The B nonimmigrant visa category covers visitors for business (B-1) and pleasure and/or medical tourism (B-2). By far, the vast majority of non-citizens who enter the United States each year do so as nonimmigrant visitors in the B visa category. Generally, stays in the United States in this category are brief, and involve such activities as touring, visiting family members, obtaining health care, or conducting business on behalf of an overseas employer. The trips are temporary, limited to six-months at a time, and cannot involve employment in the United States or the undertaking of an academic study program.
A business visitor (B-1) will be granted only a period of entry necessary to conduct her or his business. Most such visits are approved for less than three months, and only in unusual circumstances would a stay of more than six months be granted. Tourists in the B-2 category are automatically given a period of entry of six months, even if the visitor intends to remain only for a shorter period. A longer period than six months can be granted, but only under unusual circumstances, while a border agent can give less than six months only “for good cause,” and only when approved by a higher-level official.
Unlike many other nonimmigrant categories, the B visa category requires application only to the U.S. consulate; no special permission needs to be obtained from the Immigration Service in the U.S. before a visa is issued. The visa application process is straightforward, and for many foreign nationals, the visa can be issued for a period of validity up to 10 years and for an unlimited number of entries.
VISA WAIVER PROGRAM
In addition, a visa waiver program has been put into effect for visitors from dozens of countries such that citizens of these countries do not need a visa to come to the United States for a brief visit: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea (South), Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. Furthermore, Canadians do not require visas to come to the United States. For more information about the visa waiver program (ESTA), please visit this link. The advantages of avoiding the visa-issuance process are many, including savings in time and the convenience of traveling on short notice. The limitations placed on persons who participate in the visa waiver program (VWP) should be carefully noted, however, because some of the limitations may make its use inappropriate for a particular foreign national.
REQUIREMENTS FOR B-VISAS
For B visitors, it is important to show that they have “bona fide non-immigrant intent.” They can show that they harbor the correct intent by demonstrating that:
• they plan only a temporary trip to the U.S.;
• they maintain a residence outside of the U.S. that they have no intention of abandoning;
• they intend to leave the United States at the end of the temporary stay and any bond which has been required by a consular officer has been paid;
• they have permission to enter a foreign country at the end of the temporary stay; and
• they have made adequate financial arrangements to enable them to carry out the purpose of the visit to, and departure from, the United States
Non-Immigrant Intent for Business Purposes
The State Department has provided all consular posts with a detailed listing of activities that can legitimately be conducted on a B-1 visa. It is important to keep in mind several basic rules governing the B-1 visa determination with regard to legitimate activities:
• The B-1 visa holder cannot engage in productive employment in the U.S. (with a few exceptions discussed later). Productive employment includes both salaried work for an employer and services for hire on an independent basis (independent contractors or freelancers).
• The legitimate B-1 business activity should be associated with international trade or commerce. B-1 classification is not appropriate if the work product (either a tangible object or contracted services) will predominantly be created in the United States.
• The principal benefit of the activity accrues to the business person or corporate entity abroad. This element requires that the proprietary work product of the B-1 business visitor should belong to either the B-1 visitor or the foreign firm and not to the U.S. firm.
• The visitor’s salary or other remuneration (other than an expense allowance) should come from the foreign employer, i.e., from a source outside the United States.
• The work on the product should not be controlled primarily by a U.S. entity. The foreign company should maintain ultimate control over the B-1 visitor’s employment, including the locations in the United States where the person will work and the hours when she or he will work.
• The right to interview and determine the acceptability of a B-1 non-immigrant representing the foreign firm, and the right to make determinations about promotion, termination, and other personnel matters, should lie solely with the foreign employer.
• The foreign firm which the non-immigrant is representing must be regularly engaged in business of a commercial nature. Representatives of businesses established merely for the purpose of providing labor to U.S. firms, whether at the unskilled, skilled, or professional level, are not eligible for B-1 classification.
If the prospective B-1 visa holder is to be paid a salary from a U.S. source, there is very little chance that she or he qualifies for a B-1 visa. When the prospective visa holder is an independent contractor or business entrepreneur in a service field, and she or he will receive payment under contract or otherwise from a U.S. source, there is also the likelihood that the B-1 visa is inappropriate.
