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B-1 and B-2 Visitor Visas

The B-1 and B-2 Visitor visas are nonimmigrant visas 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.

NOTE: 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 abroad; and
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 filings.

The following are some activities normally considered appropriate for the B-1 visa:

  • 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 market research
  • 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, or conventions
  • 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 airline’s country
  • 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 meeting
  • An individual coming to the U.S. to handle preliminary activities in creating a business (opening bank accounts, leasing space, incorporating, etc.)

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 application.

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 intent:

  • 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 demonstrating that:

  • 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.

Required Documentation

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 application.”
  • 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 an application;

  • One (1) 2×2 photograph.

Additional Documentation

  • With respect to financial arrangements, the individual should possess the following:
    1. A round-trip plane ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to cover the duration and purpose of the trip or,
    2. 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.

  • An 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 require:
    1. Medical diagnosis from a local physician, explaining the nature of the ailment and the reason the applicant requires treatment in the U.S.
    2. 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 medical-related expenses).

    3. 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 ineligibilities.

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.

Additional Information

  • 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.

Visa Denials

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.

Visa Issuance

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 be out-of-status.

  • 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 Arrival/Departure Record.

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.