When foreign nationals wish to visit the United States for a brief period of time, for business, pleasure, medical treatment or a combination of these purposes, they generally must first secure appropriate visas. The United States government issues a variety of visa types. Each specific kind of visa is suited to a different purpose. It is therefore important to speak with an experienced immigration attorney before committing to applying for a specific visa. Depending on your circumstances, you may benefit from applying for an alternative to the visa type you originally intended to obtain.
If you are interested in visiting the U.S. for a short period of time in order to engage in tourist activities, visit loved ones, receive medical care, attend business conferences or otherwise pursue limited professional opportunities, chances are that your attorney will ultimately recommend that you apply for a B1, a B2 or a B1B2 visa. These three visa types are commonly referred to as “visitor visas” as they are targeted towards nonimmigrants who neither wish to seek new employment opportunities nor enroll in credit-based academic coursework while they are briefly staying in the U.S. Whether you should consider applying for a B1 visa, a B2 visa, or a combination B1B2 visa depends on your purposes for entering the United States.
Visitor Visas – The Basics
Visitor visas are limited to trips lasting no more than six months in length, though it is generally possible to extend one’s stay an additional six months provided that you continue to meet the terms of the visitor visa that applies to you. The key consideration that immigration officials will evaluate during your visitor visa application process involves so-called nonimmigrant intent. Practically speaking, this means that you do not plan to abandon your foreign residence in favor of residing in the U.S. on a semi-permanent or permanent basis. If you wish to work, study or otherwise take up residence in the U.S. for any length of time, you would be well served by exploring other visa options with your attorney.
Immigration officials are required by law to presume that individuals who apply for visitor visas intend to immigrate to the U.S. until they overcome this initial presumption. This means that when you submit your B1, B2 or B1B2 application and attend an interview that you will be presumed to have intent to immigrate to the U.S. It will be up to you and your attorney to prove that you have nonimmigrant intent and are therefore eligible to receive the visa you are seeking. In order to overcome the presumption of intent to immigrate, you must generally show that you have a foreign residence and strong foreign ties you do not intend to abandon, that your trip will adhere to the restrictions (both related to arrival/departure dates and permissible/impermissible activities) outlined by the terms of your visa, that you have access to enough funds to cover the costs of your trip and that the purpose of your trip is to enter the U.S. for a limited time in order to attend to specifically permissible business activities, receive medical care and/or travel for pleasure.
It is worth noting that a number of countries participate in a visitor visa waiver program with the United States. If you are a citizen of a participating country, you may not need to formally apply for a B1, B2 or B1B2 visitor visa in order to visit the United States. Although you must possess nonimmigrant intent and otherwise respect the restrictions outlined under the terms of the B visa relevant to you, you may be eligible to travel after working with an attorney to file a specific kind of authorization instead of going through the visa process. Please note that in order to be eligible for this specific kind of waiver authorization, your trip may last no longer than 90 days before your authorization will expire.
B1 Visas – The Basics
The B1 visa option is geared towards foreign nationals interested in visiting the U.S. in order to engage in limited business-related activities. It is important to distinguish between a work visa and a B1 business-related visitor visa. B1 visa holders are permitted to attend business and educational conferences, participate in short-term trainings, consult with business colleagues, negotiate contracts and otherwise further the terms of their current, foreign-based employment in ways that do not violate the spirit of nonimmigrant intent. By contrast, work visa holders are permitted to reside in the U.S. while working for an American-based company. Unlike work visa holders, B1 visa holders may not assume paid work duties outside the scope of their current foreign-based positions while visiting the United States.
B2 Visas – The Basics
The B2 visa option is geared towards foreign nationals interested in entering the U.S. in order to receive medical care, travel for pleasure or pursue both of these goals. Unlike B1 visa holders, B2 visa holders may not work in virtually any capacity while in the U.S. Instead, B2 visa holders are only legally permitted to engage in tourism or vacation-related activities, receive medical treatment, participate in unpaid, amateur performances and competitions, attend social events and pursue recreational courses of study not taken for credit towards a degree.
Applying for a B1B2 Visa
When foreign nationals are interested in traveling to the U.S. in order to attend to both business-related commitments and achieve tourist/medical care aims, it may make sense for these individuals to apply for combination B1B2 visas. If this option interests you, you would be permitted to travel for both work and pleasure subject to the terms of your combination visa and may be eligible to enter the U.S. multiple times within the span of one year without applying for new visa permissions.
In order to apply for a B1, B2 or B1B2 visa, an individual must generally obtain a valid passport, work with an attorney in order to submit a complete application, gather any relevant supporting documentation related to nonimmigrant intent, pay requisite fees and attend an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate located in the applicant’s country of residence. There are exceptions made for the B1 Visa interview requirement; these are generally made in regards to either renewal status or the age of the applicant.
Is an Alternative Visa Option Preferable for Your Situation?
Simply because you wish to enter the U.S. in order to pursue limited business activities, receive medical care and/or engage in tourist opportunities does not mean that applying for a B1, B2 or B1B2 visa is your most straightforward and beneficial nonimmigrant option. Your interests may be better served by pursuing a visa alternative. For example, if you are either a professional or amateur performance-based artist or athlete, you may be eligible for visa alternatives that are more closely related to your travel aims. Visas designed for both artists and athletes seeking to engage in paid and unpaid performances, competitions, events, etc. are available.
In addition, not every foreign national wishing to enter the U.S. pursuant to the terms of a B1, B2 or B1B2 visa necessarily needs to apply for one of these visas. Citizens of nations that participate in the U.S. government’s Visa Waiver Program do not need to formally apply for visas in order to pursue purposes governed by B1, B2 and B1B2 visas if they meet certain criteria. For example, if a French citizen wanted to visit the U.S. for fewer than 90 days (and remain subject to the same general restrictions as outlined by visitor visas), he or she could potentially enter the U.S. under visa waiver status. Instead of formally applying for a B1, B2 or B1B2 visa, that individual could seek authorization to obtain a WB waiver for business travel or a WT waiver for tourist travel. If your country participates in the visa waiver program, please consider speaking with your attorney about whether you may be eligible to register for a WB or WT waiver and whether this option may be preferable to seeking a visitor visa under your specific circumstances.
Visa Assistance Is Available
If you are interested in applying for a B1, B2 or B1B2 visitor visa, please ensure that you have a valid passport and schedule a consultation with an experienced immigration attorney as soon as you have a strong sense of your arrival and departure dates. It takes time to complete a visa application, compile supporting documentation and wait for your opportunity to be interviewed at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your country of residence. The sooner you consult with an attorney about your options, the sooner you can select the visa option that is most appropriate for your circumstances and begin applying for permission to enter the U.S.
If you fail to consult an attorney with plenty of time to spare before you are set to depart, your permission to enter the U.S. may be delayed or even denied. Please do not hesitate to schedule a consultation with an experienced LawTrades immigration attorney as soon as your travel dates are set. Our efficient and cost-effective approach will help to ensure that your application is submitted without unnecessary delay. We look forward to speaking with you.