What Is a Visa Number?

A visa number is the unique eight-digit letter and number code found printed in red on a person's United States visa. 

A U.S. visa is a travel document issued by the U.S. Department of State to citizens of foreign countries who want to enter the U.S. There are multiple types of visas, such as an immigrant visa and a nonimmigrant visa.

A visa number is also sometimes referred to as a visa foil number. For an immigrant visa, the visa number is the number granted after the application for an immigrant visa is approved. The time between the approval of an immigrant visa and the receipt of the visa number can be years.

What Is a U.S. Visa?

A U.S. visa is a stamp inside a nonimmigrant visitor's passport. An immigrant visa is the granting of permission to reside permanently within the U.S. Approval for an immigrant visa is different from receiving a U.S. immigrant visa number.

Where Is the U.S. Visa Located?

The visa stamp covers an entire passport page, and the stamp usually sits adjacent to the page that has the first U.S. entry stamp received after obtaining the visa.

Where Is the Visa Number Located on a Visa?

Turn the passport to be able to read the visa stamp top to bottom and left to right. The red visa number is typically located near the lower right corner of the visa document and is likely comprised of eight letters and numbers.

The visa stamp is written in English and also includes some biographical information. This includes the visa type, visa holder's nationality, and visa issuance information. The visa control number is printed at the top and is a complicated string of letters and numbers. This control number isn't the visa number.

The visa number is the only thing printed in red on the visa stamp. Older visas may have the visa number printed at the top, in the center. The visa number on older visas is still printed in red and has eight digits.

Who Needs a Visa Number?

Anyone who needs a visa needs a visa number. All temporary visitors to the U.S. are considered nonimmigrants. This means that they don't intend to and are not allowed to permanently stay in the U.S. All nonimmigrants to the U.S. are given a visa number found in the visa stamp on their passport.

When a Visa Number is Needed

A visa number will be needed if the visitor to the U.S. wants to begin work or school. It is also used to identify the reason the visitor is entering the U.S.

A visa isn't enough to gain entry to the U.S.; a visitor must also have a valid passport. Someone who is granted an immigrant visa for the U.S. can then apply for permanent resident status to become a green card holder. This gives the person the privilege to live and work permanently in the U.S.

When a Visa is Unnecessary

Not all visitors to the U.S. require a visa to enter. The United States participates in the Visa Waiver Program. This means that certain foreign citizens are allowed to enter the U.S. for a restricted amount of time without a visa.

Visa-free travel into the U.S. should be for vacation or medical treatment. It doesn't allow for permanent residence.

The list below indicates the countries from which visitors do NOT need a visa to enter the U.S. They do still require a passport.

  • Andorra

  • Australia

  • Austria

  • Belgium

  • Brunei

  • Czech Republic

  • Denmark

  • Estonia

  • Finland

  • France

  • Germany

  • Greece

  • Hungary

  • Iceland

  • Ireland

  • Japan

  • Latvia

  • Liechtenstein

  • Lithuania

  • Luxembourg

  • Malta

  • Monaco

  • New Zealand

  • The Netherlands

  • Norway

  • Portugal

  • San Marino

  • Singapore

  • Slovakia

  • Slovenia

  • South Korea

  • Spain

  • Sweden

  • Switzerland

  • United Kingdom

To prove that their visit is temporary, foreign citizens from the countries on this list are required to show that they have a return ticket that is no more than 90 days away from their arrival date.

These citizens must still receive permission to enter the U.S.; they just don't require a visa. Permission to enter the U.S. is through the United States' Department of Homeland Security's Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

Though not part of the Visa Waiver Program, citizens of Canada and Bermuda do NOT need visas to enter the U.S. If studying or permanently relocating, these citizens do need them.

What Information Is Included on a Nonimmigrant Visa?

A U.S. non-immigrant visa will include the following information.

  • Issuing post name: The name of the U.S. embassy or consulate that issued the visa.
  • Surname: This is the last name or family name of the individual.
  • Given name: This is the first name of the individual.
  • Passport number: The visa holder's passport number will be listed here.
  • Entries: This will be listed as either "M" or "S." The notation of "S" means that the visa holder can enter the U.S. a single time until the expiration of the visa. An "M" means that the visa holder can enter the U.S. multiple times.
  • Annotation: This is the space where the consulate can add any important notes. This space might include the visa holder's employer's name, petitioner name, or any restrictions or special circumstances.
  • Control number: This is the number that's used to track visas.
  • Visa type or class: This lists the type of nonimmigrant visa.
  • Sex: This is listed as "M" for male and "F" for female.
  • Birth date: This is the date of birth of the visa holder.
  • Nationality: Country of citizenship for the visa holder.
  • Issue date: The date on which the visa was issued. This is written as DD/MM/YYYY
  • Expiration date: The date until which a visa holder can apply for entry into the U.S. The actual duration of allowed stay in the U.S. is determined by the port of entry and the date stamped on the I-94 form.
  • Red number: This is the visa number.
  • Stars below the photo: The purpose of the stars isn't known. Sometimes there are no stars or one or two stars. The number of stars definitely doesn't correspond to the number of times people have applied for a visa.
  • Information at the bottom: Machine-readable and computer-generated material about the visa and visa holder. This is nothing to concern the visa holder.

