In simple terms, immigration may be summarized as:
- Immigrants - non-US nationals wishing to remain permanently in the US.
- Non-immigrants - non-US nationals wishing to remain in the US for a period of time, for stated specific purposes.
There are various types of statuses for each of these categories, depending on the circumstances and intentions of the non-US national.
The most commonly used visa for initial entry to the US by a non-US national is the B-2 visa. This is frequently referred to as the "visitor for pleasure." [There is also a B-1 visa which accommodates those who wish to travel to the US to conduct business (but may not engage in hands-on employment) temporarily]. The B-2 visa is classified as a non-immigrant status, which is defined as:
"an alien ... ... having a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning and who is visiting the United States temporarily for business or temporarily for pleasure" [section 101(a)(15)(B) of the INA & USC section 1101 (A)(15)].
This visa accommodates the non-US national who wants to travel to the US as a tourist (visitor for pleasure), and intends to conduct "legitimate activities of a recreational character, including tourism, amusement, visits with friends or relatives, rest, medical treatment and activities of a fraternal, social, or service nature" [22CFR 541.31(b)(2)].
Who Needs a B-2 Visa?
A non-US national wishing to come to the US as a visitor for pleasure for less than 90 days, whose country of origin is one of the following, could visit the US on a visa waiver program.
If a person from one of these countries intends to visit the US for more than 90 days, he or she will need to apply for a B-2 visa:
- United Kingdom (including England, Scotland, Wales, North Ireland, Channel Islands, Isle of Man)
- New Zealand
- San Marino
For any other non-US national who wishes to visit the US, a B-2 visa is required regardless of length of stay.
The countries listed above are currently participating in the Visa Waiver Pilot Program. These nationals do not need a visa when traveling to the US for less than 90 days. This program is subject to change, depending on many factors including the number of aliens entering the US from these countries and the number of those overstaying. When entering the US under this program, you waive the right to appeal the decision of the INS Officer, other than on the basis of asylum, and also waive any right to contest any action for deportation, other than on the basis of an asylum application. You are ineligible to apply for an extension of stay. You may not apply for a change of status (unless a member of the immediate family is a US citizen). If an emergency should arise, you may apply for a grant of satisfactory departure for a period of less than 30 days. (The latter is rarely granted).
Note: Persons applying for a B-2 whose country of origin is any of the above may experience some difficulty in obtaining the visa, as it may be the opinion of the Consular Officer that 90 days should be sufficient for any holiday.
A non-US national whose country of origin is none of the above, and who wants to travel to the US as a "visitor for pleasure" for any length of time, must apply for a B-2 visa.
All persons applying for a B-2 visa must clearly outline their plans during their stay in the US, and such plans must be consistent with the length of stay requested. As with all travelers, they must have a valid passport.
How to Apply for a B-2 Visa
You must apply to the US Consulate in the country where you are currently residing. You must complete and sign form DS-156 and/or DS-157 for males between the ages of 16-45, and you may have to undergo a brief interview with a Consular Officer. The longer the stay or time requested, the greater the chance of denial, as the Consular Officer may assume that the intention is not that of a pleasure trip, but to remain in the US to gain employment. If the visa is denied at this initial stage, you may reapply.
If the visa is issued, note the expiration date, and whether it entitles you to a single entry or multiple entries. The expiration date refers to when the visa expires, and may not be relevant to your actual stay in the US.
The B-2 visa does not grant you automatic entry into the US. It just means that you have satisfied the US Consulate in the country where you are residing that your intentions are valid. You will still have to meet with a CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) Officer at the port of entry. Regardless of the expiration date of the actual visa, the CBP Officer will decide on length of stay. You may, at a later date during your stay, apply for an extension that is consistent with the expiration date of the visa.
Once the visa is issued and on your passport, you may make/confirm your travel arrangements. While you are on the plane, you will fill out Form I-94 (otherwise, the CBP Officer at the port of entry will give it to you). The decision of the CBP Officer will be written on this form, i.e. the type of visa and the expiration date of this entry to the US. If the CBP Officer suspects that your intention is other than that of "visitor for pleasure," because of lack of evidence, including insufficient funds to cover your plans, or insufficient evidence to support your reasons for coming to the US, he has the authority to deny you entry to the US. If your entry is denied at this stage, you may apply for an exclusion hearing before an Immigration Judge. Availability of such hearings is becoming limited, and aliens have few rights. Also, the alien rarely carries with him documentation needed to substantiate reasons for his visit, and of equal importance, for his return home. Severe penalties are issued if the traveler fails to bear such burden of proof. Generally, the traveler accepts the word of the CBP Officer and just returns home.
Advantages of the B-2 Visa
- You may apply for an extension of time, if you would like to travel more extensively, visit more people, or seek medical treatment.
- You may also apply for a change of status. If you decide to take up employment, and have found a job where the employer is willing to sponsor you, you may apply for a work permit. You may not work until this permit is issued.
- If you wish to study in the US after entry, you may apply for a change of status to a student visa. If this is your initial intention for coming to the US, you must state this intention when applying initially for the B-2 visa from the US Consulate. This is required to be noted on your visa, and will avoid problems in changing your status.
- You may engage in "incidental" study without changing status. However, some US schools have been reluctant in accepting students who are on a B-2 visa.
Disadvantages of the B-2 Visa
- Under no circumstances are you permitted to work while under this visa. If you do work, however, and if the CIS or ICE comes to know of this information, severe penalties will be issued.
- You are unable to apply for a Social Security Number.
Notes: The above are "guidelines" adhered to by US Consulates and DHS. The B-2 visa issued by the US Consulates and the time period given are usually based on the "gut feeling" of the officers concerned, and, therefore, are quite subjective. If, for any reason, the officers above have any suspicions regarding the applicant, they may deny entry to the US based upon their own insight.
Other Uses of the B-2 Visa
*These apply as long as you can prove non-immigrant intent
- The spouse and/ or children (including adopted children) of a United States citizen may enter the US on a B-2 visa for a limited period of time, as outlined above. The same applies to an elderly parent of a United States citizen.
- An applicant seeking naturalization under Active Duty Service in the Armed Forces may enter on a B-2 visa.
- Dependents of alien members of the Armed Forces who are eligible for naturalization may enter on a B-2 visa.
- A traveler coming on an emergency visit who did not have time to get proper entry documents (this is very rarely granted), may enter on a B-2 visa.
- Dependents of Crewmen (on D Visa), may enter on a B-2 visa.
- Amateur entertainers, athletes, those involved in performing shows, contests or other events, may enter on a B-2 visa.
- Parents of a minor (under 21) non-immigrant student may enter on a B-2 visa.
- Fiancé of a United States citizen or a fiancé of anyone on a non-immigrant visa bearing the status of F - M as stated below may enter the US on a B-2 visa.
- F (student)
- H (alien with a work permit)
- J (student allowed to work)
- L (alien who is an intra-company transferee)
- M (non-academic student)
1 to 8 are admitted according to the above criteria outlined in obtaining a B-2 visa.