A B-2 Visa for Visiting the U.S. as a Tourist: Do You Qualify?

Visitor visas can be used not only be tourists, but by people seeking medical treatment, accompanying other visa holders to the U.S., and more -- if you meet the basic criteria.

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In any one year, approximately ten million people will come to the United States as tourists. The U.S. welcomes tourism, and has tried to make the entry process fairly simple. People who don’t qualify for entry without a visa as described in the article “Who Can Visit the U.S. Under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)” will need to apply for a B-2 visitor visa before coming to the United States.

Nevertheless, qualifying for a B-2 tourist visa is not automatic, and for people from some countries, not easy. It depends on what you plan to do during your visit and whether you can convince the U.S. consular authorities that you will really return home afterward.

Eligibility Criteria for a B-2 Visa

You will need to prove to the U.S. immigration authorities that you:

  • are coming to the United States solely for pleasure or for medical treatment, and not for other reasons (such as to work or to stay permanently)
  • plan to stay for a limited, specific period of time – and definitely not permanently
  • have a residence (a place to call home) outside the United States as well as other binding ties that will assure your return home after your visit
  • have permission to enter a foreign country (probably your own) at the end of your U.S. stay, and
  • have the financial means to pay for your visit to and departure from the United States.

Although you will have an in-person interview with a U.S. consular official, your word alone will not be enough to assure the official that you are eligible. For all of the items on the list above, you will need to show documentary proof.

What Does It Mean to Be Visiting the U.S. for Pleasure?

Here is how the U.S. State Department’s regulations describe the types of pleasure activities that qualify a person for a B-2 visa:

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 the Code of Federal Regulations at 22 C.F.R. § 41.31(b)(2).)

This definition allows for a range of activities, from sightseeing to taking classes to attending conferences. It does not, however, allow visits for the purpose of working for pay or conducting other business -activities, such as attending trade conventions, giving consultations, selling international products or even serving as a minister or missionary. A separate visa (the B-1) exists for certain business activities.

Pleasure also cannot include working as a member of the foreign press or information media, since there is a separate visa for this (the I visa). An intent to commit a crime doesn’t qualify someone for a tourist visa either, no matter how pleasurable the rest of their planned visit.

Not-So-Pleasurable Uses of the B-2 Visa

There are some nontraditional uses of the B-2 visa that you should know about. For starters, someone accompanying a visitor for business (B-1) or certain other temporary visa holders may be given a B-2 visa. Similarly, family or household members of someone coming on another temporary visa (such as students, diplomats or temporary workers) who don’t qualify for what’s called “derivative status” and an automatic visa of their own as that person’s spouse or child can be given a B-2. While many U.S. visas allow spouses and children to come as derivatives, not all do, so the B-2 visa can be used to avoid family separation. Being able to come to the United States as a B-2 visa holder also prevents separation of -domestic partners, homosexual partners, elderly parents and others.

Someone wanting to get married in the United States but not planning to stay and apply for a green card could also use a B-2 visa. A student looking into potential schools or colleges could also use a
B-2 visa whether or not she plans to return home before enrolling (but should make her intentions clear, so that she isn’t accused of visa fraud if she decides to enter school immediately, without leaving the United States). And people who have served in the U.S. military and become eligible for U.S. citizenship as a result can use a B-2 visa to come and submit their citizenship application.

When Is a B-2 Visa Allowed for Medical Treatment?

Medical treatment is not an activity which many people would consider pleasurable, but it is specifically covered by the B-2 visitor visa. You will need to prove that:

  • You have received a particular medical diagnosis from a local physician, which requires treatment in the United States.
  • A physician or medical facility in the United States is willing to treat this ailment, and
  • The cost of transportation, treatment and all medical-related expenses have been estimated and someone will take responsibility for covering them.

Your Plan to Stay for a Limited Time

When you apply for your B-2 visa, you’ll have to show the consular officer that your plan to visit the United States is coupled with a plan to leave again, and to leave fairly soon. Using maps and schedules, you will want to show that your length of stay is based on something real, like a planned event or itinerary, and not just on a desire to stay for as long you can. Before your trip, think about what you want to see or accomplish while you are in the United States and allot the right amount of time to cover this.

Your Residence and Other Ties to Your Country

The toughest requirement for many applicants is not the need to prove your well-planned trip to the United States—it’s the requirement that you have a residence and other reasons compelling you to -return to your home country at the end of your visit. The forces pulling you home might include a house, a family or a stable job. It’s especially tough because the person reviewing your application presumes that you really want to stay in the United States permanently even before having met you.

Your Permission to Enter or Reenter a Foreign Country After You Leave

The United States doesn’t want to be stuck with anyone who comes as a tourist and then has no place to go afterward. If you’re coming from your home country, carrying its passport, and planning to return home afterwards, the U.S. will figure that your country will let you back in, except in highly unusual political circumstances.

If, however, you will be travelling to a third country after visiting the U.S., be prepared to show that you have a visa or other permission to enter that country.

Your Ability to Pay for Your Visit and Departure

Every day that you spend in the United States is going to cost money. Your hotel stay, rental car, food, tickets and other items will add up fast, and the U.S. government knows it. You will have to show that you have the savings to cover your trip, or that someone else is willing to be responsible for supporting you. If your trip is going to be difficult on your budget, do some research to find out exactly how much you are likely to spend and how you will afford it.

How to Apply

See “Application Process for a B-1 or B-2 Visitor Visa” for what to do next, and how to prove that you meet these criteria.

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