Visitor Visas Summary

The B (visitor) visa category is available to those who wish to visit the U.S. temporarily for either business or pleasure. Business visitors are issued B-1 visas, and visitors for pleasure are issued B-2 visas. The form for this (and many other) non-immigrant visa applications is the DS-160, which must be completed online.

Those who wish to enter for different purposes (such as to study or to work) must apply for a different visa.

Acceptable B-1 business visitor activities include:

  • engaging in commercial transactions which do not involve gainful employment in the United States (such as a merchant who takes orders for goods manufactured abroad);
  • negotiating contracts;
  • consulting with business associates;
  • engaging in litigation;
  • participating in scientific, educational, professional or business conventions, conferences, or seminars; or
  • undertaking independent research.

Acceptable B-2 pleasure visitor activities include:

  • tourism or social visits to relatives or friends;
  • health promotion or medical treatment;
  • participation in conventions, conferences, or convocations of fraternal, social or service organizations;
  • accompanying, as a family dependent, the alien member of any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces temporarily assigned for duty in the U.S.;
  • accompanying, as a family dependent, a crewman in D visa status;
  • engaging in a short course of study, provided that the study is incidental to the visit; and
  • performing or competing as an unpaid, amateur entertainer or athlete in a social and/or charitable context or as a competitor in a talent show, contest or athletic event.

Qualifying for a Visa

Applicants for visitor visas must be able to show that they qualify for the visa when they apply at a U.S. consulate. They must show that:

  • the purpose of their trip is to enter the U.S. for business, pleasure, or medical treatment;
  • they plan to remain for a specific, limited period; and
  • they have a residence outside the U.S. as well as other binding ties which will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit.

If satisfied with the applicant's eligibility, the consulate may issue the visa the same day, or instruct the applicant to return at some later date.

Visa Waiver Program

Travelers from certain eligible countries may also be able to visit the U.S. without a visa, through the Visa Waiver Program. Read more about how to participate in the Visa Waiver Program

Passing through a U.S. Port of Entry

It is important to remember that a visa does not guarantee entry into the U.S. Immigration inspectors at the port of entry can, and frequently do, deny admission.

Likewise, the validity dates on a visa do not have any effect on how long the visitor is allowed to remain in the U.S. Immigration inspectors determine the period for which the bearer of a visitor visa is authorized to remain in the U.S. The standard period granted is 6 months. However, in recent years, the government has gotten much stricter in limiting the period to 3 months or less if the purposes for the visit to not appear to require the full 6 months.

At the port of entry, the immigration inspector must authorize the visitor's admission to the U.S. At that time the Form I-94, Record of Arrival-Departure, which notes the length of stay permitted, is stamped.

Extending the Period of Authorized Stay

Frequently, visitors will want to extend their stay in the U.S. past the date stamped on their I-94.

The visitor may try to do this using USCIS Form I-539 ("Application to Extend or Change Status"). This Application should be supported by documentation that establishes that:

  • the purpose of the trip continues to be for business, pleasure, or medical treatment;
  • the visitor plans to remain for a specific, limited period;
  • the visitor has a residence outside the U.S. as well as other binding ties which will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit; and
  • the visitor has sufficient funds to support himself/herself, and to finance travel out of the U.S.


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