The Department of State issues visas to foreigners traveling to the United States. Before World War I, alien visitors did not require visaed passports in order to enter the United States (except for a brief time during the Civil War, 1861-1865). The practice of requiring all aliens to obtain visas from U.S. officials abroad before departure for the United States began in 1917 as a war measure during World War I, and has continued since then.
The National Archives (NARA) maintains Department of State Visa Case Files covering the period 1914-1940 (Entry A1-705, NAID 1253492). They are divided into three chronological segments: 1914-1923, 1924-1932, and 1933-1940, each arranged alphabetically by name. With the exception of precedent cases and files that contain policy materials, individual case files for 1914-1923 and 1924-1932 were destroyed by the Department of State. For more information visit: https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/visa-records.
Immigrant visas, both quota and non-quota* (and supporting documentation), issued by the Department of State to aliens at U.S. embassies, legations, and consulates overseas are surrendered to U.S. immigration officials upon admission to the United States. The immigrant visas and associated documentation accumulated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) between July 1, 1924, and March 31, 1944, were maintained in INS Visa Files. Beginning April 1, 1944, the Visa Files series was closed and all new immigrant visas were filed in Alien Files (A-Files). An immigrant's Visa File may have been removed from the Visa Files series and placed inside a consolidated A-File or Certificate File (C-File) if their case reopened after April 1, 1944. Visa Files and C-Files are preserved, but remain in the custody of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Genealogy Program (https://www.uscis.gov/genealogy). Transfer of A-Files to NARA for permanent retention has begun. For more information on A-Files at NARA visit: https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/aliens.
*See Sections 4 and 5 of the Immigration Act of 1924 to learn about how quota and non-quota status were defined under the national origins system: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/5752154.