Besides a great country to work in, the US is also a very popular country to visit. It has historical landmarks, impressive infrastructure, and beautiful nature. Additionally, the US presents an attractive environment to do business in. Many people have the US as their travel or business destination and because of that, there are also visas available which only give you the right to enter the US for visiting purposes. These visas are grouped into the B visa or American visitor visa.
This article will give an overview of the types of visitor visas, their purposes, as well as details on how to apply.
What Are the Visitor Visas?
The US visitor visas are a category of US non immigrant visas that allow its holder to go to the US for tourism and business purposes. These people go into the US with the sole purpose of visiting the interesting landmarks that the US has or conduct business with a US company. This does not mean that the visitors are allowed to start a business in the US, it only specifies that you are visiting to create business relationships inside the US.
Because there are two main purposes that visitors can go the US, there are also two types of visitor visas into the B category:
- B1 visa is the visa which allows you to enter the US with the purpose of doing business with a company within the US
- B2 visa is the visa which allows you to enter the US with the purpose of tourism, pleasure, or visit to friends and family
Besides each individual visa, there is also a combination of both B1 and B2 visas; however, that is more rarely sought out.
The B1 visa for business purposes gives its holders the opportunity to do these activities:
- Negotiate contracts
- Consult with business associates in the US
- Settle estates
- Attend conferences, educational, professional, or business events
The B2 visa for tourism purposes gives you the right to do the following in the US:
- Have a vacation in the US
- Tour various cities in the US
- Visit friends or family
- Participate in social events hosted by various organizations
- Visit the country for medical treatments
- Participate in events or contests related to music or sports, for which you will not receive payment
- Enroll in short study courses for which you will not receive credit (ex. cooking classes)
B1 and B2 visa limitations
Besides these activities, any other purpose of visit is not allowed with the visa B1 or B2. Activities that are strictly forbidden to do with these visas are the following:
- Become a full or part time student
- Perform and get paid for it
- Work in press or journalism
- Engage in any form of employment
- Enter as a crewmember on an aircraft or ship
- Seek permanent residence in the US
A visitor’s visa is a great opportunity though to explore the US and create business connections, and violating the activities you are allowed to do might damage your chances of getting another US visa in the future.
The benefit of the visitor visas is that there is no cap on the number issued in a year, and those who abide by the rules can get it as many times as they want as long as they fulfill the criteria.
Who Needs to Apply for the US Visitor Visas?
If you are a citizen of one of the countries in the Visa Waiver Program you don’t need to apply for a US visitor visa. Instead, you can apply through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). With the ESTA program you will not be required to go to the US Embassy in person and can get the visa much faster.
You can check your ESTA eligibility by using our free ESTA eligibility tool.
What are the USA Visitor Visa Requirements?
The US visit visa requirements are not as strict as the requirements for other US visas such as those to go and work in the US. Because of that, to visit the US for tourism or business purposes, you need to meet these eligibility criteria:
- That your intent for visiting is either tourism, medical treatment, or business
- You have enough finances to cover your stay in the US
- You intend to return to your home country as soon as your visa expires and you do not intend to stay in the US
If you meet these requirements and can prove your eligibility through valid documents in the application phase, then you will be able to apply and get the US visitor visa.
How to Apply for the Visitor Visas?
The application for visitor visas is quite straightforward and goes through much of the similar process as other US nonimmigrant visas. This means that you apply at a US Embassy or Consulate in your home country.
For those who need a visa to visit the US, the following steps need to be followed:
Fill in Form DS-160
Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application is a standard form required for all nonimmigrant visas. It has various sections depending on the type of visa that you are applying for. You must find the section for the visitor visas (either B1 visa or B2 visa) and fill the necessary spaces. It will ask about your personal information, background, and purpose of visit to the US. At the end you will get a confirmation page and code which you need to retain for later.
Pay the application fee
The application fee for the visitor visas is $160. You must pay this fee to continue with the application. Besides this fee, you might have to pay visa issuance fees which are determined based on the relationship of your country with the US. After you have completed the payments, you must retain the receipts as proof.
Schedule your visa interview
All visa applicants between 14 and 79 years old are required to attend a visa interview with an official from the US Embassy they are applying in. To schedule your interview, you must contact the Embassy. Try to do this as early as possible to avoid long wait times due to the Embassy’s high workload. After you schedule your interview, you will get an interview confirmation letter, which you need to bring on the day of the interview.
Compile your document file
When you go to the US Embassy, you need to support your case as to why the US Embassy has to give you a visa. Therefore, you need to compile a document file which contains the standard required documents for every US visa and the following documents as well:
- The interview confirmation page
- Letter which describes the purpose of your trip
- Financial or bank statements to prove you have the finances to stay in the US
- Ties to your home country such as family, job contract, lease, or property deed, which prove you will return
- Optional invitation letter from friends or family in the US
- Criminal records or letter from authorities stating that you do not have prior convictions
- If you have visited the US before, bring documents relevant to your prior visits
- If you are a student, bring your transcripts or diploma
- If you work, bring a letter from your employer and pay slips for the last three months
- If you are travelling on business, bring a letter from the company detailing the purpose of the trip and your job position
- If you are only visiting family or friends, bring photocopies of your relative’s status in the US (permanent residence, valid visa, etc)
- If you are visiting for medical purposes, bring letters from doctors on your diagnosis and treatment
Attend your interview
With your document file and depending on the type of visitor visa you are seeking, attend your interview. During the interview, the official will mostly concentrate on your intent to return to your home country. Many people try to go into the US with visitor visas and find employment illegally, so you must prove that you will return.
How Long do the Visitor Visas take to Process?
Since each US Embassy is different and there are a various number of people applying for visitor visas, the processing time depends. It can vary from a few weeks to a few months. If you have a specific date that you need to be in the US in, it is best to apply as early as possible so that you can allow enough time for the visa to be processed.
How Long Are the Visitor Visas Valid?
Visitor visas are usually given for a validity period for which the Embassy officials believe you can complete your purpose of visit. However, they can be granted for 6 months of more. The maximum stay on a visitor visa is 1 year, but bear in mind that you are not allowed to work during that time, so you must prove you can afford to stay for that period of time.
Visitor Visa Extension
If you want a visitor visa extension, you must provide a valid reason as to why you need to stay and submit documents supporting your case. Additionally, during the time that you are in the US with a visitor visa, you can try to change your status to a longer term visa. However, if your purpose is this, then you need to inform the officials at the Embassy during your interview. If you do not inform them, then you need to prove that you did not intend to change your status at the beginning of your trip and the opportunity came later on.
Can I Get a Green Card With the Visitor Visas?
Since the visitor visas are temporary and require you to prove that you will return to your home country, it is difficult to get permanent residence. You can do so only if you are able to change your status to a longer term visa which allows dual intent (applying for a Green Card), marrying in the US, or applying to join your family.
Can I Bring my Dependents With a Visitor Visa?
The visitor visas do not have dependents visas, so if you want to travel with your family, they must also get the appropriate visitor visas.