The "visitor" visa is a nonimmigrant visa for persons desiring to
enter the United States temporarily for business (B-1) or for pleasure or
medical treatment (B-2). Foreign nationals who are citizens from certain
eligible countries, may also be able to visit the U.S. without a visa on the Visa Waiver Program.
Representatives of the foreign press, radio, film, journalists or other
information media, engaging in that vocation while in the U.S., require a
nonimmigrant Media (I) visa and cannot travel to the U.S. using a visitor visa
and cannot travel on the visa waiver program, seeking admission by the DHS
immigration inspector, at the U.S. at the port of entry.
How can I qualify for the B-1 Business Visitor Category?
The B-1 Business Visitor category is available to persons who can
demonstrate that they:
1) Have no intention of abandoning their residence
2) Are visiting the US temporarily for business.
Entry is may be granted for up to 1 year, but most B-1 admissions are
approved for just the period necessary to conduct business and are normally
permitted to stay no longer than 3 months.
What limitations are associated with business visitors?
Business visitors are quite limited in the activities in which they are permitted
to engage. B-1 visa holders must not be engaging in productive employment in
the U.S. either for a US employer or on an independent basis. Any work done in
the U.S. must be performed on behalf of a foreign employer and paid for by the
foreign employer. The work should also be related to international commerce or
trade. The US consular officer reviewing the case will consider several factors
when deciding whether to issue a visa including 1) whether a U.S. worker could
be hired to perform the work, 2) whether the work product is predominantly
created in the U.S., and 3) whether the work is controlled mainly by a U.S.
company. If the answer to any of these questions is "yes" then the
B-1 visa is likely to be denied.
An exception may be made in the “B-1 in lieu of H-1B” scenario where a
worker would qualify for H-1B status except that the employer is not located in
the U.S. But note that many consulates will not consider B-1 in lieu of H-1B
The following are some activities normally considered appropriate for the
- Employees of a U.S. company's foreign office coming to
the U.S. to consult with the U.S. company
- An employee of a foreign company coming to the US to
handle sales transactions and purchases and to negotiate and service contracts
- An individual coming to the U.S. to conduct business or
- An individual coming to the U.S. to interview for a
professional position in order to gain experience to help in finding a position
in one's home country
- An individual attending business conferences, seminars,
- An investor coming to set up an investment in the U.S.
or to open a U.S. office
- Personal or domestic servants who can show they are not
abandoning a residence abroad, have worked for the employer for a year and the
employer is not residing in the U.S. permanently
- Airline employees who are paid in the U.S. but an E
visa is not available because no treaty exists between the U.S. and the
- Professional athletes who are not paid a salary in the
U.S. and are coming to participate in a tournament
- A member of a board of a U.S. company coming to a board
- An individual coming to the U.S. to handle preliminary
activities in creating a business (opening bank accounts, leasing space,
How can I qualify for the B-2 Pleasure Visitor Category?
Of the more than 20 million non-immigrants
admitted annually to the U.S., more than three fourths come as tourists. The
appropriate visa category for a tourist is the B-2 visa (a B-2 visa actually
covers tourists, visits to relatives or friends, visits for health reasons,
participation in conferences, participation in incidental or short courses of
study and participation in amateur arts and entertainment events). Prospective
students can also obtain a B-2 visa, but they often will be denied the change
to student status in the U.S. unless they announced their intention to do so at
the border and/or informed the consular officer at the time of the B-2
The process for obtaining the B-2 visa
can be quite simple or very difficult depending on the national origin of the
applicant, the age and marital status of the applicant, and the applicant's
ties to the U.S. and his/her home country.
What limitations are associated with
the B-2 Pleasure Visitor Category?
Tourists are normally given a 6 month
visa which can be extended in some circumstances for an additional 6 months.
Unlike some other non-immigrant visas, the application is made at a U.S.
consulate and no USCIS approval is necessary. Also, the applicant's spouse and
children must independently qualify for the B-2.
In order to qualify for a tourist visa,
an individual must meet a few broad requirements necessary to show non-immigrant
- The individual is
coming to the U.S. for a specific period of time.
- The individual will
not be engaging in work and will engage solely in legitimate activities
relating to pleasure.
