out-of-status.  Being out of status could affect your eligibility to obtain visas in the future.  Please refer to the  web site for additional information, or view this pageback to top 

What is "visa validity?" What does the word "Entries" mean on the visa? What does "M" under "entries" mean? 

“Visa validity” generally means that the visa is valid, or can be used from the date it is issued until the date it expires, for travel of the same purpose.  To determine how often you may travel to the US on that particular visa, please look to how many entries you were given.  If the visa was issued for multiple (or “M”) entries, it may be used until the expiration date shown on the visa.  If the visa was issued for one entry it may only be used once during the validity of the visa. 

Visas can be issued for any number of entries, from as little as one entry to as many as multiple (“M”) entries, for the same purpose of travel.  If you travel frequently as a tourist for example, with a multiple entry visa, you do not have to apply for a new visa each time you want to travel to the U.S.  It is important to note that although you have a multiple entry tourist visa, a tourist visa should not be used for work or study in the US.  

The visa validity is the length of time within which you are permitted to present your visa to a U.S. immigration inspector and request permission to enter at a United States port-of-entry.  The visa does not guarantee entry to the U.S.  The expiration date for the visa should not be confused with the authorized length of your stay in the U.S., given to you by the U.S. immigration inspector at port-of-entry, on the Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94, or I-94W for the Visa Waiver Program.  The visa expiration date has nothing to do with the authorized length of your stay in the U.S. for any given visit.

There are circumstances which can serve to void or cancel the period of time your visa is valid.  If you overstay the end date of your authorized stay, as provided by the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. immigration officer at port of entry, or by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), then this action on your part generally will automatically void or cancel your visa.  However, if you have timely filed a non-frivolous application for extension of stay or a change of status (click here for information), and have not engaged in unauthorized employment, then this normally does not automatically cancel your visa.  If you have applied for adjustment of status to become a permanent resident alien (“green card” holder), you should contact USCIS regarding obtaining Advance Parole before leaving the United States.   back to top 

What procedures need I go through upon arrival at the U.S. port of entry? 

Click HERE to see what procedures you need to go through upon arrival at the U.S. port of entry.   

I have a current visa in an expired passport and a new passport, can I travel to U.S.?

Yes, you can travel to U.S. with two passports.  As long as your current passport will be valid for 6 months from your date of entry into the U.S. and your previous visa will be valid the day you enter.           back to top

 What does the validity of a visa mean? 

Travellers can enter the U.S. up to the day before their visa expires. Please make sure your current passport will be valid for 6 months from your date of entry into the U.S. (Click here for information).