A citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must, in most cases, first obtain a visa to do so. This can be either a nonimmigrant visa for a temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence.
For many, a "B" visitor visa is the easiest and most appropriate one to get. (See 8 U.S. Code § 1101.) The B visa a nonimmigrant visa for persons desiring to enter the United States temporarily for business (B-1) or for pleasure or medical treatment (B-2). People planning to travel to the U.S. for a different purpose, such as to study, perform temporary work, act as journalists, and so forth, must apply for a different visa in the appropriate category.
The exception to the need to obtain an entry visa is that travelers from certain eligible countries may be able to visit the U.S. without advance permission, through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). To find out whether your country is on the VWP list, check the Visa Waiver Program page of the U.S. State Department's website.
However, Visa Waiver entrants face some limitations. For starters, they cannot extend their stay beyond 90 days, unless it's an emergency. For example, during the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS announced that it would be flexible in allowing VWP extensions to people whose departure was delayed as a result. By contrast, B-2 visitors can request an extension simply because they want to.
Also, Visa Waiver visitors cannot, in most cases, change to another immigration status while in the United States. In other words, if someone offered them a job and green card sponsorship, or they married a U.S. citizen, they'd still have to go home and complete the application process.
The upshot is that a B visa, though less convenient, offers greater rights and possibilities than the Visa Waiver Program does.
Although the application process for a visitor visa is fairly simple, successfully obtaining it is harder than you might expect. The U.S. State Department, via its consulates around the world, denies a surprising number of visitor visa applications. For that reason, it's important to understand the eligibility criteria.
Applicants for visitor visas must demonstrate that:
Each of these criteria is important, and you'll need to provide convincing proof that you meet them, as discussed below.
Foreign-national truck drivers may qualify for admission as B-1 visitors for business if they'll be picking up or delivering cargo that's in the stream of international commerce. See the Carriers Section of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website, for more information.
In addition to the specific requirements for this visa, you (along with every other applicant for virtually any type of U.S. visa) will need to show that you are not "inadmissible" to the United States. Common grounds of inadmissibility include having a criminal record, a communicable disease of public health significance, or a history of extended unlawful presence in the United States.
If you're coming to the U.S. for purposes such as making investments, buying goods, attending seminars, or performing other temporary work for an employer that is based outside the United States, then a B-1 is the appropriate visa for you. These are all considered "business purposes." Note, however, that you may not be paid by a source within the United States.
If you're coming solely for purposes of pleasure, such as traveling, visiting family, participating in amateur sports or musical events, or taking non-academic courses of less than 18 hours a week, then a B-2 visa is right for you. You may not work in the U.S. at all if you enter on a tourist visa.
Finally, people coming to the U.S. for medical treatment can also use a B-2 visa. The expectation here is that you're seeking treatment that isn't available in your home country and that you'll be paying the bills. Coming to the U.S. solely to give birth and gain citizenship for your child will not be allowed, though a pregnancy with complications could be grounds for a medical B-2.
In order to apply for this visa, you'll need to prepare or collect the following:
When ready, you'll take or mail these to a U.S. consulate in your home country. Check the website of your local consulate, accessible through USEmbassy.gov, for exact application instructions. You'll most likely need to attend an in-person interview at the embassy or consulate, if you're between age 14 and age 79.
Upon each entry to the U.S. using your visa, you'll probably be given a required departure date of between 30 days and one year into the future. The B-1 business visitors are usually allotted the longest stays. Your required departure date will be shown on your Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record, downloadable from the CBP website.
Don't make the mistake of assuming that you can stay in the U.S. until the expiration date on your B visa itself. The visa is an entry document, and its expiration date reflects the last date upon which you can use it to enter the United States. Many B visas are "multiple entry," meaning you can use them over and over again for U.S. entry. But if you ever stay beyond the date shown on your I-94, your visa may be cancelled.
Applicants should be aware that no visa guarantees entry into the United States.
Immigration authorities have the authority to deny admission, perhaps because the person appears to be inadmissible, for example as a security risk, or appears to be using the visa for reasons other than business, pleasure, or medical treatment. For example, if a border office examines your suitcase and finds that you're carrying a wedding dress and the USCIS forms for applying for a green card, yet you've entered on a tourist visa, you're likely to be sent straight back home.