B-Category visas are a type of visitor visa (temporary, non-immigrant) issued for business and tourist travel to the United States. Generally speaking, a B1 visa is for business-related projects, while a B2 visa is for tourism and pleasure-travel. The government can also issue a B1/B2 visa to business travelers who plan to travel within the US for tourist activities during their stay in the United States.
Interestingly, not all travelers who come to the United States need a visa. Certain qualified travelers from approved countries may be able to travel to the United States for up to 90 days under the Visa Waiver Program (restrictions apply).
B1 Business Visitor Visa
A B1 visa is ideal for travelers who need to spend less than 6 months in the United States while working on a temporary business-related project. While the type of project matters less than the length of time spent in the country, some business activities that often merit a B1 visa include:
- Attending a convention, exhibit, or business meeting
- Competing in a non-professional sporting event
- Conducting independent research
- Negotiating and signing contracts
- Professional services (e.g. consulting)
- Purchasing business supplies
- Settling an estate
- Taking an exam that is only offered in the United States
If your business in the United States is expected to take more than 6 months, you should instead apply for an immigrant visa that allows for a longer stay in the country. B1 visa-holders have the ability to apply for an extension, but only when the initial project expectations were less than 6 months. Lying about your expected duration in the United States on a B1 visa application with the assumption that you will apply for an extension is considered a violation of the visa’s terms and may prevent you from receiving another visa in the future.
B2 Tourist Visitor Visa
Tourists who plan to spend less than 6 months in the United States can apply for a B2 tourist visa. Some examples of tourist trips that typically qualify for a B2 visa include:
- Attending a reunion (family, class, etc.)
- Attending a wedding or other ceremony
- Partaking in recreational retreats and classes
- Seeking medical treatment
- Visiting family and/or friends
- Visiting tourist attractions
As with the B1 visa, a B2 visa-holder may apply for an extension in certain circumstances. Strict rules apply with visa extensions, and you are required to submit the required documents before your visitor visa expires. Staying in the United States on an expired visa, even with a pending application for extension, is a violation of US immigration law and may prohibit your future return to the country.
B1/B2 Visitor Visa
A B1/B2 combination-visa is a great solution for business travelers who wish to travel within the United States before, during, or after their business project. Where a standard B1 visa may restrict where the holder can travel based on the approved business purposes, a B1/B2 visa will allow the holder to travel anywhere within the United States during their approved stay in the country. This offers significantly more flexibility to business travelers who want to take full advantage of their limited time in the United States.
Do All Visitors Need a B1 or B2 Visa?
If you plan to spend less than 90 days in the United States for your business and/or pleasure trip, you may want to consider taking advantage of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP comes with some important restrictions that are worth considering, but for many travelers it is a preferable alternative to going through the lengthy and potentially costly process of getting a visitor visa.
In order to qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, a traveler will need to check all of the following boxes:
- Home country is on the State Department’s list of VWP participating countries—Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.
- Plan to visit the United States for no more than 90 days as a visitor, whether for pleasure or business
- Have a passport that’s valid for at least 6 months after their planned departure from the United States
- Have no intent to permanently reside in the United States
- Cannot be a national of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria (even if the traveler carries the passport of another country)
- Have valid authorization under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
- Haven’t violated the terms of a prior non-immigrant visa, or become inadmissible under US immigration laws
- Haven’t been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, or any other country that the DHS designates as supporting terrorism or “of concern” (exceptions may apply)
- Will not be entering the United States on a private aircraft or any other non-VWP-approved air or sea carrier
How to Get a B1 or B2 Visa
For tourists and business travelers who require a visitor visa, you’ll need to complete the following in order to obtain a visitor visa:
- Submit the online visa application – complete form DS-160 and submit the application online with a qualifying photograph
- Schedule an interview – unless you’re a minor or over age 80, you’ll need to meet with a consular officer at the nearest US embassy or consulate.
- Pay the application fee – the standard application fee is $160, though the actual fee may vary depending on your location and what paperwork is required
- Gather required documentation – in preparation for your visa interview, gather your passport, civil documents (birth certificate, marriage certificate), receipt of application fee payment, and a copy of the application and photograph that you submitted online.
- Complete the interview – the consular officer’s job is to assess your eligibility for a visitor visa under the conditions that you listed on your application. To prove your case, it’s a good idea to bring evidence as to the purpose of your trip, your intent to depart the country at the conclusion of your trip (usually in the form of a return ticket to your home country), and your ability to pay for your trip without taking a new job in the United States (e.g. bank statements)
Assuming your application is approved, you will be permitted to travel to a US port of entry. Keep in mind, however, that your visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. You’ll still need to complete an interview with a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer at a primary interview booth upon your arrival. Your visa is only officially valid when the officer stamps your passport and permits your entry into the United States.
Call our Immigration team at(480) 626-2388 to discuss your case today.
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