Visa alphabet soup - an unmanageable mix

by Fred Elbel

Most Americans are not aware of the multitude of visa categories available to aliens who wish to enter the United States. It's quite literally an alphabet soup. The problem is that it's hard to know what's in it - the ingredients are very difficult to manage.

This is the seemingly endless list of current visa categories:1

A-1, A-2, A-3; B-1, B-2; C-1, C-2, C-3; E-1, E-2, E-3; F-1, F-2, F-3; G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, G-5, GT; H-1B, H-1-B1; H-1C, H-2A, H-2B, H-3, H-4; I-1; J-1, J-2; K-1, K-2, K-3, K-4; L-1, L-2; M-1, M-2, M-3; N-1, N-2, N-3, N-4, N-5, N-6, N-7; O-1, O-2, O-3; P-1, P-2, P-3, P-4; Q-1; R-1, R-2; S-1; T-1, T-2, T-3, T-4, TD, TN; V-1, V-2, V-3; WB, WT.

Visas are categorized according to 69 subclasses, which are organized under 21 larger classes. As pointed out by the Center for Immigration Studies:2

One of the reasons it is hard to control these flows relates to the proliferation of different visa classes (mostly demanded by lobbyists of one kind or another). Every time a new visa class is created by Congress, everyone handling visas -- either in our overseas embassies or at our ports of entry -- has to learn an additional set of rules regarding who may, and who may not, obtain and/or use this visa...

The system is hard to follow because of differing definitions by different agencies; the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), whose staff at the ports of entry examine (if briefly) these documents has a different list of 69 subclasses organized around 20 letter classes; while the State Department has a third list of 29 subclasses (including many merged ones) and 24 letters. Each of the two longer lists has categories that the other longer list ignores (or defines away).

Such a mismatch of visa categories is difficult to manage effectively. More importantly, vetting, admission, and rejection of visa applicants across categories is implemented in an inconsistent manner. The Center for Immigration Studies created a table of 16 of the more significant nonimmigrant programs, sorted by deny/approval ratios3:

Nonimmigrant visa classes - ratio of denials to approvals

CIS notes that "There is a 50-to-1 spread in denial/approval rates between the B-1 and the NATO categories, illustrating that some visa programs are much more vulnerable than others," and points out that there are three dominant patterns in these programs:

  1. the more populous the category, the higher the percentage of illicit use;
  2. the higher the income of the applicants, the lower the incidence of ineligibility; and
  3. to the extent that governmental entities, other than State, also screen the applications, the lower the incidence of fraud.

Visa overstays

The Center for Immigration Studies2 reports that:

One of the major sources of illegal immigration is the flow of persons into the U.S. with valid temporary visas who later (often quickly) drop out of legal status. Tourists (usually on B-1 visas) and foreign students (on either F-1 or J-1 visas) produce most of this type of illegal immigrants, the visa-abusers, often called visa-overstayers.

Indeed, up to 60 percent of illegal aliens in the United States simply overstayed their visa and did not return home as they promised. Unfortunately, the U.S. government does not adequately track visa overstays.

Marriage visas

The marriage visa amounts to an open door for entry into America. The Center for Immigration Studies identifies several key points regarding marriage visas:5

  • Marriage to an American citizen remains the most common path to U.S. residency and/or citizenship for foreign nationals, with more than 2.3 million foreign nationals gaining lawful permanent resident (LPR) status in this manner between 1998 and 2007.
  • More than 25 percent of all green cards issued in 2007 were to the spouses of American citizens. In 2006 and 2007 there were nearly twice as many green cards issued to the spouses of American citizens than were issued for all employment-based immigration categories combined. The number of foreign nationals obtaining green cards based on marriage to an American has more than doubled since 1985, and has quintupled since 1970.
  • Despite these statistics, marriage fraud for the purpose of immigration gets very little notice or debate in the public arena and the State Department and Department of Homeland Security have nowhere near the resources needed to combat the problem...
  • An overwhelming percentage of all petitions to bring foreign spouses or fiancés to the United States illegally (or to help them adjust visa status if they are already in the United States on non-immigrant visas) are approved — even in cases where the couple may only have met over the Internet, and may not even share a common language.
  • Marriage to an American is the clearest pathway to citizenship for an illegal alien. A substantial number of illegal aliens ordered removed (many of whom have criminal records) later resurface as marriage-based green card applicants...
  • The decision-making authority for green card applications lies with USCIS officials who rely almost exclusively on documents, records, and photographs, with little opportunity for interviews or investigations...

