There are three different kinds of diplomatic visas available from the federal government: the A visa, the G visa, and the NATO visa. The NATO visa is self-explanatory: it is for representatives of NATO representatives and their families and staff. The A visa is designated for foreign diplomats and officials. The G visa is meant for representatives of international organizations that are not countries. Each of them has their own application and approval process. This document will describe the process in detail for the A series of visas and provide resources and background about the G and NATO visas.
The A Visa
The A visa, or diplomat’s visa, has several different levels for different people. The head of state always qualifies for an A visa by default; they do not need to name a specific reason for their visit. Other applicants need to describe their visit and its purpose, which determines which kind of A visa they should use.
There are three tiers of A visa. The A-1 visa is for top-level officials: ambassadors, ministers of state, diplomats, and other public officials at high levels, along with their families. The A-2 visa covers all other officials and representatives of foreign governments who wish to travel to the United States, and their families. The A-3 tier is reserved for servants or assistants of holders of A-2 and A-1 visas, as well as their families. These three tiers cover visits of foreign government representatives of all kinds.
It is important to note that the A-1 and A-2 visas are only available when those officials travel to the US for the purpose of representing their government. Their activities must be related to that work, and not commercial or personal. Those other activities require different visas, which are mutually exclusive with the A series.
Any foreign official, assistant, or family member planning to travel to the US needs to secure their A visa before they begin their trip. It is not permissible for these parties to take on a tourist visa or request a waiver for a visa when their activities qualify them for an A visa. Any visitor who is using an A visa, but is only in the US for at most 90 days, obtains a temporary A visa.
A local government official who wants to represent that local government in a diplomatic trip to the United States does not qualify for an A visa. Instead, they use a B visa. This applies to, for example, European Union officials.
Documentation for The A-Series Visa
While embassies and consulates do not interview applicants for the A-1 and A-2 visas as a matter of course, officials of consulates have the right to do so if they deem it necessary. This is up to individual officials, so if you are planning a visit to the US for diplomatic purposes, ask your local official about whether they will require an interview. Applicants for the A-3 visa, which is for servants and assistants, must always be interviewed. As part of the interview, the applicants must allow themselves to be fingerprinted.
Applicants for all three visas of the A series have to prepare and submit the appropriate documentation to their local embassy or consulate. That includes the following items.:
- First, the electronic version of the Non-immigrant Visa Application. This is Form DS-156. Note that there is a non-electronic version of this form, but that version is not acceptable.
- Applicants for an A, G, or NATO visa who are already holders of an A-1 or A-2 visa and are in the US, or who are working for the United Nations, are required to submit Form DS-1648 instead of Form DS-156. Again, it must be the electronic version. Applicants need to submit the online form and then also submit the confirmation page at the end of the form with the official seal of office.
- Applicants must also submit a diplomatic note. This is an official confirmation from the government of the applicant showing that the applicant is traveling for official diplomatic business. A-1 and A-2 applicants have their own notes, and A-3 applicants use the notes of their employers to signify their official status.
- In addition, every applicant has to have their own valid passport, and that passport must be valid for a minimum of six months after the projected end date of the visit. Some countries have exemptions to this requirement that will override this rule- check with local embassy representatives to learn more.
- All applicants also must have a photograph. The application is online, so applicants will upload their photos during the application process. The DS-1648 form has a set of guidelines for the format and appearance of this photo. Uploading the photo electronically does not always work. After several attempts, the application process will allow you to proceed. If the final form has a large X where the photo should be, that means the uploading process did not work. The solution is to attach a physical printout of the photo to that area with the X and submit it that way. If there is a photo in that area, then there is no need to do this, because the upload function worked as intended.
- Finally, all immediate family members who are traveling with a primary visa holder must submit a copy of that visa and the I-94 form of the primary holder.
Not all diplomatic visa holders qualify for a waiving of visa fees, but some do. Those whose activities meet the criteria for an A, G, C-3, or NATO visa qualify, and there is a list of criteria in 22 CFR 21.26 (c)(1)(i) through (xvi) that allows others to avoid visa fees as well. Applicants must pay application fees and other applicable fees for non-diplomatic visas.
Inquiries about Visas
All relevant questions about the application process should be directed to the local American consulate. Questions about a current application should go to the relevant consular office- there is a directory available here.
See below for more information about the visa process from government resources and documents.
- Employees of International Organizations and NATO- DOS
- Frequently Asked Questions on Diplomatic and International Organization Visas – DOS
- The Department of Homeland Security would like to remind all applicants that the mere fact of obtaining a visa is not itself permission to enter the country. The visa constitutes an entry pass to a seaport, airport, border station, or other location that constitutes a checkpoint for entry into the country. Immigration inspectors at that location make the determination to allow or deny entry and also determine the length of stay for the applicant.
- Those who will use G5 or NATO-7 visas will be channeled into the special entry and exit program for those visas, which is called US-VISIT.
- The website for the US Bureau of Customs and Border Control has detailed information about the process of gaining entry to the US.
- The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement states that anyone holding a NATO visa of types 1 through 6 or a G visa of types 1 through 4 is exempt from US-VISIT and need not enter the program. G-5 and NATO-7 visitors may or may not need to take extra measures to register their visit. See ICE’s website for complete details.
Just as with the A-1 and A-2 visas, the consulate may, but does not need to hold interviews with any and all applicants for G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1, NATO-2, NATO-3, NATO-4, NATO-5 and NATO-6 visas. Regardless of whether the officer requests an interview, applicants for G-1 through G-4 and NATO-1 through NATO-6 visas do not need to be fingerprinted. The G-5 and NATO-7 function just like the A-3 visa in that they are for the servants and assistants of G-1 through G-4 and NATO-1 through NATO-6, as well as their families. Interviews for these secondary visas are mandatory. They also must give their fingerprints. All applications should go to the local consulate or embassy, which is also the best place to send any and all questions about the process.