Visitor visas are reserved for individuals who wish to temporarily visit the United States. B-1 visas are available for business visitors and B-2 visas are for tourism or visitors for pleasure or, in some cases, to obtain medical treatment.
Individuals admitted to the United States via a B-1 or B-2 visa are limited in what they are allowed to do while in the country. The U.S. Department of State lists the following examples of permitted activity:
- consult with business associates
- attend a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention or conference
- settle an estate
- negotiate a contract
- vacation (holiday)
- visit with friends or relatives
- medical treatment
- participation in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations
- participation by amateurs in musical, sports, or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating
- enrollment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree (for example, a two-day cooking class while on vacation).
In contrast, the activities below are examples of unpermitted activity. Foreign nationals who engage in these activities may have their visitor visas revoked:
- paid performances, or any professional performance before a paying audience
- arrival as a crewmember on a ship or aircraft
- work as foreign press, radio, film, journalists, and other information media
- permanent residence in the U.S.
Denials of visitor visa
One of the most common misconceptions of B-1 and B-2 visas is that they should be “easy” to get approved. This is simply not true. To obtain a visitor visa, the applicant must prove that he does not intend to become a permanent resident or citizen, a concept known as “immigrant intent.” Consular officers scrutinize all visitor visa applications, looking for any signs of immigrant intent. If the officer has reason to believe that you do not intend to leave the country, she will deny your visa application.
Visitor visas may also be denied for a host of other reasons, which include but are not limited to submitting an incomplete application, a lack of sufficient documentation, criminal convictions, immigration fraud or misrepresentation, or prior periods of unlawful presence in the United States.
Proving nonimmigrant intent
The primary way to prove that you are seeking temporary admission to the United States is to show strong home times to your country. Consular officers look at a number of factors, including your employment, your home, and your relationships with family and friends in your country. Officers will also analyze your travel plans, financial resources, and your overall circumstances before making a decision. The consular officer won’t simply take your word for it – you must gather and submit strong documentation to support your story.
Length of stay
The length of time that a visitor may stay in the United States is determined by the date on the admission stamp or on the Form I-94. In almost all cases, this date is different than the expiration date found on the visitor visa itself. This is a common mistake that many visitors make, so keep in mind that the visa itself only allows you to ask for permission to enter the United States – by itself, it does not confer any status or grant any permission to stay.
Extension of visitor status
Visitors may seek to have their visitation period extended by submitting an extension of status request to USCIS. This must be filed prior to the expiration date indicated on the I-94 or admission stamp. Individuals who do not depart the U.S. by that date are considered to be out of status and run the risk of having their visitor visa revoked.
Change of status
In some circumstances, foreign nationals may be eligible to change from B-1/B-2 status to another nonimmigrant status (e.g., F-1 student visa). In very limited circumstances, an individual may be able to change to an immigrant status if he can prove that, at the time of the visitor visa application, he did not fully intended to depart the United States.
Though visitor visas may seem simple, they are, in fact, quite complex. If you are considering applying for a visitor visa for the first time, or you have any issues related to your current visitor visa, you should consult an experienced immigration attorney.