US Tourist visa requirements
To travel to the US for a temporary stay as a tourist, you will first need to ensure you have the required permission to enter the country.
Nationals of Visa Waiver Countries, including the UK, France, Japan and Germany, may 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, provided the individual has ESTA authorization.
If you are not eligible to travel visa-free, for example if you are not a VWP national, or if your ESTA application is rejected, or if you plan to stay in the US for longer than 90 days, you will need to consider the alternative visa options available to you.
The B visa is the route for tourism. It is important to ensure you are applying for the most appropriate visa. 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.
What is the B2 visitor visa?
The B visa category comprises:
- B-1 visa – business purposes
- B-2 visa – leisure, tourism or medical treatment
- B-1/B-2 visa – a combination of the two visa categories for temporary visitors on business- and tourism-related travel to the US.
B2 visas 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.
The B-2 visa permits 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)
The B-2 visa is can also be 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.
In many cases, the Embassy will progress the visitor visa applications on the basis of a combined B1/B2 visa, which means you will be able to combine activities allowable under both categories. To avoid issues, you should divulge your planned activities during your visa interview so the adjudicator has a clear understanding of your plans.
B-2 tourist 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 tourist visa will depend on the Embassy or Consulate where you make your application.
Waiting and processing times also vary by location, and also by time of year and visa category, so it is 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 the consular office where you filed your petition. 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 should come to the interview prepared and having collated supporting documentation to evidence your eligibility. You may be asked by the adjudicator to provide the following:
- 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, taken within the last six months prior to your application
- Evidence of your immigration status in your country of residence
- Any previous US visas from past visits
- Details of any criminal convictions
- Documentation relating to any previous issues of overstaying in the US or deportation
- Proof of financial funds to maintain yourself during your stay
- Travel itinerary and details of travel plans and accommodation
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
Consular officers also have powers 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 have entered the US on a tourist visa such as the B-2 tourist visa, it will not 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 not 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 tourist visa
While in the US, and before your visa expires, you may be able to extend your B-2 tourist visa. The process involves:
- 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 your original Form I-94.
- 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 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.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.