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How to Visit the United States

How to Visit the USA

To visit the U.S., you will first need to apply for and receive a visitor visa. 

A visitor visa is a non-immigrant visa which allows you to enter the United States temporarily for business or pleasure.

There are three types of Visitor Visas:

Business Visa (B-1 Visa)

Tourism and Visit Visa (B-2 Visa)

Combination of Tourism and Business (B-1/B-2 Visa)

There is one exception to the visa requirement:  visitors from certain countries may apply to travel through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).  Currently, 38 countries participate in the VWP.

Business Visas (B-1 Visa)

If the purpose of your trip is business related, you should consider the B-1 visa.

Not all business activities are permitted with the B-1 visa.  It can be difficult to know what you can and cannot do while visiting the U.S.

These activities are usually permissible:

  • Engage in commercial transactions which do not involve employment

  • Negotiate contracts

  • Consult with business associates

  • Litigate a matter in the court system

  • Attend a convention or conference

  • Purchase property

  • Attend a board of directors meeting

You cannot work in the U.S. with a visitor visa. 

If you wish to work, you’ll need a temporary worker visa such as an H-1B Visa.

Tourism and Visit Visas (B-2 Visa)

A B-2 Visa is the right choice if your purpose in coming to the U.S. is for tourism, visiting friends and relative or medical treatment. 

You can also enroll in a short recreational course that doesn’t provide credit toward a degree like a short cooking class.

If you wish to engage in employment or a program of study, the B-2 Visa is not appropriate.

How to Apply for a Visitor Visa

Your first step is to locate a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in or near your home country.  Next, complete and submit the Form DS-160 Application.  Finally, check the instructions for the consulate you selected to find out how to pay the visa fee and schedule your interview.

What is the fee for a Visitor Visa?

The DS-160 Application Fee is $160.  You may also be required to pay issuance fees.

What documents do I need to apply for a visitor visa?

You’ll need:

  • A Passport valid for travel to the United States.  Your passport expiration date must be more than six months beyond the dates for your period of intended stay.

  • Your DS-160 Confirmation Page

  • Application fee payment receipt if your consulate requires you to pay before your interview date

  • Passport-Sized Photograph (if you were unable to upload your photograph to your DS-160)

  • Documents showing the purpose of your trip

  • Documents evidencing your intent to depart the U.S. after your trip

  • Documentation demonstrating your ability to pay for your trip

If you are applying for a B-1 visa you’ll need documents showing the business-related purpose of your trip such as a conference ticket or itinerary

You must provide evidence of your ties to your home country such as employment, family ties and financial accounts.  A letter of invitation from a family member or friend is not required. 

If your visa is approved, it will usually be issued to you a few days after your interview.

Your application may require further adjudication such as a security screening or review of your immigration history.  This is known as administrative processing.  It’s usually not possible to predict how long administrative processing will take in a given case.  It could be days, weeks or months before a decision is made. 

What’s the most common reason a visitor visa is denied?

The most common ground for refusal of a visitor visa is Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. 

This law states:

“Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the officer, at the time of the application for a visa . . . that he is entitled to nonimmigrant status . . .”

It is up to you to prove to the Consular Officer that you are not an intending immigrant.  The only way to do that is by showing the consular officer you have compelling reasons to return to your home country after your stay in the U.S.

In most cases, the consular officer will make a determination as to whether you qualify for a visa based solely on a review of your DS-160.  If your DS-160 shows few ties to your home country and substantial ties to the U.S., you may be refused a visa even if you bring documents to your interview evidencing your intention of returning.

My Visitor Visa application was refused under 214(b).  Can I appeal?

There is no appeal or waiver for a 214(b) refusal.  You may reapply at any time by submitting a new DS-160, paying the application fee and scheduling a new appointment.

 However your chances of success will not improve unless your personal circumstances change significantly.

Entering the U.S. with Your Visa

Your visitor visa does not guarantee you will be admitted to the U.S.  It only allows you to travel to a U.S. port of entry or pre-clearance station.  The Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officials will make the decision on whether or not you are allowed entrance.

If you are allowed entrance, the CBP officer will determine the length of your stay.

Length of Stay in the U.S. on a Visitor Visa

A lot of travelers are confused about the difference between the visitor visa validity period and the length of time they are allowed to stay in the U.S.

You may be issued visa that is valid for up to 10 years. 

However, that does not mean you are allowed to stay in the U.S. for 10 years. 

When you are admitted to the U.S. with your visa, the CBP officer will determine how long you are allowed to stay.  If you are travelling with a visitor visa, you will not be allowed a stay greater than six months.  The CBP officer will stamp your passport and record an “admitted-until” date.  You must leave the country on or before that date.

My relative filed an immigrant petition for me.  Can I apply for a visitor visa while I’m waiting for my case to be approved?

Having an immigrant visa petition pending on your behalf is not grounds for an automatic denial.  However, you’ll need to show strong evidence that you plan to leave the U.S. after your temporary visit.  You should be very careful if you choose to apply for a visa or travel with it to the U.S. because any mistakes or omissions you make during the process could be used to deny your immigrant visa application.

If I’m issued a tourist visa and I stay in the U.S. for six months, how long do I have to wait before I can visit the U.S. again?

There’s no rule requiring you to wait before using your visitor visa again.  However, if you return to the U.S. shortly after a long stay, CBP may be suspicious about your return.  If CBP suspects you are actually living in the U.S. or working in the U.S., your admission will be denied and your visa may be cancelled.

How many visitor visas can be issued each year?

There is no quota on the number of visitor visas that may be issued.

Do I need to file separate visitor visa applications for my children?

Yes.  Every family member will need his or her own DS-160.

I’m applying for a visitor visa.  If my U.S. relative deposits money in my account, will it improve my chances of getting a visa?

While evidence of bank accounts and financial ties can help you demonstrate your intention of returning home after travel to the U.S., having someone else deposit money in your account will not help you.  In fact, this type of evidence can be harmful.  The Consular Officer may suspect you are trying to fake your financial situation. 

While financial evidence can be helpful, the money should have been earned or inherited by you.

The best thing you can do to improve your chances of applying for a visitor visa is to discuss your specific situation and travel plans with an immigration lawyer before you begin the application process. A lawyer will be able to point out the strengths and weaknesses in your case and advise you how best to overcome the problems you may encounter.

Good luck with your visa application and happy travels!