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Helping a Tibetan Friend or Relative Come to the United States

Over the past few years, Tibet Justice Center has received an increasing number of requests for information on how to bring a Tibetan friend or relative to the United States to visit or to live. The answers to these questions are often unclear, as entry into the United States is often difficult and sometimes not possible. Below we hope to address some of the most common questions and concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What documents does a Tibetan need to enter the United States?
A Tibetan who does not have legal permanent residency or U.S. citizenship must possess two types of documents to obtain entry into the U.S. for any period of time: a valid passport or entry document and a valid visa issued by the United States. Many Tibetans do not have valid passports because they are not able to obtain a passport from the government of China and do not hold citizenship in any other country. Tibetans living in India sometimes can be issued a document called an Identity Certificate that lets them travel outside of India and return to India. The United States may accept the Identity Certificate in lieu of a passport.

How does a Tibetan obtain a visa?
Visas to enter the United States are issued by the U.S. government. In order to come to the United States to visit, stay for an extended period of time or live permanently, it is necessary to apply and qualify for a visa. There are many different types of visas, but they generally fall within two categories: permanent residence or immigrant visas, which allows the recipient to stay in the United States indefinitely (and eventually obtain a green card, i.e., legal permanent residency); and temporary or non-immigrant visas, each of which are issued for a specific purpose such as study, travel, or employment. If a Tibetan qualifies for a visa, typically, he or she must complete and file an application with a United States consulate office in their country of residence. If the Tibetan is already in the United States but wishes to change or extend his or her visa status, a qualifying application must be submitted with the appropriate office of the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigrant Services (BCIS) in the United States. More information on this process can be obtained at www.immigration.gov.

Can a Tibetan qualify for an immigrant visa?
A Tibetan may qualify for an immigrant visa in very limited circumstances, such as when the Tibetan has an immediate relative who is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, when the Tibetan has an outstanding or extraordinary professional skill or ability, when the Tibetan can fill a job that no U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident wants, or when the Tibetan has been persecuted in his or her home country on the basis of religion, national origin, race, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. For more information about asylum, consult our website at www.tibetjustice.org/asylum/. To learn more about asylum and other immigrant visas, visit the U.S. governmentís website at www.immigration.gov/graphics/services/asylum/index.htm. and www.immigration.gov/graphics/services/imm_visas.htm.

Can a Tibetan qualify for a non-immigrant visa?
A Tibetan many qualify for a non-immigrant visa if he or she has a certain level of education or a special skill and has an employer in the United States who is willing to petition on his or her behalf for a non-immigrant visa based on employment. Often, the job offered in the United States must be one that requires at least a bachelorís degree and the Tibetan must possess the degree. More information about these types of non-immigrant visas can be obtained from the U.S. governmentís website at www.immigration.gov/graphics/services/tempbenefits/index.htm.

A Tibetan may qualify for a visitor or tourist visa if he or she can demonstrate that the visit to the United States is temporary (usually less than three months), that the visit is for tourist reasons (such as to visit a friend, see the country, etc.), that the Tibetan has ties to his or her country of residence and intends to return there, and that he or she has means of support while in the United States.

I am a U.S. citizen (or legal permanent resident). How can I help my Tibetan friend visit the United States?
If your friend otherwise qualifies for a tourist visa, you may provide a letter of invitation or support to accompany your friendís application for a tourist visa. Typically, this letter is directed to the government office or consulate which will process the visa application and includes statements of invitation and/or a willingness to provide housing or financial support during the Tibetanís stay. It is also helpful to convey, if you know, the temporary nature of your friendís visit, and your friendís ties to her/his country of residence and intention to return there to live.

My Tibetan friend just received a tourist visa to come to the United States. The visa states that it is valid for one year. Can she stay in the United States for one year?
No. Tourist visas are often issued for a period of a year or more. But the visa indicates the period during which a person may request entry into the United States, not how long he can stay. The legal length of stay is determined by immigration authorities upon arrival to the United States. Each person entering on a visa is issued a white I-94 card. Typically this card is stapled to the passport. It contains the type of visa and the date by which the person must leave the United States. Tourists are routinely admitted for 90 days. The white I-94 card must be turned back in when the person departs the U.S. It may be possible to apply for an extension to stay beyond the exit date stamped on the I-94. Any such application must be filed before the I-94 expiration date. For more information about how to extend non-immigrant status, you can visit the BCIS website at www.immigration.gov/graphics/howdoi/extendstay.htm.

My Tibetan friend lives in Nepal or India. Can he still come to the United States to visit?
A Tibetan is not disqualified from obtaining a visa just because he or she lives in Nepal or India. However, Tibetans living in these countries often cannot obtain a visa to come to the United States because (1) they do have, and cannot get, valid passports; and (2) even if they have a valid passport, the United States is reluctant to issue a visa because they presume that Tibetans are coming to the United States to live permanently rather than just to visit. Tibetans can overcome this presumption by demonstrating that they have strong ties to their country of residence and intend to return there.

How can I help my Tibetan friend currently in the United States who would like to seek asylum in the U.S.?
First and foremost, if you know someone who is thinking about applying for asylum, they should be aware that there is a one-year filing deadline. That means that they must submit their application for asylum within one year of their entry into the United States. To learn more about the asylum process, see www.tibetjustice.org/asylum/ and www.immigration.gov/graphics/services/asylum/index.htm.

What happens when the Tibetan arrives in the United States with a valid passport and visa?
Neither a passport nor a visa guarantee entry into the United States. Immigration authorities at the point of entry generally have the authority to deny admission and to determine the period for which the bearer of a non-immigrant visa is authorized to remain in the United States. At the point of entry, an immigration official authorizes a travelerís admission to the United States by completing the I-94 card (Record of Arrival-Departure), which notes the length of stay permitted. Those visitors who wish to stay beyond the time indicated on their Form I-94 must contact the BCIS to request an extension. The decision to grant or deny a request for extension of stay is made solely by the BCIS.


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