Laws and Restrictions on the B-2 Visitor (Tourist) Visa

Most tourists wishing to visit the United States will use the B-2 visitor visa. Here's how it works.

A B-2 visa is one of the many types of visas available to foreign nationals who wish to visit the United States. The B-2 is meant for pleasure visitors. (It is closely related to the B-1 visa, for business visitors.) Before applying, however, it is important to make sure this is the right category for your intended activity and length of stay.

For example, the B-2 visa is not intended for people who will be taking on paid work in the United States, nor for those who wish to remain for longer than the maximum period of six months.

We will take a closer look at the laws governing this visa in this article.

Immigration and Nationality Act

The primary federal law governing immigration is called the Immigration and Nationality Act, or I.N.A. In its section of definitions, at I.N.A. Section 101, it briefly defines pleasure (as well as business) visitors as including "an alien (other than one coming for the purpose of study or of performing skilled or unskilled labor or as a representative of foreign press, radio, film, or other foreign information media coming to engage in such vocation) having a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning and who is visiting the United States temporarily for business or temporarily for pleasure." (See I.N.A. 101(a)(15)(B).)

Code of Federal Regulations

In Section 41.31 of Title 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.), you'll find further explanation of the B-2 visa. It emphasizes the importance of the applicant's showing that he or she intends to leave the United States at the end of the temporary stay, and allows the U.S. consulate to ask the person to post a monetary bond that would be forfeited if the person failed to return as planned.

It also requires the person to show permission to return to another country (presumably his or her home country) at the end of the U.S. stay, and to show that he or she has made financial arrangements for the entire U.S. trip (so as not to have to find a job in the U.S.).

The regulations additionally define the word pleasure, to include "legitimate activities of a recreational character, including tourism, amusement, visits with friends or relatives, rest, medical treatment, and activities of a fraternal, social, or service nature." (See 22 C.F.R. 41.31).

Also see 8 C.F.R. Section 214.2(b), which specifies that B visa holders can extend their stay up to six months, for a maximum stay of one year.

Foreign Affairs Manual

Another important source of information on the B-1 visa is the Foreign Affairs Manual, published by the U.S. State Department. If offers insights into how consular officers will decide on these visas. For example, it describes what is meant by a residence abroad; how to show close ties to the home country; the importance of the applicant showing specific and realistic plans for the entire trip; and more. (See 9 FAM Section 41.31.)

The FAM also states that the "applicant must have specific and realistic plans for the entire period of the contemplated visit." In other words, saying vaguely "I'll see what I want to do when I get there" may not work. It is best to present a travel itinerary, including cities, hotels or campgrounds you'll stay in, tickets for internal plane travel, and so forth. Barring that, show an itinerary that you have written up, with an explanation of why you haven't made actual reservations yet. You don't actually have to comply with the itinerary once you're in the U.S. (so long as you are still doing tourist things, rather than violating the terms of the B-2 visa).

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