Applying for a US tourist visa
If you are a non-US national travelling to the United States for a holiday or to visit friends and relatives, you will need to apply for a US tourist visa if you are ineligible to travel visa-free.
Generally, you will require a visa if you:
- Do not qualify under the Visa Waiver Program, for example, you are a national of a country which is not part of the VWP.
- Do not qualify for ESTA authorization, for if you have a criminal record.
- Are VWP eligible but you intend to visit for longer than 90 days.
If any of the above apply, you will need to be granted permission to travel to the US with the appropriate visa category.
B-2 visa for tourism
The B-2 is a nonimmigrant visa for those travelling to the US for reasons including:
- Tourism, pleasure or visiting.
- Undergoing medical treatment.
- Performing as an amateur entertainer or athlete, provided you will not be paid for so doing.
- Participating in social events hosted by fraternal, social or service organisations.
- Undertaking a short recreational course of study where your primary purpose of travel is still tourism.
If you are planning to travel to the United States for a different purpose that is not recreational in nature, for example, if it is business-related or to undertake temporary employment, the B-2 would not be appropriate and you would need to apply for a different category of visa.
For example, if you intend to work during your time in the US, you would need to apply for the relevant work visa.
B-2 US tourist visa requirements
When applying for a US tourist visa there are specific requirements that must be met under US immigration law. You must be able to demonstrate that:
- The purpose of your trip is to enter the US temporarily for tourism, pleasure or visiting.
- You have funds to cover expenses during your trip.
- You plan to remain for a specific limited period.
- You have a residence outside the US, as well as other sufficient, binding ties that will ensure your departure at the end of your visa period.
How do I apply for a US tourist visa?
To apply for a US tourist visa you will need to file an application at a US Consular post in your country of residence. IN the UK this would be either the US Embassy in London or the Consulate General in Belfast.
You submit your application by:
- Completing the online non-immigrant visa application Form DS-160
- Uploading a photograph
- Scheduling a visa interview
- Paying a non-refundable MRV application fee, where required prior to interview
- Providing an ink-free digital fingerprint scan. You will receive instructions on when and where to do this.
Visa applicants aged between 14 and 79 will need to attend a pre-arranged, in-person interview, while applicants under 14 or 80 and over may be eligible to apply by courier.
Your interview must be booked in advance. During the interview, you will be required to bring the following documents:
- Form DS-160 confirmation page
- A print out of your appointment confirmation
- Your application fee payment receipt
- Your passport or other travel document. Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the United States.
You may also need documentary evidence to demonstrate the following:
- The purpose of your trip – this could include a travel itinerary, tickets or a letter from friends and family with whom you are staying.
- Your ability to pay all costs of the trip – if you are unable to cover all costs, you may show evidence that someone else will cover some or all of these.
- Your intent to depart the US after your trip – evidence of your residence and/or your family ties abroad will be needed to show your intent to return to your home country.
It is important to stress this list is not exhaustive. As the documents you should take to your interview will be determined by your specific circumstances, it is best to take advice if you are unsure to avoid any issues or delays with your application processing.
During the interview, a consular officer will ask you questions about the information provided in your application form and about your planned activities while in the US to determine your eligibility for the US tourist visa. The B-2 visa interview generally lasts around 15 minutes.
How long is B2 visa processing?
In most cases, at the end of the interview you should be told whether your visa application has been approved, denied or if further information is required for a decision to be made.
If your application for a US tourist visa is successful, it typically takes 3 – 5 workdays to process for the passport to be stamped and a further 2-3 days for the courier to deliver.
Processing times are subject to consular case load and potential delays and disruption due to issues such as pandemic service restrictions. Take advice when making your application for the latest processing timeframes.
What is Administrative Processing?
If you have been told your application is subject to administrative processing, you can expect delays in a decision on your application. It can be difficult to estimate how long the administrative processing will be, as it can vary between applications and depending on the circumstances, but it can be a period of months or even years. Again, take advice if you have received notification of administrative processing to determine your best course of action.
Applying for a US Tourist Visa with a criminal record
If you fall within the scope of one of the inadmissibility or ineligibility grounds, for example, you have a criminal conviction, you may still be able to apply for a US visa with a supporting application for a waiver of inadmissibility. Each case will be taken on its own facts, as such it is recommended you take advice from an expert to understand the merits of your application and likely prospects of being successful.
If you have not already applied for a waiver based on a past conviction, you may be advised to do so during the interview. In this case, it can take around 8 months from the date of interview for a visa decision to be made.
Can I combine a US tourist visa with a US business visa?
An individual on a US tourist visa is not permitted to perform gainful employment or carry out work while in the United States. However, if you want to enter the United States temporarily for a combination of both business-related activity and tourism, you can apply for a B-1/B-2 visa.
The B-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visitor visa for those travelling to the US temporarily to engage in business activities, such as attending a conference or seminar, or other legitimate activities of a commercial or professional nature.
As with a US tourist visa, however, a business visa will not generally allow for gainful employment or productive activity.
In practice, most B classification applications are processed as combination B1/B2 visas, but you should ensure this is the case if you intend to carry out both types of activity during your stay.
Once I have my US tourist visa, what happens next?
While a US tourist visa entitles the holder to travel to the US, it does not guarantee entry. US officials at the port of entry, such as the airport, have the right to allow or refuse admission to the United States.
You should therefore be prepared for questioning at border control and carry with you documentation in support of your reason for travel, as permitted by your visa.
You should always apply for a US tourist visa well in advance of your intended travel departure date and avoid making non-refundable travel arrangements until you are in receipt of your validated passport.
If you are unclear about any aspect of obtaining a US B-2 tourist visa, contact us for guidance on your specific circumstances.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.