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

Hoping to come to the United States as a tourist or on vacation? Learn about the laws governing the B-2 visitor visa.

By , J.D.

A B-2 visa is one of the many types 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, make sure this is the right category for your intended activity and length of U.S. stay. If you get the wrong visa, and then fail to obey its restrictions, you could jeopardize your chances of being allowed to visit the U.S. in the future.

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.

B-2 Visa Created by 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 Discusses B-2 Visas

In the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.), you'll find further explanation of the B-2 visa by the federal agencies that administer them. Starting with 8 C.F.R. § 214.1, it emphasizes the importance of applicants showing that they intend to leave the United States at the end of their temporary stay, and allows the U.S. consulate to ask them to post a monetary bond that would be forfeited if they fail to return as planned.

The regulations also require B-2 visa applicants to show permission to return to another country (presumably their home country) at the end of the U.S. stay, and to show that they've made financial arrangements for the entire U.S. trip (so as not to have to find a job in the United States).

Government 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. § 214.2(b), which specifies that B visa holders can, once in the U.S., apply to extend their stay by up to six months, for a maximum stay of one year.

U.S. Foreign Affairs Manual Discusses B-2 Visas

Another important source of information on the B-2 visa is the Foreign Affairs Manual, published by the U.S. State Department. If offers insights into how U.S. consular officers will decide whether to grant someone a B-2 visa. 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 § 402.2-2(B).)

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" probably will 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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