Visitor Visas – Business and Pleasure
Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. The “visitor” visa is a nonimmigrant visa for persons desiring to enter the United States temporarily for business (B-1) or for pleasure or medical treatment (B-2). As examples, if the purpose for your planned travel is to consult with business associates, travel for a scientific, educational, professional or business convention, or conference on specific dates, settle an estate, or negotiate a contract, then you would apply for a visitor’s visa. As additional examples, if the purpose of your planned travel is recreational in nature, including tourism, amusement, visits with friends or relatives, rest, medical treatment, and activities of a fraternal, social, or service nature, then you would apply for a visitor’s visa. The visa allows a foreign citizen, to travel to the United States port-of entry and request permission of the U.S. immigration inspector to enter the U.S.
- Changes introduced shortly after September 11, 2001 involve extensive and ongoing review of visa issuing practices as they relate to our national security. Visa applications are now subject to a greater degree of scrutiny than in the past. So it is important to apply for your visa well in advance of your travel departure date. Foreign travelers, who are citizens from certain eligible countries, may also be able to visit the U.S. without a visa on the Visa Waiver Program. Review the information below about Visa Waiver.
- Persons planning to travel to the U.S. for a different purpose such as students, temporary workers, crewmen, journalists, etc., must apply for a different visa in the appropriate category.
Visa Waiver Program
Travelers coming to the U.S. for tourism or business for 90 days or less from qualified countries may be eligible to visit the U.S. without a visa if they meet the visa waiver program requirements. Currently, 27 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, as shown below:
Visa Waiver Program – Participating Countries
- San Marino
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
Qualifying for a Visa
Applicants for visitor visas must show that they qualify under provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Applicants must demonstrate that they are properly classifiable as visitors under U.S. law.
The presumption in the law is that every visitor visa applicant is an intending immigrant. Therefore, applicants for visitor visas must overcome this presumption by demonstrating that:
- The purpose of their trip is to enter the U.S. for business, pleasure, or medical treatment;
- That they plan to remain for a specific, limited period;
- Evidence of funds to cover expenses in the United States
- Evidence of compelling social and economic ties abroad; and
- That they have a residence outside the U.S. as well as other binding ties which will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit.
Where Do I Apply for a Visitor Visa?
Applicants for visitor visas should generally apply at the American Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence.
Each applicant for a visitor visa must submit these forms and documentation, and submit fees as explained below:
- An application, Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-156, completed and signed. The DS-156 must be the February 2003 date, either the electronic “e-form application” or the non-electronic version.
- A Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-157 provides additional information about your travel plans. Submission of this completed form is required for all male applicants between 16-45 years of age. It is also required for all applicants from state sponsors of terrorism age 16 and over, irrespective of gender, without exception. Seven countries are now designated as state sponsors of terrorism, including North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, and Libya. You should know that a consular officer may require any nonimmigrant visa applicant to complete this form.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant’s intended period of stay in the United States. If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must make an application;
- One (1) 2×2 photograph.
What are the Required Fees?
- Nonimmigrant visa application processing fee – Each applicant for a visitor visa must pay a nonrefundable US $100 nonimmigrant visa application processing fee.
- Visa issuance fee – Additionally, if the visa is issued, there will be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee, if applicable. If there is a fee for issuance for the visa, it is equal as nearly as possible to the fee charged to United States citizens by the applicant’s country of nationality.
Applicants must demonstrate that they are properly classifiable as visitors under U.S. law by:
- Evidence which shows the purpose of the trip, intent to depart the United States, and arrangements made to cover the costs of the trip may be provided. It is impossible to specify the exact form the documentation should take since applicants’ circumstances vary greatly.
- Those applicants who do not have sufficient funds to support themselves while in the U.S. must present convincing evidence that an interested person will provide support.
- Depending on individual circumstances, applicants may provide other documentation substantiating the trip’s purpose and specifying the nature of binding obligations, such as family ties or employment, which would compel their return abroad.
Documentation Needed – When Seeking to Travel for Medical Treatment
In addition to all of the documentation requirements explained above, the following documentation is also required, for persons seeking medical treatment in the U.S.:
- Persons desiring to travel to the U.S. for medical treatment should be prepared to present the following, in addition to any other documentation the consular officer may require:
- Medical diagnosis from a local physician, explaining the nature of the ailment and the reason the applicant requires treatment in the United States.
- Letter from a physician or medical facility in the United States, expressing a willingness to treat this specific ailment and detailing the projected length and cost of treatment (including doctors’ fees, hospitalization fees, and all medical-related expenses).
- Statement of financial responsibility from the individuals or organization which will pay for the patient’s transportation, medical and living expenses. The individuals guaranteeing payment of these expenses must provide proof of ability to do so, often in the form of bank or other statements of income/savings or certified copies of income tax returns.
Persons traveling to the U.S. for medical treatment should have a statement from a doctor or institution concerning proposed medical treatment.
Misrepresentation of a Material Facts, or Fraud
Attempting to obtain a visa by the willful misrepresentation of a material fact, or fraud, may result in the permanent refusal of a visa or denial of entry into the United States.
The Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-156 list classes of persons who are ineligible under U.S. law to receive visas. In some instances an applicant who is ineligible, but who is otherwise properly classifiable as a visitor, may apply for a waiver of ineligibility and be issued a visa if the waiver is approved.
Visitors are not permitted to accept employment during their stay in the U.S. Unless previously canceled, a visa is valid until its expiration date. Therefore, if the traveler has a valid U.S. visitor visa in an expired passport, he or she may use it along with a new valid passport for travel and admission to the United States.
If the consular officer should find it necessary to deny the issuance of a visitor visa, the applicant may apply again if there is new evidence to overcome the basis for the refusal.
Entering the U.S. – Port of Entry
Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The visa allows a foreign citizen coming from abroad, to travel to the United States port-of entry and request permission to enter the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security’s, Bureau of Transportation Security has authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. Also, the period for which the bearer of a visitor visa is authorized to remain in the U.S. is determined by a U.S. immigration officer of the Bureau of Transportation Security, not the consular officer. At the port of entry (an international airport, seaport or land border crossing), a Bureau of Transportation Security, a U.S. immigration official must determine whether you can enter and how long you can stay here, on any particular visit. If you are allowed to enter, the U.S. immigration official authorizes the traveler’s admission to the U.S. At that time, Form I-94, Record of Arrival-Departure, which notes the length of stay permitted, is validated by the immigration official.
How Do I Extend My Stay?
Those visitors who wish to stay beyond the time indicated on their Form I-94 must file an extension with the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. The decision to grant or deny a request for extension of stay is made solely by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.