Generally speaking, a temporary visitor does not need family ties to a green card holder or US citizen in order to travel to the United States. As long as the visit is less than 6 months and the visitor can pay for their own travel expenses, he or she does not need a sponsor, letter of invitation, or Affidavit of Support. In fact, if the visitor will spend less than 90 days in the US and qualifies for the Visa Waiver Program, they may not even need a visa to travel to the United States.
A sponsor is only necessary when the visitor will rely on someone else to finance their trip to the United States. In such cases, the sponsor simply needs to demonstrate an ability to cover the necessary costs of the proposed trip. The sponsor doesn’t need to be a US citizen or green card holder. The consular officer who approves the visa application will care more about the applicant’s relationship with the sponsor and his or her ability to finance the trip than their citizenship status.
There are two types of visitor visas, otherwise referred to as B-class visas. Visitors who travel to the United States for business may receive a B1 visa, while visitors who travel to the United States for pleasure may receive a B2 visa. Business travelers who expect to participate in some tourist activities while in the country may also receive a B1/B2 combination visa for both purposes.
In either case, the application process for a visitor visa for business or pleasure is the same. The process begins when the traveler submits an online application (Form DS-160) to the USCIS along with a personal photograph. After paying the applicable filing fees, he or she will need to complete a medical exam, receive all necessary vaccinations, gather civil documents (birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc.), and meet with a consular officer for a visa interview at any US embassy or consulate.
During the interview, the applicant will need to prove three important things to receive their visitor visa:
- That the purpose of their trip qualifies for a visitor visa (i.e. a temporary trip for business or pleasure)
- That he or she intends to leave the US in less than 6 months (the best form of proof is a return ticket to their home country within the 6-month time frame)
- That he or she can pay for their travels without taking a job in the US
In most cases, an applicant who has employment and/or family ties in the United States is deemed to have sufficient evidence that the trip qualifies for a visitor visa. Assurances from American family and friends in the form of a letter of invitation or Affidavit of Support are irrelevant, though the applicant can bring them if they choose to.
Upon successful completion of the visa interview, the officer will approve the application and take a digital copy of the applicant’s fingerprints. The individual will then be permitted to travel to a United States port of entry, where they will complete a final interview with a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. Once the CBP officer stamps their passport, the visitor visa will officially take full effect.
Visa Waiver Program
Under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), qualified travelers from certain countries may be permitted to travel to the United States for business and/or pleasure for a period of 90 days or less. While this program makes travel to the United States considerably easier, there are strict qualification standards:
- The traveler cannot be a national of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria (even if the traveler carries the passport of another country)
- The traveler cannot be found to have violated the terms of a prior non-immigrant visa, or otherwise be deemed inadmissible
- The traveler cannot enter the United States on a private aircraft or any other non-VWP-approved air or sea carrier
- The traveler cannot harbor any intentions to permanently reside in the United States
- The traveler cannot have spent time 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)
- The traveler must be from a country 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.
- The traveler must have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months after planned departure from the United States
- The traveler must have valid authorization under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and have paid all ESTA fees
- The traveler must intend to visit the United States for no more than 90 days as a visitor, whether for pleasure or business
Note, however, that the Visa Waiver Program comes with a few notable drawbacks. First is the initial time allowance in the US. While someone with a visitor visa can stay in the country for up to 6 months, a VWP visitor can only stay for 90 days. Second is the ability to extend their time in the United States. While someone with a visitor visa can easily extend their visa, the list of valid reasons for an extension under the VWP is extremely limited (notably for medical emergencies and asylum).
Finally, VWP travelers are not entitled to due process should the government attempt to deport them from the United States. In contrast, someone with a visitor visa is entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge of the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) if they are subject to removal proceedings.
Denial of Entry into the United States
Keep in mind that a visitor visa grants permission for someone to travel to a US port of entry. It does not guarantee admittance into the country. The final decision as to whether someone should be admitted into the country lies with the CBP officer after completing a primary or secondary interview.
If someone with a visitor visa is denied entry into the United States, they may be ineligible to return to the country for up to 5 years. However, if someone travels to a port of entry under the Visa Waiver Program and is denied entry, they may be eligible to re-attempt entry into the United States immediately after returning to their home country (providing they clear up the issues that prevented their initial entry and they still qualify for the VWP).
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