- The individual will
maintain a foreign residence that he or she has no intention of abandoning
during the period of his or her stay in the U.S.
For a tourist to show non-immigrant
intent and demonstrate compliance with the above tests, the key issues are
financial arrangements for the trip, specificity of trip plans, ties to the
alien's home country and ties to the U.S.
More specifically, consular officers are
instructed to consider the following factors:
- Whether the
arrangements for defraying expenses during the visit and return passage are
adequate to prevent the need for obtaining employment in the U.S. in order to support
the stay in the U.S. and provide the funds to return home;
- If relatives or
friends are sponsoring, whether the ties between the individual and the
supporter are compelling enough to make the offer credible;
- Whether the
individual has specific and realistic plans for the visit (not just vague and
uncertain intentions) for the entire period of the contemplated visit;
- Whether the period
of time planned for the visit is consistent with the purpose of the trip and the
individual has established with reasonable certainty that departure from the U.S.
will take place when the visit is over;
- Whether the
applicant's proposed length of stay is consistent with the timeframe limitation
offered by the hosting relative or friend in the invitation
letter, if any.
Note: An applicant’s 's
stated intention to remain in the U.S. for the maximum period allowable by US
authorities will be looked upon negatively.
- Whether the
applicant can show reasonably good and permanent employment, meaningful
business or financial connections, close family ties, or social or cultural
associations which indicate a strong reason to return abroad.
Generally speaking, an applicant’s chances for getting
a visa will be improved if the planned trip is short, the itinerary is clearly
listed, the applicant can easily prove he or she has the money to pay for the
trip and the applicant has a job at home and can show that the time away has
been approved by the employer. Retirees will have a better chance if they can
show strong family and economic ties to the home country and finances to
support the trip. Of course, in all cases the home country makes a big
difference. The lower the visa overstay rate for nationals of a particular
country, the better the chances overall that the application will be approved.
What is Immigrant Intent?
The presumption in the law is that
every visitor visa applicant is an intending immigrant (“immigrant intent”).
Therefore, applicants for visitor visas must overcome this presumption by
- The purpose of their trip is
to enter the U.S. for business, pleasure, or medical treatment;
- That they plan to remain for
a specific, limited period;
- Evidence of funds to cover
expenses in the United States;
- Evidence of compelling social
and economic ties abroad; and
- That they have a residence
outside the U.S. as well as other binding ties which will insure their
return abroad at the end of the visit.
Where Do I Apply for a Visitor Visa?
Applicants for visitor visas generally apply at the American Embassy or
Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Although
visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more
difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence.
When Should I Apply?
Changes introduced shortly after
September 11, 2001 involve extensive and ongoing review of visa issuing
practices as they relate to our national security. Visa applications are now
subject to a greater degree of scrutiny than in the past. So it is important to
apply for your visa well in advance of your travel departure date.
As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy
consular section is required for visa applicants from age 14 through 79.
Persons age 13 and younger, and age 80 and older, generally do not require an
interview, unless requested by embassy or consulate.
Making the appointment for an interview is the first step in the visa
application process. The waiting time for an interview appointment for
applicants can vary, so early visa application is strongly encouraged. Consulates set their own interview policies and
procedures regarding nonimmigrant visas. Be sure to check the consulate’s
website for their specific instructions and wait times for interviews. They
will also list the visa application fees and current forms to submit.
During the visa application process, usually at the interview, a quick,
two-digit, ink-free fingerprint scan will be taken. Some applicants will
need additional screening, and will be notified when they apply.
Applicants will be required to provide:
- Non-immigrant visa
application. The DS-156 must be
the March 2006 date, electronic "e-form
- A Supplemental Nonimmigrant
Visa Application, Form DS-157 provides additional information about your
travel plans. Submission of this completed form is required for
all male applicants between 16-45 years of age. It is also required for
all applicants from state sponsors of terrorism age 16 and over,
irrespective of gender, without exception. Six countries are now
designated as state sponsors of terrorism, including North Korea, Cuba,
Syria, Sudan, Iran, and Libya. You should know that a consular officer may
require any nonimmigrant visa applicant to complete this form.
- A passport valid for travel
to the U.S. and with a validity date at least six months beyond the
applicant's intended period of stay in the United States. If more than one
person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must make
- One (1) 2x2 photograph.
