The United States is the second most-visited country in the world behind only France. Every year, millions of visitors arrive at a United States border crossing for business purposes or general tourism purposes.
Many of these visitors arrive using a B visa, also known as an American visitor visa. There are two types of B visas, including a B-1 visa and a B-2 visa. Unlike certain other visas, there is no cap on the number of B-1 and B-2 visas awarded each year. The number of visas given out depends entirely on the number of applicants.
Today, we’re explaining which visitor visa is right for you, including how to apply for a B-1 or B-2 visa to visit the United States.
What is a Visitor Visa?
A visitor visa allows you to visit the United States temporarily for business or pleasure.
If you’re visiting the United States to do business with a U.S. company, for example, then you may apply for a visitor visa. Or, if you’re traveling to the United States on holiday to see the Grand Canyon, then you would apply for a visitor visa.
Visitor visas are separated into two main categories, including:
B-1 Visa: Temporary visits to the United States for the purpose of doing business with a company within the United States.
B-2 Visa: Temporary visits to the United States for tourism, including visits with family or friends or traveling to U.S. cities and landmarks.
What Can I Do with a B-1 Visa?
A B-1 visa for business travelers gives visa holders the right to conduct certain business-related activities in the United States, including:
- Negotiate contracts
- Settle estates
- Consult with business associates in the U.S.
- Attend conferences and other educational, professional, or business events
What Can I Do with a B-2 Visa?
A B-2 visa is given to you for general tourism purposes. With a B-2 visa, you can perform all of the following activities on your visit to the United States:
- Have a vacation in the U.S.
- Tour across the country to visit cities, landmarks, and any other sights
- Visit friends or family
- Participate in social events hosted by organizations
- Receive medical treatment
Participate in events or contests related to music or sports (as long as you do not receive any payment for your appearance)
Enroll in short study courses for which you will not receive credit (a cooking class, for example, or any other class that isn’t going towards a degree or certificate)
What Can I Not Do with a B-1 or B-2 Visa?
You are excluded from performing certain activities while visiting the United States with a B-1 or B-2 visa. Those activities include:
- Become a full-time or part-time student
- Perform and receive payment for it
- Work in press or journalism
- Engage in any form of employment
- Enter the country as a crewmember of an airline or ship
- Seek permanent residence in the United States
Ultimately, a visitor’s visa is exactly what it sounds like: it allows you to enter the country temporarily for business or pleasure. You cannot, however, stay permanently, nor can you engage in any type of employment while visiting the United States.
Violating the terms of your B-1 or B-2 visa may prevent you from gaining entry to the United States in the future.
Combined B-1 and B-2 Visas
Technically, the B-1 and B-2 visas are two separate things. You are permitted to enter the United States for business-related purposes on the B-1 visa and pleasure-related purposes on the B-2 visa.
But what if you want to visit the Grand Canyon while you’re attending a work conference in Las Vegas? That’s why the United States has recently begun issuing more combined B-1/B-2 visas. These visas allow you to visit the United States for business and tourism-related purposes.
If you have a combined B-1/B-2 visa, then you can visit the United States for all of the purposes listed above under the B-1 and B-2 visa categories.
What Are the Requirements for a U.S. Visitor Visa?
As a visitor to the United States, you will need to prove that you are not a security threat to the country. You will also need to prove that you intend to leave the United States after your visa expires. As long as you satisfy both of these requirements, you are unlikely to be rejected for a B-1 or B-2 visitor visa. The requirements aren’t nearly as strict as certain other non-immigrant visas.
- Your visit must be a temporary visit for purposes of tourism, business, or medical treatment
- You must have sufficient finances to cover your stay within the United States
- You must return to your home country after your visa expires and you must not make plans to stay in the United States
If you meet these requirements and can convince the border officer that you meet these requirements, then you should have no problem getting a B-1 or B-2 visa to visit the United States. As mentioned above, the primary concern is to ensure you are not a security threat and that you intend to leave the country after your visa expires.
How to Apply for a Visitor Visa to the United States
Applying for a visitor visa to the United States is straightforward. Millions of people successfully apply for a B-1 or B-2 visa every year.
The process is similar to other non-immigrant visas. You visit the website of the U.S. embassy for your country of residence. The website features links to the visitor visa application in your language.
If you are a citizen of one of the 38 countries in the Visa Waiver Program, then you may not need a B-1 or B-2 visa; instead, you can apply to enter the United States through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The ESTA application can be completed in minutes online and allows you to immediately be approved or rejected for travel to the United States. Many developed countries are part of the Visa Waiver Program.
Nationals of all other countries, however, will need to complete the traditional visa application process to receive a B-1 or B-2 visa. Here’s how the process works:
Step 1) Fill out form DS-160
Step 2) Pay the application fee
Step 3) Schedule your visa interview
Step 4) Collect your documents
Step 5) Attend your interview
Fill Out Form DS-160
Form DS-160 is the standard document required for all non-immigrant visa applications to the United States. You can find form DS-160 for your home country on the website of the U.S. embassy for your home country.
On the form, look for the section that mentions B-1 and B-2 visitor visas, then fill out all required information. Answer truthfully when asked about your background, employment, education, and reason for visiting the United States.
When you complete the application, you will receive a confirmation page and barcode. Save these documents or print them out for future reference.
