Overview of the A Visa: Diplomatic Visa Status20 Feb 2012
In order for the United States to participate in foreign commerce, treaties and diplomatic relations, foreign government representatives and their entourages must be able to enter the United States for official business. Diplomats are not subject to the same stringent requirements as other persons seeking to enter the U.S. Rather, the law directs that people entering the United States in a diplomatic or quasi-diplomatic status “shall not be subject to the exclusionary provisions of the immigration laws, other than reasonable requirements of passports and visas as a means of identification,” unless the President deems that additional security for the country is necessary, or the U.S. Department of State has determined the applicant to be a persona non grata.
There is a difference, however, between the treatment of diplomats and officials who represent a foreign government and those who represent international organizations. Representatives of foreign governments who enter the U.S. in order to represent an international organization, certain members of their staffs, and members of the immediate family of any such persons, may be refused entry into the United States if it can be established that their entry is to partake in actions harmful to the public interest or dangerous to the U.S. national security. This review process does not exist for foreign government representatives here on their government’s business.
The “A” visa status for foreign diplomats and officials includes:
- A-1, ambassadors, public ministers, diplomatic or consular officers, and members of their immediate families;
- A-2, other recognized government officials or employees, and members of their immediate families; and
- A-3, attendants, servants, and personal employees, and members of their immediate families.
Working for a foreign government is not enough to qualify a foreign national for this non-immigrant classification. The foreign national must actually be coming to the United States on official government business for the foreign government. If the foreign national is entering the United States for personal business or pleasure, her / his classification should be that of a visitor, and the B1 or B2 status should be accorded to the person under U.S. immigration law. If the foreign government classifies the foreign national in one of the “A” categories, and the United States recognizes the foreign national’s status after the foreign national is admitted, the “A” status must be accepted by the immigration officer as unequivocal proof of her / his proper diplomatic status.
In addition, the officials that fit into the A-1 and A-2 categories and their families are admitted without time limitation. They may remain, without the need to apply for extension of stay, as long as the U.S. Secretary of State continues to recognize them as members of the diplomatic category. Attendants, servants, and personal employees under A-3 classification are admitted for up to three years, and can obtain extensions in two-year increments if needed.
Please note that before a person can be approved for a change from an “A” visa status to some other, non-official status, it is necessary to waive diplomatic immunity. There is a standard form for this purpose that is processed through the foreign government employer and the U.S. Department of State.
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