Renewing a U.S. visitor/business (B-1 or B-2) visa is usually a relatively straightforward process. People who meet certain criteria might not even need an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their country. Still, there's no guarantee that your visa will be renewed. Many applicants are shocked to discover that what they thought would be a routine visa renewal turns to a denial.
A U.S. visitor visa may be valid for up to five years and multiple entries, depending on one's country of nationality. The U.S. consulate will normally treat a visa application as a renewal if the old visa expired less than one year ago and was issued for the maximum period of validity allowed in that country.
It is a common misconception that the qualifications for visa renewal are different than those for a first visa. In actuality, all the same criteria apply. Principally, the U.S. consular officer must be convinced that you will return to your home country after your visit to the U.S. and that you will not violate U.S. immigration or criminal laws. Your prior travel history is one important factor that the officer will consider in making this determination, but it's not the only factor. Let’s look at the most likely causes for denial.
If you remained in the U.S. past your permitted stay on a current or now-expired visa during a prior trip there, you stand a much lower chance that your visa will be renewed. You can doublecheck by looking at your I-94, which a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official prepared for you upon U.S. entry. It contains the date by which you were expected to leave. If you remained in the U.S. past that date without proper permission, that means you overstayed.
If you overstayed by more than 180 days, you will be ineligible for a visa for at least the next three years. An overstay of 365 days or more leads to visa ineligibility for ten years.
Waivers are available, but consular officers do not usually request waivers for tourist visa applicants with recent overstays, absent extraordinary circumstances.
There are few types of “work” that you can legally do as a tourist/business visitor to the United States. The most common infractions of this rule involve visitors who provide private child care or housekeeping, perform as musicians (even if unpaid), work in a family business, or freelance in their profession.
Consular officers can ask many questions and conduct independent investigations, thus bringing such information to light.
Even if you hold a B-1 “business” visa, you are only allowed to attend conferences or meetings, you are not authorized to work. The few exceptions are narrow and nuanced.
At your first visa interview, the officer likely asked you what you were going to do in the U.S. and how long you planned to stay. Now, when it’s time for your renewal, the officer might look to see if you actually did what you said you were going to.
The officer will also look at your travel patterns, checking for anomalies. For example, if you are married to a non-working spouse and have minor children, and you took a four-month trip alone to the U.S., this would invite further questioning. The officer would likely want to know how you were able to afford this type of travel, and investigate whether you performed unauthorized work to finance it.
Be prepared to tell the consular officer at the interview about what you did on any of your prior trips to the United States. This includes the purpose of your travel, approximately how long you stayed, how you financed your trip, who went with you, and so forth. If you requested an extension of stay on a prior trip, the officer is likely to ask about this, as well.
If your family or life situation is vastly different from the last time you received a visa, you may be asked to provide new documentation of financial stability or employment (although you should take this type of documentation with you in any case.)
For example, if you have a new spouse living in the U.S. or you are recently widowed or divorced, the officer will want to ensure that you still have sufficient enough ties to your home country that you will return there at the end of your permitted stay on a B-1 or B-2 visa.
It is not a violation of the terms of your visa to have a baby or receive other medical care in the U.S., as long as you pay your hospital and other medical bills in full. Be prepared to show the consular officer documentation of full payment.
Hospital social workers often visit uninsured patients and assist them in applying for public medical benefits so that the hospital can recoup some of its costs. However, only low-income individuals qualify for Medicaid. Therefore, if you used Medicaid in the U.S., it will be difficult to convince the officer that you actually have the resources with which to travel and that you will not use public assistance again.
If you qualified for Medicaid because you did not disclose a foreign source of income on your Medicaid application, then you might have committed fraud, which would also likely result in nonrenewal of your visa.
Additionally, if your hospital bill was sent to collections and settled for an amount less than the full amount, convincing the consular officer that you have the financial stability required to qualify for a visa will be a challenge.
In order to study in the U.S., the person must have a visa that permits this. A tourist visa does not, especially as regards public school. Very short courses of study might be allowed on a tourist visa, but this is a limited exception.
Public schools in the U.S. ordinarily cannot ask about a student’s immigration status, therefore schools sometimes unknowingly allow people on tourist visas to enroll. Some parents, for example, have been known to leave their child with a relative in the U.S. for a semester and enroll the child in public school in order to improve the child’s English language skills. This is not permitted on a tourist visa. If you or your child attended public school on a tourist visa, your entire family’s visa renewals could be denied.
Having no job is a common reason for consular officers to deny a visa renewal. This is not a hard and fast rule; the officer will look at the applicant's situation as a whole.
For some people, such as recent university graduates or former employees who received a severance payout, a period of unemployment might provide the perfect opportunity for leisure travel. But a consular officer will want to see significant savings that allow you to travel and support yourself and your family.
If you had any type of law enforcement encounter since your last visa was issued, you might no longer qualify for a B-1/B-2 visa. Even if the charges were dropped or the conviction does not result in automatic visa ineligibility, the officer might have doubts as to whether you will properly use the visa and abide by U.S. laws.
If you were arrested or convicted of a crime involving drugs or alcohol, the officer can require you to undergo a medical exam with the embassy physician before issuing the visa. Some crimes might also be viewed as possibly harmful behavior associated with a mental disorder, which would also necessitate further evaluation by an embassy physician.
Minor children usually qualify for tourist visas on the basis of their parent’s financial stability and ties to their home country. Once you are an adult, however, you must qualify for your visa based on your own financial resources and ties to your home country. If you always respected the terms of your visa on prior trips, this certainly will help you to qualify. If you are a young university student, the officer may still consider your parent’s resources in determining your visa eligibility, but this will depend on your individual situation.
Consular officers review various databases to determine whether the information you are providing is accurate. The officers will also take note of whether questions that you answered in your written application match your oral answers at the interview. Some applicants get into trouble because someone else filled out the visa application for them, and they forgot to check it for accuracy.
If none of the above factors apply, it’s possible that the officer who interviewed you was new or inexperienced, or was only recently posted in your country. Such officers sometimes err on the side of caution and, when in doubt, refuse visa renewals.
For more information, see My U.S. Tourist Visa Was Refused: Should I Reapply?