Pay the Application Fee
The B-1 and B-2 visa comes with an application fee of $160. Citizens of some countries are required to pay additional fees beyond the $160, although most visitors will simply pay $160. Once your payment has been completed online, you will receive a receipt. Keep this document for future reference, as it may be required during your embassy interview.
Schedule your Visa Interview
After you have completed the payment to the U.S. embassy or consulate, you can schedule your visa interview. All visitor visa applicants between ages 14 and 79 are required to attend an in-person interview at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. During the interview, a CBP officer will verify the information on your visa application form.
Schedule your interview and wait to receive the confirmation letter. You will need to bring this letter with you on the day of your interview.
Collect your Documents
You might be required to bring supporting documents to your visa interview. Depending on your purpose of travel, required documents for a B-1 or B-2 visa can include all of the following:
- Scheduled interview confirmation page
- A letter describing the purpose of your trip
- Financial statements or bank account statements proving you have the financial means to support yourself while in the United States
- Documents proving ties to your home country, including bank account statements, a mortgage for a home, or a job contract indicating that you plan to return home after visiting America
- Invitation letter from friends or family in the United States (typically only required if your friends and family are financially supporting you or providing accommodation during your trip to America)
- Transcripts or a diploma (for students)
- Documents from prior visits to the United States (if applicable), including old visas and passports
- A document explaining your criminal record (if any), or a letter from the police proving you have no prior arrests or convictions
- A letter from your employer indicating the length of your trip and when you are expected back at work
- A paystub from your employer proving your wages or salary
- Documents showcasing your relatives’ status in the United States (i.e. if they are permanent residents living within the United States)
- Letters from a doctor in your home country explaining why you are traveling to the United States for medical treatment and why that procedure cannot be done in your home country
Ultimately, the CBP officer might check all of these documents – or the officer might check none of the documents. Generally, it’s better to be safe and bring all the possible documents with you. The more evidence you have supporting your legitimate reasons for visiting the United States, the easier it will be to enter the country.
Attend the Interview
Arrive at the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country early. All U.S. embassies have strict security procedures. You may be required to leave cell phones and bags off-site – say, in a locker in a nearby train station or hotel. You will pass through a security checkpoint. Then, a member of the embassy staff may take your fingerprints. Finally, you will wait in a lounge with other visa applicants until your name is called.
Once your name is called, you will walk up to the embassy employee’s window and answer all questions regarding your B-1 or B-2 visa application to the United States. An interview can last anywhere from a few minutes to 45 minutes, depending on your application, your background, and the truthfulness of your answers.
When Will I Hear About My B-1 or B-2 Visa Application?
You will hear about your B-1 or B-2 visa application within several days or weeks of your embassy interview, depending on your country of origin. Sometimes, a B-1 or B-2 visa application is processed within 3 to 5 days and you receive your stamped passport shortly thereafter. With other embassies, it can take several months for a B-1 or B-2 visa to be processed.
We recommend applying as early as possible to ensure your visa is approved prior to your visit to the United States.
How Long Does My U.S. B-1 or B-2 Visitor Visa Last?
When you receive your B-1 or B-2 visitor visa, it will clearly state the date of expiry.
The United States B-1 or B-2 visitor visa will last as long as is stated on the visa. Some B-1 or B-2 visas have a specific validity period: you might have 6 to 12 months to travel to the United States, for example, before the visa expires.
In other cases, the B-1 or B-2 visa allows unlimited travel to the United States within a specified period of time. The visa might last 10 years, for example, during which you can enter and leave the United States on multiple trips (although the visa will typically expire when your passport expires).
Can I Extend My B-1 or B-2 Visitor Visa?
It’s unlikely that you will be able to extend your stay with a B-1 or B-2 visitor visa. If your visa is expiring, then you typically need to return to your home country and re-apply before visiting the United States again.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. If you tell the border officer that you’re leaving the United States after your visa expires, and the border officer still approves your entry to the United States, then you are free to stay until that date of entry. As long as you leave the United States on the day you originally told the border officer, then you can remain in the United States legally until that date.
Certain situations can also lead to a change in immigration status. You can marry a U.S. citizen while within the United States, for example, and apply to change your immigration status to become a permanent resident. However, you cannot enter the United States intending to marry a U.S. Citizen while visiting with a B-1 or B-2 visa and change your immigration status. It must be a spontaneous decision made during your trip.
Can I Get a Green Card with My Visitor Visa?
A visitor visa does not typically lead to a green card (i.e. lawful permanent residence status). The only way you can get a green card with a U.S. B-1 or B-2 visitor visa is if you marry a U.S. citizen while in the United States and then change your immigration status. Certain U.S. visitors may also be eligible to change their immigration status if they have family in the United States.
Can I Bring My Dependents to the United States With a B-1 or B-2 Visitor Visa?
If your dependents wish to join you in the United States, then your dependents will need to request their own B-1 or B-2 visas.
Let’s say your wife wants to join you on a business trip to the United States. Your wife will need to go through the same visitor visa application process (in this case, you would likely get a B-1 visa for business while your wife would get a B-2 visa for tourism).
There are no dependency visas for B-1 or B-2 visas. Whether you’re bringing kids, parents, or a spouse with you to the United States, they all need their own visas.