The background of the visa is typically images of the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol building.

Difference Between Immigrant and Nonimmigrant Visa Number

There is no difference between the visa number on an immigrant visa and that on a nonimmigrant visa. Each visa has a unique visa number.

An immigrant visa is for someone who would like to immigrate to the U.S. This means they would like to become a permanent resident of the U.S. A nonimmigrant visa is for someone who would like to temporarily visit the U.S.

There are also other types of visas that denote specific reasons for being in the U.S. Some examples are visas for students, for temporary workers, or for exchange programs.

Immigrant Visa Number

An immigrant is a person who is not a U.S. citizen and has been granted permission to permanently live and work in the United States.

Process to Receive an Immigrant Visa Number

To receive an immigrant visa and a visa number, it requires a multi-step process.

  1. Submit an immigrant visa application to USCIS.

  2. USCIS will approve or deny.

  3. If approved, the Department of State's National Visa Center will issue an immigrant visa number once available.

  4. To adjust to permanent resident status once the immigrant visa is granted, you must either be present in the U.S. or apply through the nearest U.S. consulate.

U.S. laws limit how many immigrant visa numbers are available each year. So, even if approved for an immigrant visa, an immigrant visa number may not be available. The time between visa approval and receiving the visa number can be years.

U.S. law also limits the number of visas available to each country. If a country has a high immigration rate to the U.S., this could extend the wait time for the visa number.

Most often, an immigrant doesn't personally request an immigrant visa number. Instead, a relative or employer requests and petitions USCIS for the visa.

The person notified of approval is the person who applied. This might be the family or employer of the person granted the visa. The family or employer of the applicant will also be notified when the visa number is available.

There's no need to contact the National Visa Center unless there's been a change of address or there is a change in the personal relationship between the petitioner and the applicant.

Who Is Eligible for an Immigrant Visa Number?

There is a preference system for who is first granted U.S. visa numbers.

There's an exception. Parents, spouses, and unmarried children under the age of 21 of U.S. citizens who apply for an immigrant visa are automatically granted a visa number upon approval of the immigrant visa application.

If someone doesn't fit into those categories, they are rewarded visa numbers in the following preference order:

  • First Preference

Unmarried, adult (21 and older) children of U.S. citizens.

  • Second Preference

Spouses of lawful permanent residents and unmarried children (no age requirement) of lawful permanent residents and their children.

  • Third Preference

Married children of U.S. citizens, their spouses, and their minor children.

  • Fourth Preference

Siblings of adult U.S. citizens, the sibling's spouse, and minor children.

For anyone who wants to become an immigrant based on employment, there's a different waiting preference for immigrant visa numbers:

  • First Preference

Aliens with extraordinary abilities, outstanding researchers and professors, and multinational executives.

  • Second Preference

Professionals holding advanced degrees or people with exceptional ability.

  • Third Preference

Skilled workers, professional workers, or qualified workers.

  • Fourth Preference

Special immigrants (this might include people in religious vocations).

  • Fifth Preference

Immigrants who are part of employment creation.

Tips for Getting a Visa Number

It's helpful to check the State Department website for current wait times. They post a bulletin with the current month and year they're working on for visa petitions by country and preference category.

Compare the priority date and date listed on the bulletin to get an idea of when the approval or denial might be available.

FAQs for a Visa Number

  • Where is my visa number?

Your visa number is the red number printed on the visa stamp inside your passport.

  • What is a visa number?

A visa number is the unique number, printed in red ink, on your visa stamp inside your passport, that's given to each person who receives a visa when entering the U.S.

  • What is an immigrant visa number?

For immigrants to the U.S., the visa number isn't granted upon entry. First, a visa petition must be filed. Once the petition for a visa is granted, the person must then wait for a visa number. The number of visa numbers given out in a year is limited.

  • How do I know when my immigrant visa number is available?

The date your visa petition was filed is your priority date. The State Department publishes a bulletin that shows what priority dates are currently being worked on. This will give you an estimate of how long until you receive your visa number.

If you're considering applying for an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa number, you might consider posting a job for an immigration lawyer. UpCounsel's attorneys come from highly reputable schools such as Harvard and Yale and are available to answer any questions you have. You can also post on the UpCounsel marketplace with questions.