Category B:  Visitors

B visas are available for aliens seeking to visit the U.S. for business, pleasure, tourism, medical treatment, or a combination of purposes.  Theoretically, B visa holders may be admitted to the U.S. for a maximum of one year.[1]  In practice, however, they are usually only admitted for six months.  B visas are frequently valid for ten years.

The law presumes that every alien applying for a visitor’s visa is an “intending immigrant” who intends to remain in the U.S. permanently.  This means that all B visa applicants have the burden of proving that: (1) their trip is to enter the U.S. for business, pleasure or medical treatment; (2) they plan to remain for a specific, limited period; (3) they have sufficient funds to cover expenses while in the U.S.; (4) they have compelling social and economic ties abroad, and (5) they have residences outside the U.S. and other binding ties ensuring their return home at the end of their visit.

To apply for a B visa, aliens ages 14 to 79 must first schedule an interview with the consulate.  Waiting times for interviews and post-interview visa processing vary greatly from consulate to consulate.

After scheduling the interview, the alien prepares and submits an online form DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application.  After submitting the DS-160, the alien should print a copy of the confirmation page, which contains a bar code.  At the interview, the alien must bring: (1) the confirmation page; (2) a passport that will remain valid for at least six months beyond the intended period of stay, and (3) one passport-size photograph and the other supporting evidence described above and below.

B-1 business visitors

B-1s visit the U.S. on business.  Permissible reasons include consulting with business associates, negotiating a contract, and other such matters.  However, B-1s may not work for U.S. entities.             

Domestic servants also qualify as B-1s when working for either: (1) a U.S. citizen employer permanently residing abroad, but temporarily staying in the U.S., or (2) a foreign citizen holding a lawful non-immigrant status.

B-2 visitors for pleasure, tourism, or medical treatment

B-2s visit the U.S. for pleasure, tourism, or medical treatment.  In medical treatment cases, B-2 applicants should also submit: (1) a letter from a U.S. physician (describing: (a) the alien’s ailment; (b) the reason treatment is required in the U.S.; (c) the nature, length and cost of treatment, and (d) a willingness to treat the ailment); (2) a statement of financial responsibility from the individuals or organization that will finance the patient’s transportation, medical, and living expenses, and (3) proof of the financial sponsor’s ability to finance the patient’s treatment, transport, and living expenses, such as bank account statements, stock portfolios, and income tax returns.

Visa Waiver Program

Some aliens visiting the U.S. do not need visas.  The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables aliens from the following countries to enter the U.S. without visas for up to 90 days:

Andorra Hungary Norway
Australia Iceland Portugal
Austria Ireland San Marino
Belgium Italy Singapore
Brunei Japan Slovakia
Chile Latvia Slovenia
Czech Republic Liechtenstein South Korea
Denmark Lithuania Spain
Estonia Luxembourg Sweden
Finland Malta Switzerland
France Monaco Taiwan
Germany Netherlands United Kingdom
Greece New Zealand

VWP visitors must first submit an online ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) application with CBP, which is usually approved instantly.  The approval remains valid for two years.[2]

VWP visitors may not change statuses or extend their authorized period of stay beyond 90 days.  There are only two narrow exceptions to this rule.  First, if an emergency prevents the VWP visitor from leaving within the 90-day timeframe, the CIS District Director has discretion to extend the authorized period of stay for an additional 30 days.[3]  Second, if the VWP visitor is the IR of a USC and applies for AOS, DHS will generally disregard the 90-day rule.

Category F: students

Every year, thousands of foreign nationals come to the U.S. as students.  Most enter in F-1 status.  ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) play the pivotal role in admitting F-1 students.  Here is how the process works:

First, an SEVP-certified high school or college offers the student admission. Often, applying students must obtain a satisfactory score on the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) test.

The school then obtains a Form I-20 for the student.  To do this, the school enters the student’s information into the SEVIS database.  SEVIS then e-mails a completed Form I-20 to the school, which endorses the form and gives a copy to the student.

The alien then applies for F-1 status.   Aliens abroad apply for F-1 visas.  Aliens in the U.S. apply for a change of status.  Most aliens applying for F-1 status must show: (1) an approved I-20 from an SEVP-approved school;[4] (2) documentary evidence of financial support;[5] (3) for initial admission, intent to attend the school that will be specified on the visa;[6] (4) a residence abroad, and (5) an intention to leave the U.S. upon completing the studies.

F-1s are subject to numerous restrictions.   They must remain in a “full course of study,” [7]  which, at the undergraduate level, means at least 12 semester or quarter hours per term.[8]  Generally, they may only work on campus for no more than 20 hours per week.[9]  They typically cannot simultaneously pursue LPR status.  F-1s who apply to adjust status go out of status upon filing, and begin accruing unlawful presence (ULP) if CIS denies the I-485. An F-1’s spouse and children are admissible in F-2 status[10], but may not work[11] or engage in post-secondary full-time study.[12]

Optional and practical training (OPT)

F-1s who have finished their studies may engage in post-completion optional and practical training (OPT), subject to various restrictions: (1) their work must be directly related to their major areas of study;[13] (2) they may not start working until the date specified on the EAD;[14] (3) they must complete the OPT within 14 months of completing studies[15]and (4) they may only work for a total of 12 months.[16]  In certain situations, there is an exception, enabling the F-1s with degrees in qualifying areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to extend their OPT for an additional 24 months.[17]

[1] 8 CFR 214.2(b)(1).

[2] 8 CFR 217.5(d)(1).

[3] 8 CFR 217.3(a).

[4] 8 CFR 214.2(f)(1)(i)(A).

[5] 8 CFR 214.2(f)(1)(i)(B).

[6] 8 CFR 214.2(f)(1)(i)(C).

[7] 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(i).

[8] 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(B).

[9] 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9)(i).

[10] 8 CFR 214.2(  f)(3).

[11] 8 CFR 214.2(f)(15)(i).

[12] 8 CFR 214.2(f)(15)(ii).

[13] 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A).

[14] 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A).

[15] 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A)(3).

[16] 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10).

[17] 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C).

Additional Resources

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