B-1 Business Visitor
Foreign nationals who will travel to the US for business meetings, including meeting clients or customers, to attend conferences or seminars, and in some limited instances, to conduct or receive certain types of training, may apply for a B-1 Visa. This Visa classification is subject to some scrutiny, as it has been improperly used to work in the US. The B-1 Visa may be granted for up to 10 years. Upon entering the US, the Inspection Officer can allow a visit of up to 6 months, which may be extended. Change of status requests to another Visa category, while in the US, can be difficult or prohibited.
The Visa is applied for at a US Consulate, usually accompanied by a support letter from the company that is sending the foreign national to the US. The B-1 applicant must provide proof that the trip is temporary and that he/she intends to return to his/her country upon completion of the stay in the US.
B-2 Tourist Visitor
Foreign nationals who will travel to the US for pleasure, such as vacations, tourism, weddings, and gatherings with friends and/or family, may apply for a B-2 Visa. This Visa category has a history of being misused, and accordingly is scrutinized. A foreign national entering on a B-2 Visa is not permitted to work or attend school in the US. The B-2 Visa may be granted for up to 10 years. Upon entering the US, the Inspection Officer can allow a period of stay up to 6 months. This 6 month period of stay may be extended. Change of status requests to another Visa category, while in the US, can be difficult or prohibited.
The Visa is applied for at a US Consulate, usually accompanied by evidence that the applicant has enough money to cover the expenses of the trip, the trip is temporary, and he/she intends to return to his/her country upon completion of the stay in the US (e.g., copy of lease, mortgage and/or ownership of property; evidence of close family members in the home country; evidence of employment in the home country; and school enrollment documents in the home country to be completed upon returning from the US, etc.).
Note Regarding Canadian Citizens: Canadian Citizens are not required to obtain a B-1 or B-2 Visa if traveling to the US for one of the purposes outlined above. However, Canadians are still required to qualify under either category by demonstrating the temporary purpose of the trip (as mentioned above) and adequate financial funds for the trip to the US. In addition, Canadians are only permitted to remain in the US for 180 days.
Visa Waiver Program
Foreign nationals from certain designated countries do not need a B-1 or B-2 Visa inserted in their passport prior to traveling to the US, as long as they qualify under the B-1 or B-2 requirements listed above. This determination is made by US Inspection Officer at a US port of entry. Foreign nationals entering on the Visa Waiver program are permitted to stay for no more than 90 days, and may not extend or change to another Visa status.
All Visa Waiver applicants must first apply for permission to apply to come to the US by logging into the website and registering for ESTA.
The countries eligible for Visa Waivers include: Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.
On December 18, 2015, Congress passed a bill which included amendments to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The relevant portion of the bill is titled, “Terrorist Travel Prevention and the Visa Waiver Program.”
Under the new Act, there will be two changes to the current VWP program. First, all VWP applicants must have machine readable passports and beginning April 1st, passports must be electronic and fraud resistant and contain relevant biographic and biometric information. Second, and more significant, the following individuals are ineligible for VWP:
- Any individual who is a dual citizen of Iran, Iraq, Sudan (but not south Sudan), or Syria.
- Any individual who has visited Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Sudan (but not south Sudan), or Syria since March 1, 2011.
Travelers covered by this new law should apply for a nonimmigrant visa appointment at a US Embassy or Consulate. Travelers should mention if they had an ESTA application denied due to this new law and attach a copy of any ESTA denial.
All persons attempting to enter the US as a visitor (with a Visa or with a Visa Waiver) will still have an interview with a US Inspection Officer at a US port of entry. That Officer can still prohibit the entry of the visitor, if he/she believes the foreign national is coming to the US in violation of the terms of the status (intending to work, intending to remain permanently, criminal history, etc.). Persons may be sent to their country of citizenship, or in some cases, subject to expedited removal. Expedited removal prohibits the foreign national from returning to the US for five years or more.