Unlike the permanent immigrant visas discussed in other articles, the B-2 (Tourist) and B-1 (Business Purpose) visas are issued to persons for temporary stay in the United States for specified purposes. The B-2 allows visits for pleasure or medical treatment and no other, is normally issued for up to six months, and normally takes a few days to receive in most countries. One should contact the local consulate to obtain such a Visa and in certain nations no such Visa is even required for entry into the United States (Visa waiver countries discussed below). The B-1 allows one to enter the United States to engage in business as described below for a business not based in the United States.
While one can apply for a Green Card while having a B-1 or B-2 visa, and obtain one if you are otherwise eligible for one, there is no advantage in being in the United States on a B-1 or B-2 Visa in such application. Indeed, since one must represent that one has entered the United States without intent to remain permanently to obtain a B-1 or B-2 Visa, it could be argued that one misrepresented one’s intentions in obtaining the earlier visas if one then seeks a Green Card.
As discussed below, in most countries it is easy to obtain a B-1 or B-2, a one step process at your local United States consulate. And the more one demonstrates previous use of the B-1 and B-2 in which one returned home within the time limits, the more likely it is that the local consulate will easily issue another such visa.
THE RULES APPLICABLE FOR THE VISA
The B-1 Visa permits the holder to enter the United States for business purposes only which are defined as making investments, buying goods, attending business related seminars, or performing other temporary work for an employer located outside of the United States.
What it does not allow is for the holder to operate its own company within the United States, or be employed within the United States by a United States company. (See the article on Coming to the United States: the Immigrant and Non immigrant Business Visas.) The penalties for violating these restrictions can be severe and include deportation and prevention from return to the United States for five years.
The intention of the person entering the United States under any type of B visa must be to only be a temporary visitor. The maximum time of entry for a B-1 visa is one year and six month limits are common. Theoretically, one could remain for the six months, leave the United States, and return the next day, but such flaunting of the rules is not recommended. When an applicant’s travel history demonstrates that they are spending most of their time in the United States, the INS may at any time assume that the intention is no longer to be a temporary visitor and may refuse additional entry. The “trick” of seeking to live in the United States by leaving every six months for a week or two is not likely to succeed either for a B-1 or B-2 visa for long. Note, however, that if one has a vacation home in the United States and lives there less than half time, one could expect to be able to do so legally. It is vital to be able to demonstrate that one has a home abroad to substantiate the intent to return home upon expiration of the visa.
VISA WAIVER NATIONS
Certain countries, who allegedly do not have a history of illegal immigration to the United States, have been granted “visa waivers” and may have their citizens enter the United States for up to ninety days without a visa. (They may still apply for a B-1 or B-2 if they wish a longer period.) Once in the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, one cannot alter one’s status to another non immigrant classification or apply for a green card without first leaving the country unless you have married a United States citizen or are unmarried children or parents of a United States citizen.)
Each visitor arriving must arrive with a transportation ticket to leave the United States. Those entering from Canada or Mexico need not have a visa but must show evidence at the border of sufficient funds to live in the United States without working.
As of 2002, there were 29 Visa Waiver countries. Before relying on this list, check the consulate for additions or subtractions:
The nations are: Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Uruguay.
THE BASIC PROCEDURE
While one may technically apply at any consulate, realistically it is always better to apply at a consulate in your home country. Otherwise, the consulate may conclude you are “consulate shopping,” that is, seeking a consulate that easily grants visas and that is disliked in the extreme. It is important to take the time to prepare the paperwork carefully. One may resent the intrusion into one’s personal affairs, but the right to enter the United States is not freely given and the brutal truth is that the United States is not particularly anxious to have visitors and the INS personnel are overworked and understaffed. You are being “processed” with thousands of others and the procedure is impersonal.
You will require two types of documents: first those issued by the government which must be filled out completely and correctly either in English or in the language of the country in which the consulate is located; second is personal documents such as birth and marriage certificates to substantiate what you filled in on the form. Only photocopies with a governmental seal are allowed; otherwise, you need originals. (In Japan, all documents must be translated to English.)
The application is a one step process. In many consulates you can simply walk in with your passport and supporting documents, fill out the application while you are there, and get your B visa on the same day. Other consulates insist upon advance appointments. For example, most consulates in Canada and Mexico require one to arrive and make an appointment at least a week in advance. A few, such as London, will allow applications by mail. ALWAYS TELEPHONE YOUR LOCAL CONSULTATE OR CHECK THEIR WEBSITE TO DETERMINE LOCAL RULES.