- With respect to
financial arrangements, the individual should possess the following:
- A round-trip
plane ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to cover the duration and purpose
of the trip or,
- If the individual appears only marginally able to pay
for the trip, an affidavit of support on USCIS Form I-134 from the person who the
individual is visiting in the U.S. should be provided.
- With regard to
specificity of the trip arrangements, the individual should show such items as
confirmed hotel reservations, car rentals, internal travel arrangements such as
domestic flights or tourist packages and/or a letter of invitation from a U.S.
source (see invitation letter).
- With respect to
ties abroad, the alien could demonstrate steady employment, substantial
business or property interests abroad and close family ties. A real property
lease or ownership is helpful as well. These items are particularly important
if the alien has close ties with the US such as close family members here.
application for a B-1 business visitor visa should normally be accompanied by a
detailed letter explaining the reasons for the trip, the itinerary for the trip
and, if the trip is on behalf of a foreign firm, the fact that the company is
paying all of the expenses to be incurred during the trip. The application
should also be accompanied by extensive supporting documentation showing the
activities that will take place during the trip, travel documentation and
information on the B-1 visitor's employer.
Documentation Needed - When Seeking to Travel for Medical Treatment
In addition to all of the required
documentation explained above, the following documentation is also required for
persons seeking medical treatment in the U.S.:
- Persons desiring to travel to
the U.S. for medical treatment should be prepared to present the
following, in addition to any other documentation the consular officer may
- Medical diagnosis from a
local physician, explaining the nature of the ailment and the reason the
applicant requires treatment in the U.S.
- Letter from a physician or
medical facility in the U.S., expressing a willingness to treat this
specific ailment and detailing the projected length and cost of
treatment (including doctors’ fees, hospitalization fees, and all
- Statement of financial responsibility
from the individual/s or organization which will pay for the patient’s
transportation, medical and living expenses. The individual/s
guaranteeing payment of these expenses must provide proof of ability to
do so, often in the form of bank or other statements of income/savings or
certified copies of income tax returns.
- Persons traveling to the U.S.
for medical treatment should have a statement from a doctor or institution
concerning proposed medical treatment.
What are the Required Fees?
- Nonimmigrant visa application
processing fee - Each applicant for a visitor visa must pay a
nonrefundable US $131 nonimmigrant visa application processing fee.
- Visa issuance fee – Additionally,
if the visa is issued, there will be an additional visa issuance
reciprocity fee, if applicable. See the Visa
Reciprocity Tables to find out if this fee is applicable and
what the fee amount is. If there is a fee for issuance for the visa, it is
equal as nearly as possible to the fee charged to United States citizens
by the applicant's country of nationality.
Misrepresentation of a Material Facts, or Fraud
Attempting to obtain a visa by the willful misrepresentation of a material
fact, or fraud, may result in the permanent refusal of a visa or denial of
entry into the United States. Classes of Aliens
Ineligible to Receive Visas provides important information about
Visa Ineligibility/ Waiver
The Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-156 list classes of persons who
are ineligible under U.S. law to receive visas. In some instances an applicant
who is ineligible, but who is otherwise properly classifiable as a visitor, may
apply for a waiver of ineligibility and be issued a visa if the waiver is
approved. Classes of Aliens
Ineligible to Receive Visas provides important information about ineligibilities, by
reviewing sections of the law taken from the immigration and Nationality Act.
- No assurances regarding the
issuance of visas can be given in advance. Therefore, final travel plans
or the purchase of nonrefundable tickets should not be made until a visa
has been issued.
- Unless previously canceled,
a visa is valid until its expiration date. Therefore, if the traveler has
a valid U.S. visa in an expired passport, do not remove the visa page from
the expired passport. It may be used along with a new valid passport for
travel and admission to the U.S.
- Visitors are not permitted
to accept employment during their stay in the U.S.
If the consular officer should find it necessary to deny the issuance of a
visitor visa, the applicant may apply again if there is new evidence to
overcome the basis for the refusal. In the absence of new evidence, consular officers
are not obliged to re-examine such cases.