Foreign nationals, other than Canadians and VWP participants, can make their applications for a B-1 visa by completing the following forms and gathering the following documents for presentation at a U.S. consulate abroad:
- Form DS-160, the online nonimmigrant visa application
- Printed Confirmation Page, confirming submission of DS-160
- Supporting letter from the employer
- Supporting documentation establishing: a. The visitor’s nonimmigrant intent b. The legitimate business activity in which the non-immigrant will engage in the United States
- Passport of the visa applicant (valid for at least six months)
- Photograph of the visa applicant (passport-sized)
- Application fee, if any (when required, the reciprocity fees are usually paid on the day of the interview)
- Machine-readable visa fee (the MRV fee is typically paid in advance and evidence of payment must be retained to schedule an appointment at the post and presented on the day of the interview)
Non-Immigrant Intent for Tourists
Intending tourists must often make a fairly detailed showing regarding their nonimmigrant intent. The key issues are:
• financial arrangements for the trip, or other factors showing financial sufficiency of the intending visitor
• specificity of trip plans
• ties to the intending visitor’s home country
• (and lack of ties) to the United States
With regard to financial arrangements, the intending tourist should be able to show a round-trip ticket and ability to bring sufficient funds with her or him to the United States to cover the stated purpose of the trip. An intending tourist who appears only marginally able to pay for the trip will likely be required to present an affidavit of support from a U.S. source, generally the person who the intending tourist is visiting in the United States. An affidavit of support can be just that-a sworn affidavit from the non-citizen’s U.S. host stating his or her willingness to cover all expenses of the intending visitor in the United States—or can be a completed USCIS form created for this purpose, Form I-134, which is illustrated with the completed nonimmigrant visa application that follows. In either event, the affidavit will only carry persuasive weight if it is from a person likely to back up the words with action-a close family member who has the means and the sense of obligation to comply in case the tourist falls short of funds.
With regard to the specificity of arrangements, the tourist should be able to show travel arrangements that are as specific as possible: confirmed hotel reservations, car rentals, internal travel arrangements such as domestic flights or tour packages. While it is not recommended to buy flight tickets prior to obtaining a visa, the visitor must have a non-immigrant purpose for visiting the United States. Admittedly, many tourists come to the United States with flexible plans. In these cases, it is important to establish sufficient resources to complete the trip, and it is often useful, and sometimes required, to present the consul in these cases with a letter of invitation from a U.S. source, along with the letter or affidavit of support.
With regard to ties abroad, the intending visitor must be able to demonstrate the following: steady employment or source of income in their home country, substantial business or property interests at home, family ties such as children, spouse or an elderly person for which the visitor provides financially. These elements must be particularly well presented when the intending visitor has demonstrably close ties with the United States, such as close family members here—an item of information requested on the nonimmigrant visa application form.
If the purpose is for other than touring, such as to obtain medical treatment, the documentation would include letters from the attending physician, and other indications of arrangements made with U.S. clinics or hospitals. Visits to friends or relatives will usually need to be supported with a letter of invitation from the U.S. host. The purpose of the visit and the resources of the visitor must coincide: a six-month visit for touring obviously requires more than several hundred dollars to undertake, and the intending visitor must be ready to match the stated purpose with adequate means of support, including personal resources, as demonstrated by bank statements or affidavits of support, as illustrated in the following nonimmigrant visa application.
Nationals of certain countries must often overcome consular skepticism regarding their nonimmigrant intent, particularly if they are young, single, and do not possess a lot of ties to their home countries, because they are viewed as “high-risk” and unlikely to return home. Similarly, elderly parents of U.S. citizens from certain countries, will sometimes face skepticism regarding their nonimmigrant intent.
Foreign nationals who need B-2 visas make their applications by following the same procedures and presenting documentation to a U.S. consulate similar to that described for business visitors above. Rather than a supporting cover letter from the applicant’s employer, however, the intending visitor should submit a letter of invitation from a U.S. host, if applicable, and more substantial documentation of financial ability, such as an affidavit of support from a U.S. source like the above-mentioned host, and an itinerary.
As a general matter, visas can be issued for any number of entries-anywhere from one authorized entry to “multiple” entries. The visa’s period of validity can also vary from the time necessary for the one trip specified in the visa application to a 10-year period of validity. The number of entries and the period of validity of the visa usually depend on the country from which the visa applicant comes, as the maximum period of validity and number of entries are set on the basis of reciprocity between the U.S. and the foreign state.
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