“Consulate Shopping “ is frowned upon and if you are using a consulate outside of your own country, be sure to have a good explanation of why.
Often the B-1 and B-2 Visas are issued together even though their use is significantly different. Upon entry into the United States, you will fill in a I-94 card which will have stamped your entry date and your authorized stay. Each time you leave and reenter the United States you get a new authorized time to stay. The normal stay will be three to six months for a B visa. If you are issued a combination B-1 and B-2 Visa, make it clear upon entry which visa you are planning to use and it is likely they will cross out the other one.
Certain consulates request you to fill in “optional forms” which, of course, are not optional since if they wish the information you would be well advised to supply it.
For B-2 Tourist Visas, Form I-134 is the Affidavit of Support which is used to convince the consulate that upon arrival in the United States someone will provide sufficient support so that you will not be tempted to violate the nonworking requirements of the B-2 Tourist Visa. (Do not use the stricter and more onerous I-864 Affidavit of Support form which is used for immigrant visa applications.) The person you are visiting in the United States, who must be a citizen or green card holder, is the person who executes the I-134 Form and, essentially, the form obligates that person to repay to the United States government for the total of any welfare or support payments you might receive should you go on welfare. The obligation is extinguished after three years.
To apply for the B-2, you need a passport and one passport type photograph and any documents you may have to show you intend to leave the United States upon the expiration of your visa, such as evidence of ties to your home country (deeds showing ownership of property, written statements from you stating that close relatives remain behind in your home country, a letter from your company in the home country saying you still have a job and are expected to return after your vacation, etc.)
You may also need to prove you will not need to work while in the United States and should bring such evidence as personal financial statements and bank statements and, if you can, the executed Form I-134.
In applying for the B-1 Visa, bring a document from your employer in your home country describing your job and what you will be doing for them during the trip to the United States. The letter should mention that you are to be paid only from sources outside the United States and are expected to return to the home country when your tasks in the United States are completed.
EXTENSIONS OF VISA
Once in the United States, the extension to stay beyond the date of the visa must be filed before the expiration date already granted. No extension is granted on a Visa Waiver. Further, you total stay including any extension may not exceed one year.
Requests for extension may be mailed to the INS Regional Center and, as of 2002, cost $120.00 plus $10.00 for each accompanying spouse or child. It is best to send by certified mail, return receipt requested and the request should be sent long before the expiration date to assure it is received in a timely manner. Such applications are normally approved within two months and such application must be filed before the date of expiration on the I–194 but no sooner than 60 days before the date of expiration. Assuming you file your application on time, you will be allowed to remain in the United States pending the decision on the extension. If the extension is granted, you will receive a I-797 form with a new date and you! -194 card, which you submitted with your extension application, will also be returned. If denied, you will be given written reason for the denial and normally an additional thirty days to leave the country. The most common reason for denial is that you are merely trying to prolong your stay in the United States indefinitely. There is no practical appeal from denial of extension.
APPEAL FROM DENIAL OF B VISA
There is no formal appeal from a denial but you are normally advised as to the reasons for the denial and may apply as many times as you wish. Such reasons are seldom given in writing, but you will be advised in most circumstances by the consular officer and if the reason is lack of substantiation of some of the information in your application you may resubmit with additional information. The usual reason for denial is that the consular officer does not believe you intend to return to your home country when the time of the visa is expired or that you intend to work while in the United States.
Do not attempt to apply again at a different counselor office since your passport will normally be marked to show that an application was already received.
It is important to remember that the entire INS system is now computerized and that even a simple procedure, such as seeking a B visa, can result in long term damage to your odds of returning if you fail to comply with the time expiration dates or are found untruthful in your application thus are denied. Be sure to always leave before the expiration date and if so, you can always apply later and should be able to return without a problem. Tens of thousands of people obtain these visas every month and so long as you follow the guidelines above, you are likely to be able to obtain your own. There are, however, no guaranties and in certain countries, such as China, Haiti, Turkey, Pakistan, etc, they encounter consulates who are far more vigorous in reviewing and confirming the likelihood of applicants returning to their home country. If you are a young unmarried, childless Chinese or Turkish applicant with no steady employment and little property, you are likely to meet stringent review of your application and may face denial at the discretion of the consular officer. If you are seeking entry from a nation with little history of visa violations, such as New Zealand or Japan, the scrutiny is normally much less strict. Keep those facts in mind when crafting your application and understand that their primary concern is that you prove you will return to your home country once the visa period is over.