In most cases, successful applicants for a B-1 or B-2 visa will be given a
multiple entry visa stamp that is valid for ten years. The stamp will often say
“B-1/B-2,” indicating the person can use the visa to enter to conduct
activities falling under either classification. Note that a multiple entry,
multiyear visa does not mean
that a person can stay in the U.S. for as long as the visa is valid. Rather,
the U.S. has a “two ticket” system to entering. The visa is your first ticket
and allows you to seek admission at a US point of entry (an airport in the US,
a land crossing port, or a US seaport). The inspector at the point of entry
will issue a second “ticket,” the white card: Form I-94, Arrival/Departure
Record authorizing the visitor to stay in the U.S. for a specified period of
time (normally less than six months). Thus, the 10-year visa would allow a
person to seek admission multiple times over the 10 years. But an inspector
will determine the length of time authorized for each visit.
Entering the U.S. - Port of Entry
Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the
United States. The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border
Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the
United States. If allowed to enter the U.S., the CBP official will
determine the length of the visit on the Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record.
Since Form I-94 documents an individual’s authorized stay in the U.S., it’s
very important to keep this document in the passport. Upon arrival (at an
international airport, seaport or land border crossing), the individual will be
enrolled in the US-VISIT entry-exit program. In addition, some travelers will
also need to register their entry into and their departure from the U.S. with
the National Security Exit Entry Registration System (NSEERS), also referred to
as Special Registration program.
Staying Beyond the Authorized Stay in the U.S. and
Being Out of Status
- B visa visitors should carefully
consider the dates of their authorized stay and make sure they are
following the procedures under U.S. immigration laws. It is important to
depart the U.S. on or before the last day of authorized stay on any given
trip, based on the specified end date on the Arrival-Departure
Record, Form I-94. Failure to depart the U.S. will cause the individual to
- Staying beyond the period of
time authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and being
out-of-status in the U.S. is a violation of U.S. immigration laws,
and may cause the individual to be ineligible for a visa in the future for
return travel to the U.S.
- Staying unlawfully in the U.S.
beyond the date Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have
authorized--even by one day--results in the visa being automatically
voided, in accordance with INA 222(g). Under this provision of immigration
law, if an individual overstays on his/her non-immigrant authorized
stay in the U.S., the visa will be automatically voided. In
this situation, he/she is required to reapply for a new non-immigrant
visa, generally in her/her country of nationality.
- For non-immigrants in the
U.S. who have a Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record with the CBP admitting
officer endorsement of Duration of Status or D/S, but who are no longer
performing the same function in the U.S. that they were originally
admitted to perform (e.g. no longer working for the same employer or
no longer attending the same school), a DHS or an immigration judge makes
a finding of status violation, resulting in the termination of the period
of authorized stay.
How Do I Extend My Stay?
Those visitors who wish to stay beyond the time indicated on their Form I-94
must file a request to extend non-immigrant status with the USCIS. The decision
to grant or deny a request for extension of stay is made solely by the USCIS.
Applications for extension of B status are not recommended as they are heavily
scrutinized by the USCIS. Extensions may be granted for an additional period of
up to six months.
An applicant’s chances for getting an extension approved
will be improved if the applicant provides evidence of return trip home, a
reasonable explanation of why the intended purpose of his/her trip has not been
accomplished &/or specific and realistic additional plans during the
extension and an explanation of why the plans have not yet been accomplished;
evidence of significant funds to cover expenses for the additional period of
time requested; evidence of steady employment back home; evidence of
substantial business or property interests abroad as well as close family ties
(a real property lease or ownership is helpful as well);
and evidence pertaining to the specificity of the trip arrangements including
hotel reservations, car rentals, tourist packages, etc.
Applications are made
using Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, along with
supporting documents described above and filing fee. Applications are filed
with the appropriate USCIS Regional Service Center. If approved, the USCIS will
mail an I-797 Approval Notice along with a new detachable Form I-94
What should I know about security measures associated with a B visa?
Shortly after the September 11th attacks, the Department of State began
requiring that all male nonimmigrant visa applicants between the ages of 16 and
45 from Arab or Muslim counties be subject to increased security checks. They
are now subject to an additional 20-day waiting period during which the Department
of State will check their names against an FBI database. While no official list
has been published, it appears that the following countries are subject to this
new security procedure: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Dijbouti, Egypt,
Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia,
Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia,
United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
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