Visiting the US – Do You Need a US B-2 Visa?
If you want to travel to the US for a temporary stay as a tourist, you will first need to ensure you obtain the required permission to enter the country.
Recent US immigration policy has resulted in a more stringent assessment of applications for tourist visas, making it more important than ever to ensure you are applying for the most appropriate type of visa and that your application is robust and meets the criteria.
For nationals of Visa Waiver Countries, including the UK, France, Japan and Germany, you could be eligible for visa-free short-term entry to the US. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) permits entry to the US for up to 90 days for business or tourist purposes, or for transit, without having to apply for a US visa, although ESTA registration will be required in advance.
If you’re not eligible for the VWP, or your ESTA application is rejected, or if you plan to stay in the US for longer than 90 days, you may wish to consider alternative visa options available to you.
The B tourist visa could be one such visa. These are generally issued for a period of six months, but an additional maximum extension of 6 months can be granted based on the USCIS approval. Your intended activity will determine the type of B visa you would need to apply for:
- B-1 visa – business
- B-2 visa – tourism, pleasure
- B-1/B-2 visa – a combination of the two visa categories for temporary visitors on business- and tourism-related travel to the US.
If you undertake activity outside of those permitted under your visa, you will be in breach of your visa conditions, which could impact future US immigration applications. So it is important to ensure you are applying for the most appropriate visa at the outset.
Why can apply for the B-2 visa?
Whereas the B-1 visa permits business-related activity, you should look at the B-2 visa if your visit to the US is for non-business purposes, ie one or a combination of the following activities:
- 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
- Enrolment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree (for example, a two-day cooking class while on vacation)
Note that if you intend to carry out any permissible business-related activity during your stay in addition to the B-2 activity, such as attending a work-related training course, you should opt for the combination visa to avoid breaching the terms of your visa.
The B-2 visa is also commonly used for individuals looking to accompany a B-1 visa holder. For example, a wife travels on a B-1/B-2 combination visa to attend a work conference, and is accompanied by her husband and children (under 18 years old) on B-2 visas, as they plan to have a week’s family vacation while in the US.
B-2 visa excluded activities
As well as permissible activities, you should also be aware that there are some activities which are not permitted under the B visa. These include:
- Paid employment
- 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 United States
In these instances, take legal advice on the alternative visa options that may be available for you.
Making a B-2 visa application
The specific process to apply for a B-2 visa will depend on the Consulate where you make your application. You can check for details of your local consulate on the website.
Waiting and processing times also vary by location, and also by time of year and visa category, so it’s important to submit your application well in advance of your intended travel date.
In general, the application process will require you to complete Form DS-160 online and upload a photograph of yourself. You will also need to schedule an interview at a US Consulate. This would usually be local to where you hold permanent residence. Minors under the age of 13 and those over the age of 80 are generally not required to attend an interview.
You should print off, sign and date the completed form and bring it with you to your interview.
You will be required to provide the following at your interview:
- Proof of payment for the visa application
- Interview appointment letter
- Online Nonimmigrant Visa application form (DS-160) confirmation page
- Valid passport
- 2″ x 2″ colour photo with white background
From your application form and interview, the Consulate will be looking for evidence that you will leave the US at the end of your permitted stay, by assessing proof of your ties to your country of residence. So in addition to the mandatory documents, you can also bring supporting documentation showing your eligibility and suitability for a B-2 visa:
- Proof of income from past 3 months
- Proof of continuing employment in your country of residence on your return from the US
- Travel itinerary
- Proof of residency status for US host(s)
- All of your expired passports, showing visas previously issued from other countries
New rules introduced last year now also permit Consular officers to request details of applicants’ social media handles from the past five years and additional biographical information for the last 15 years.
Beware visa fraud
Once you’ve entered the US on a tourist visa such as the B-2 visa, it won’t be possible to apply to change your status during your stay. This includes for example, applying for an employment visa or a Green Card. The visitor visa is intended only for temporary leave to enter, with a requirement to leave the US before visa expiry.
Tourist visas (or the Visa Waiver Program) can’t be used as a shortcut to permanent residency – this could constitute visa fraud. If you enter the US on a tourist visa, and during your stay get married and apply to adjust your status to a spouse visa, you should expect to come under USCIS scrutiny.
The reasoning is that you may not have been granted the initial tourist visa if you had declared during your application that you were engaged or intending to marry a US citizen while in the US and planning to make a subsequent change of status application in-country. Making such an application to adjust your while in the US on a tourist visa may result in an allegation of visa fraud, on the grounds of misrepresenting the reasons for requiring your tourist visa or concealing facts that would have disqualified you from obtaining the tourist visa.
Visa fraud and misuse of the tourist visa can have significant consequences on your future immigration rights, such as your ability to qualify for future US visas or for example a marriage-based Green Card.
Full disclosure is paramount to any USCIS application. If you have any questions about your plans while in the US and how these will impact your immigration options, take advice before you make an application.
Extending your B-2 visa
While in the US, and before your visa expires, you can extend your B-2 tourist visa by:
- Completing and submitting form I-539
- Providing supporting documentation that shows your stay will be temporary, including a written statement explaining why you are requesting an extension.
- Specifying when you plan to leave, including the date and time of your intended departure.
- Explaining the effect your extension will have on your work / business / employment and residency.
- Evidencing your ability to fund your extended visit.
- Providing the original Form I-94 for each person whose visa you are trying to extend.
- Paying the application fee.
If your visa has expired, you may be able to apply for ‘extraordinary circumstances’ where you can prove:
- A medical emergency prevented you from applying for an extension in time.
- Someone stole your passport and other travel documents, or you lost them.
- You attempted to file a request for an extension but it was returned to you.
Again, seek professional advice if you are concerned about your status or making a USCIS application.
NNU Immigration can help with applications for the US B-2 visa
NNU Immigration are a team of London-based US attorneys specializing solely in US immigration applications.
If you have a question about submitting a USCIS application or visa options for a temporary visit to the US including the B-2 and B-1 visas, contact NNU Immigration and speak with one of our attorneys.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.