Temporary Visa Holders in the United States

The United States is the top destination for international migrants worldwide. Many of them are naturalized U.S. citizens or permanent residents, but millions come for a temporary stay to study, for a short-term job opportunity, as tourists, or for other reasons. Foreign nationals who receive a visa to travel to the United States temporarily for a specific purpose are broadly classified as nonimmigrant visa holders.

The past two decades have seen significant fluctuations in the number of visas U.S. consulates and embassies around the world issued to foreign nationals, ranging from 10.9 million in fiscal year (FY) 2015 to a low of 2.8 million in FY 2021. These changes reflected major events such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the global 2008-09 recession, executive-branch immigration policy shifts, and most recently, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The global public-health crisis led to the most dramatic slowdown of temporary visas in years, with fewer than half as many visas issued in FY 2020 as the year before. Visa figures for some categories of short-term migrants, such as international students and seasonal nonagricultural workers, have quickly rebounded, but on the whole the U.S. government has issued fewer nonimmigrant visas and wait times have been longer since the pandemic hit in early 2020.

Drawing on data from the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), this Spotlight examines trends in visa issuance and admission since FY 2000 and provides information on temporary visa holders in the United States, including top countries of origin and the three top visa categories: visitors for pleasure or business, international students and exchange visitors, and temporary workers.

Note: All yearly data are for the government’s fiscal year, which runs from October 1 through September 30. Unless stated otherwise, all data refer to the number of temporary visas issued in a given year, not the number of temporary visa holders (“stock”) residing in the United States.