As a case in point, Tashfeen Malik, one of the two Muslims who perpetrated the December 2, 2015 San Bernardino Islamic terrorist attack entered the U.S. on a K-1 "fiancé" visa. Subsequent investigation revealed that the Pakistani hometown address she listed on her visa application does not exist.6,7

Visa Waiver Program

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows visitors from 38 countries with low rates of visa refusals to be admitted to the United States without applying for a U.S. visa. It amounts to another open door into America. 

The Visa Waiver program bypasses normal human-based consular screening, and therefore does not effectively screen travelers as to whether they are a threat for security, terrorist, criminal, or health reasons. It also does not effectively screen travelers who have no intention of returning to their country. The burden of screening is essentially transferred to airlines and immigration inspectors who are able to conduct only the most cursory examinations.

The contorted conglomeration of nonimmigrant visa categories, along with widely varying degrees of vetting for aliens wishing to enter the United States, presents huge loopholes and opportunity for visa abuse and fraud. National security is of paramount importance, and visas must be an integral component of national security, not an obstacle in its path.


1. Visa policy of the United States, Wikipdeia.

2. Needless Complexities in the Visa System Hinder Migration Management, by David North, Center for Immigration Studies, October 13, 2009.

3. Some Visa Categories Are More Vulnerable than Others, by David North, Center for Immigration Studies, January 2012.

4. Visa Overstays Are Today's Immigration Crisis, Mark Krikorian, National Review Online, October 1, 2015.

5. Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name: Inside the Green Card Marriage Phenomenon, by David Seminara, Center for Immigration Studies, November 2008.

6. San Bernardino Shooting Day Three: Confirmed Terror, Breitbart, December 2, 2015.

7. A New Visa to Worry About: The K-1 for Intended Spouses, by David North, Center for Immigration Studies, December 3, 2015.

8. Fiancee Visas Are Yet Another Easy Entry Ploy for Immigration to Stupid-Generous America, Limits to Growth, December 6, 2015. This article references a Fox News video interview with Michael W. Cutler, Senior Special Agent, INS (ret.)

CUTLER: Well, we try but you know we keep hearing about the vetting process for refugees. In most cases, many of our visa programs have no vetting process. If you look at the K-1 program it has the highest approval rate or one of the highest approval rates because how do you screen this? This isn't like marriage fraud. I did marriage fraud investigations and we've seen what terrorists have used marriage fraud and visa fraud — the 9/11 Commission talked about that by the way. But here you are talking about somebody going to immigration saying, I'm about to marry this person, I've never met them. Now they're supposed to have met them within two years but if going to their countries so far away would impose a hardship or if their religious beliefs don't require a face-to-face meeting you could bring someone in literally sight unseen. How do you make certain that this is legitimate?



9. Shortcuts to Immigration: The 'Temporary' Visa Program Is Broken, by Jessica Vaughan, Center for Immigration Studies, January 2003.

10. Congressional testimony: Oversight of the Administration's Criminal Alien Removal Policies, by Jessica Vaughan December 2, 2015.

11. Tighten Up Immigration Procedures Now, Jessica Vaughan, National Review, December 11, 2015.

12. Visa Diversity Lottery - CAIRCO Research.

13. Visa Waiver Program - CAIRCO Research.

14. Visa overstays - CAIRCO Research.