In almost every circumstance, foreign nationals need to first obtain a visa before they can enter the United States. These visas span a large spectrum depending on the qualifications of the beneficiary, the length of time the beneficiary intends to stay in the U.S., and what the beneficiary plans to do once he or she is here. For those that simply wish to visit the U.S. for business or pleasure, the visitor visas would most likely be the most appropriate options.
Types of Visitor Visas
There are two main categories for visitor visas that depend on the intentions of the beneficiary:
The B-1 visa is intended for those that are planning on visiting the U.S. for a short period of time for business purposes. B-1 holders are permitted to meet with business associates, settle an estate, engage in negotiations for a contract, attend conferences and conventions, and other business-related activities.
The second category of visitor visa is designated for those who wish to enter the U.S. for tourism. Vacations, visits to family and friends, social events, and even medical treatment are all permitted under the B-2 visa.
Visitor Visa Limitations
Keep in mind, however, that receiving employment or being paid for services in the U.S. is not permitted under the B-1 or the B-2 visas. If you are participating in a contest, you cannot be paid for your participation and any paid performances are prohibited. Additionally, you cannot enroll in any classes that count as credit toward a degree. You can, however, take a short recreational class.
The visitor visas also do not permit foreign crew members to disembark from planes or ships under the visitor visas, as this qualifies as employment. Lastly, the B-1 and B-2 visas are not dual intent, meaning that you cannot seek permanent residence (green card) while under visitor visa status.
How to Apply
If you are interested in applying for a visitor visa, then the first step is to complete the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, or DS-160. Once you have finished, be sure to print out the confirmation page. You will also be required to upload a portrait photo of yourself along with your application. Take a look at these photo requirements to make sure that you are adhering to the Department of State’s guidelines.
The next step will be to schedule an interview with an immigration officer at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy. Each has it’s own set of instructions regarding your interview, so be sure to check the official website before your appointment.
Usually, people in the following age groups do not need to participate in an interview:
- Those who are younger than 13 years old
- Those that are older than 80 years old
However, keep in mind that the consular officer reserves the right to interview anyone who is applying for a visitor visa. When you go to your interview, you should bring the following documents with you:
- The printed confirmation page for your DS-160
- A receipt showing that you paid the application fee (which is $160)
- A current passport that will be valid for at least six months longer than your period of stay in the U.S.
- If you were unable to upload a photo with your application, then you will need to bring a printed photo.
You will be asked a series of questions during your interview that are created to determine whether or not you qualify for a visitor visa. To help convince the officer, you may want to consider bringing documents as evidence of the purpose of your trip, your intentions to leave the U.S. once your purpose has been completed, and your ability to cover the cost of your trip.
If your consular officer determines that you are qualified, your biometrics (or fingerprints) will be taken and you will be informed of when you can expect your visa will be ready. Once your passport has been returned with your new visitor visa, you will be able to travel to a U.S. port of entry (airport, seaport, or border station). However, remember that the officials at the port of entry also reserve the right to deny you entry into the U.S.
If approved, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection will stamp your passport and/or provide you with an I-94 arrival/departure form. From there, you can enjoy your stay in the U.S. for the allotted time.
Visitor Visa Processing Time
There is no set time that you can expect as our visitor visa processing time. This all depends mainly on the workload of the U.S. Consulate or Embassy. However, you can see how long the appointment wait time is at the Consulate or Embassy near your home town to get a better understanding of your estimated processing time.
Is Premium Processing Available?
Unfortunately, premium processing is only available for the I-140, I-130, and I-129 forms. It cannot be used for the DS-160.
Visitor Visa Validity Period
The longest possible stay on a visitor visa is 6 months, though your immigration officer will determine the length of your stay depending on your circumstances and your reason for visiting.
Visitor Visa Extensions and Renewals
If you need to stay in the U.S. longer than the amount provided by your visa, you can opt to apply to have your visa extended by filing an I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status at least 45 days before your visa expires.
The USCIS states that the following must apply for you to be eligible:
- You must have been lawfully admitted to the U.S. under nonimmigrant status
- Your visa must still be valid
- You have abstained from crimes that would render your visa invalid
- You have not transgressed the terms of your visa
- Your passport will continue to be valid through your visa extension
If your extension application is denied, be sure to leave the U.S. before the departure date given on your I-94. If you remain in the U.S. past this date, you may be subject to consequences that could impede further attempts to enter the country.
To renew your visa, you will need to follow the same application steps as though you were applying for your visa for the first time. You may also want to consider changing your status to a different nonimmigrant visa if your intention is to stay longer.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
Whether you’re planning on only staying in the U.S. for a few months or you wish to immigrate to the U.S. permanently, the best way to go about applying is to start with an expert in your corner. Immigration law, like any field of law, can be fraught with pitfalls that are easily avoided by an experienced attorney.
At SGM Law Group, our dedicated team of attorneys have been serving foreign nationals all over the world and helping them obtain employment, family, and visitor visas. We handle everything from filing the petition to transferring your status if necessary. Make sure that your case is in experienced hands by contacting our office and scheduling a consultation today.