Hundreds of thousands of people receive what's known as a tourist visa each year -- though many also apply who are denied. The visa is also known as a visitor visa, in category B-2. The U.S. tourist visa allows visits to the U.S. for pleasure purposes, or for medical treatment, for a maximum period of up to six months.
The actual length of the stay will be determined when you reach a legal port of entry. Once in the U.S., you can apply for an extension of up to six additional months, but if your stay extends beyond this overall period (one year total), you will begin officially overstaying your tourist visa, thus subjecting yourself to serious immigration consequences.
The U.S. government is very serious about making sure that people only use their visas for the purposes for which they were intended, and do not stay beyond the expiration date. In addition, they are charged with a security role, making sure that people who present any sort of risk to the U.S. are not allowed entry, regardless of the type of visa they apply for. In keeping with these goals, the most common reasons for saying "no" to a visa applicant are as discussed below.
Although the application process for a tourist visa is fairly straightforward, the last thing the U.S. government wants is for this to become an easy means of entry for people who actually want to work in the U.S. (which is prohibited for B-2 visa holders) or stay and live there long term. For that reason, every applicant must show their "nonimmigrant intent" -- that is, prove that they really plan to act as a tourist and leave on time. In order to prove this, the State Department demands evidence that:
You will be expected to provide documents proving all these things. For example, you should bring to your consular interview copies of your travel itinerary (including hotel reservations), plane tickets (including a return ticket), home and apartment leases, bank statements, and so on. Failure to provide convincing proof will result in your tourist visa being denied.
Your answers to questions at the visa interview will also be important. For example, if you say that you plan to "Visit Disneyland, and who knows, maybe pick up some part time work there," or that you're "in a hurry to enter the U.S. to marry your girlfriend there," you will be told that you are applying for the wrong visa, and denied.
Looking at the list of items you have to provide for a U.S. tourist visa, some applicants are tempted to simply lie, or cover up certain facts. For example, they may deny a past criminal conviction, or that they have U.S. citizen family members in the United States. This is, however, visa fraud, and once discovered, will lead to a denial.
Fraud may also come up as an issue if your file shows past lies regarding U.S. visas you have applied for or obtained. See our article on submitting false information on immigration applications for more on the legal issues.
If you have a criminal record, or history of espionage or any links with terrorist groups, there is a strong chance your visa will be denied. Not every crime is grounds for a denial, but many are, and the list can be difficult to interpret. You'll want to see an immigration attorney.
If you have overstayed a past visa, or spent periods of time in the U.S. without authorization, you may have difficulty persuading the consular officer reviewing your visa application that you won't violate this visa, as well. In fact, if your unlawful presence added up to 180 days or more, you face an automatic bar to entry of three years. That number goes up to ten years if your period of unauthorized stay was one year or more. For details on that, see "Three-Year and Ten-Year Time Bars for Unlawful U.S. Presence."
The U.S. immigration laws contain a long list of reasons that people may be found "inadmissible," or ineligible for a visa or green card. For example, if you have an illness of public health significance (most likely tuberculosis -- HIV is no longer on the list), or have been removed (deported) from the U.S. in the past, or are a drug abuser or addict, you can expect to be denied a visa. See "Who Can't Get Into The United States?" for more information.