Travelers who are entering the U.S. for business or vacation must generally obtain a visitor visa before their trip. There are two types of visitor visas, and each one is designed for a different purpose and comes with different restrictions. It is therefore important to understand the differences between each and apply for the correct visa, as failing to do so could result in a rejected application and cancelled travel plans. This page provides information about the types of visas available, the application process, and other important notes about receiving a B-1 or B-2 visa to enter the U.S.
B-1 Visitor Visas
The B-1 visa is intended for short-term, business-related travel, such as meeting with associates, attending conferences and conventions, and managing estates or other contracts. Other common reasons to obtain a B-1 visa include repairing or installing machinery, taking part in a volunteer program, or taking part in athletic events for which the athlete will be paid only if they win prize money. It is not meant to be used for a long-term visit to the country or for employment with a U.S. based company, and applicants may not enroll in a school or learning program or act as a representative for foreign media while they are in the U.S. Business travelers may continue to receive payment and reimbursements from their employer for the duration of their visit but may not seek or accept employment from a company based in the U.S.
Recipients of a B-1 visa may stay in the U.S. for no more than one year, though most visitor visas are approved only for the necessary amount of time to conduct and complete business, typically around three months. Extensions are available in six-month increments if the nature of the recipient’s business is likely to keep them in the U.S. for a longer period of time than the length of the initial visa, and proper paperwork must be filed and brought to the U.S. to obtain the extension.
B-2 Visitor Visas
A B-2 visa can be used for recreational travel. Like the B-1 visa, it is not intended for long-term employment or study. B-2 visas can instead be used for vacationing, visiting with family and friends, receiving medical treatment, participating in a social event or conference, or enrolling in a short recreational or educational program. These visitor visas are also available for amateur artists, musicians, and athletes who will not receive payment for their services. They are valid for a period of up to six months, but extensions can be granted if necessary.
Applicants are more likely to have their request for a visa approved if they show that they have sufficient funds for the trip, provide evidence of a short and pre-planned trip itinerary, and demonstrate binding ties to their home country, such as evidence of current employment or payments on a house, car, or other large asset. These documents can show that the applicant does not plan to immigrate to the U.S. and will not overstay their visa.
Limitations and Restrictions
There are several limitations to B visas that applicants should keep in mind. These visitor visas cannot be used by people who are visiting the U.S. to study, get a permanent job, participate in paid performances, work on aircraft, or establish permanent residence, among other restrictions. They can be used solely for travel undertaken for the purposes of recreation, receiving medical treatment, or conducting business. Business travelers must be paid only by their employer while they are in the U.S. in a professional capacity and cannot be paid by any U.S.-based entity during their stay.
It is not guaranteed that travelers will receive a visa or be admitted into the U.S. after receiving a visa. They may be refused travel due to natural disasters or illness, such as an outbreak in their home country. Travelers may also be refused entry due to missing paperwork, particularly if they have requested an extension to their visa. It may therefore be best to refrain from buying non-refundable plane tickets, tours, and other purchases until the visa has been approved and received.
Applicants for either visa will need the proper documentation for the process. These documents include a passport valid for six months beyond the intended visit to the U.S., various applications and paperwork, an application fee, and a recent photograph. Applicants may also be required to provide documentation supporting their reason for the trip, their financial status, and their intentions to return to their home country. Business travelers seeking a B-1 visa may also be asked to demonstrate why their work is beneficial to their company in the form of a letter from another company employee.
The application process generally includes an interview for applicants who are between 13 and 79 years old. These interviews are held at the U.S. consulate and are held to get more information about a traveler’s reasons for visiting the U.S. and their intention to leave after the trip is completed. Applicants should bring their passport, application papers or confirmation that they were submitted electronically, and documents supporting their ability to pay for the trip, the length of the trip, and an itinerary showing the places they intend to visit and the length of time they intend to be in each place. This documentation helps consular officials feel confident that the applicant does not intend to stay in the U.S. permanently or otherwise violate the terms of their visa.