If you are ineligible for the Visa Waiver Program, to gain lawful entry into the USA for short-term visit you will be required to apply for a visa.
For temporary stays, the B1 visa category allows entry into the US for foreign nationals looking to carry out business in the USA, and the B2 for individuals entering the USA for tourism purposes. Alternatively, individuals can apply for the B1/B2 visa, a combined non-immigrant visa that gives the holder the right to legally enter the USA for both tourist and business purposes.
B class visas are only valid as long as the holder only carries out activities permitted by the terms of their visa. Failure to adhere to your visa conditions can result in arrest, deportation, and being barred from re-entering the USA in the future. It is therefore essential that those looking to enter the USA for business or leisure understand what their visa options are, how to apply, and what actions are prohibited and permitted while in the USA.
The B1 Visa is a Business Visa, giving the holder permission to enter the USA for a period of six months to conduct certain business activities including:
- The right to attend conferences and conventions of a scientific, professional, business or educational nature taking place in the USA.
- The right to consult with business associates located in the USA
- The right to attend and participate fully in business meetings
- The right to discuss and make purchases and investments
- The right to solicit investments or sales
- The right to interview and hire staff
- The right to negotiate the terms and signing of a contract with individuals and companies based in the USA
- The right to undertake research
- The right to settle an estate situated in the USA
If you enter the USA on a B1 visa you may be able to apply to extend your stay in the country for up to a further six months provided you have not violated the terms of your original visa, apply within at least 1 day before your visa’s expiration (as long as you send it to USCIS via a FedEx package and save the receipt with the date and tracking number), although it is recommended you apply at least 45 days prior to the visa expiration, and pay the USCIS extension fee of $370.
The B2 Visa is a tourism visa allowing the holder to enter the USA for a period of up to six months, which can be extended to 1 year, to undertake recreational activities. The process and terms of an extension are the same as for the B1 visa. The B2 Visa also authorises entry into the USA for some medical or educational activities. Some of the specific activities permitted on a B2 Visa include:
- Visiting the USA for a holiday
- Visiting the USA as a tourist
- Visiting the USA to see friends or family
- Visiting the USA to participate in social events being hosted by an organisation of a social, service, or fraternal nature
- Visiting the USA to participate as an amateur in a sport, musical, talent or similar contest (as long as the participant is not being paid for participating)
- Visiting the USA in order to enrol and participate in a short recreational course of study, such as a weekend cooking class while on holiday (the course cannot be for degree credits)
- Visiting the USA to undergo specific medical treatment
An alternative to choosing between the B1 and B2 visas, the B1/b2 visa is a combination of both the B category visas that gives the holder the right to legally enter and remain in the UK for both business and tourism purposes. The B1/B2 visa is particularly attractive for professionals looking to combine US business with a holiday in the country. Often B1 visa applications are approved as B1/B2 visas, based on the application and interview responses, if the consular believes there to be a legitimate dual purpose for the applicants US visit.
The flexibility offered by the B1/B2 visa is a great advantage as it removes the need to switch visa’s while in the US if business or pleasure opportunities present themselves and gives the holder a greater freedom of rights. Under the B1/B2 visa you will have the rights of both the B1 visa and B2 visa. The B1/B2 visa is granted for up to 6 months with the possibility of extension up to a year under the same terms and process as the B1 and B2 visas.
B Visa Limitations
Certain activities cannot be undertaken by individuals on B1 or B2 visas, including:
- Taking on employment: B visas do not allow you to work and earn money in the USA
- Being paid for performance: B1 and B2 visas do not give you the right to perform in front of a paying audience, give a professional performance, or be paid for your performance
- Undertake any work for a form of information media including the foreign press, print journalism, film or radio
- Enter the USA as part of the crew for an aircraft of ship
- Undertake study in the USA, including short courses if they contribute credits towards a degree or qualification
- Stay in the USA beyond the period stated on your visa
- Take up permanent residence in the USA
Those entering the US on a B1 or B2 visa must ensure they comply and undertake activities authorised under their particular visa. Holders of B1/B2 visas have the flexibility of being authorised to participate in the activities permitted on both visas but are still restricted by the B visa limitations.
Applying for a B1 B2 Visa
The first step is to go online and complete the DS-160 online form. A separate form will need to be completed for each B visa applicant.
When completed you will be redirected to a confirmation page which you must print out. You will need to upload a 5x5cm colour photograph which meets the Department of State’s photo requirements for each applicant in order to complete their DS-160 form.
The next step is to visit the website for the US Embassy in the UK (available here https://ais.usvisa-info.com/en-gb) in order to schedule your interview or organise applying by courier (if eligible) and pay your MRV application fee. First time users will need to set up an account by clicking on “Apply” while returning users can simply press “Continue”. Having either created or returned to your account, there is a step by step process guiding you through the payment and interview booking process which you will need to follow. When your appointment is booked a confirmation, page will appear on screen which you must print. The availability of interviews can vary so to ensure you receive your visa in time it is important you book your interview well in advance of your visit to the US.
Preparing for the interview
Applicants between 14-79 years of age will be required to attend a pre-arranged interview.
To prepare for the interview you will need to gather the required documentation and bring the following with you to your interview:
- The printed confirmation page from your DS-160 application form (the page featuring a barcode)
- A recent (within the past 6 months) colour photograph of 5X5cm that meets the Department of State’s photo requirements (they differ from UK passport requirements in size)
- A printed copy of your appointment confirmation page
- Your passport or travel documentation which must have at least one blank page and be valid for a minimum of 6 months after the date you are due to return from the USA
- If you are not a UK or EU passport holder you will also need evidence of your UK status
- A recent letter from your physician declaring your current state of health (if you have a medical condition which may affect your visa eligibility)
- If you have a criminal record of any kind you need to declare and give details of any arrests, convictions or cautions via a declaration and additional documentation.
- If you have visited the USA in the past you need to provide evidence of your previous visas (if you do not have your old passports anymore you can advise your consular of the fact during your interview)
- Documents relating to any deportation, overstaying or denied entry to the USA that you have experienced in the past (if relevant)
- Evidence of your home residence (the one you will be returning to)
- Evidence of sufficient funds to cover your living, travel and health expenses while in the USA
Before the interview itself, the consular or embassy staff will collect your required documentation, enter the data into the system, and review your application. You will also be required to have your biometric data taken.
You will need to submit your passport during the interview stage of the application. Once your visa application has been processed, your passport and, if you have been successful, your visa, will be delivered to you by courier.
Processing and decisions
The timeline for application processing can vary. Successful applications which require no additional evidence or processing should take on average between 5-7 workdays from submission of documents and interview to delivery.
If, during your interview, you were informed that your application had been refused under Section 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) it means that your application requires additional processing. In these cases, it will take at least 60 days and potentially over 6 months if there are problems with your application from your interview date to the return of your passport and visa decision. Any incomplete application forms will delay application processing, so it is essential you fill out all forms correctly and provide all the relevant information as far in advance of your US trip as possible.
Why seek legal advice for your B1 B2 visa application?
The process of applying for the B1, B2 or B1/B2 visa has the potential to be straightforward, provided the correct information and documentation is submitted. However, complications and delays can easily arise as a result of errors and omissions in the application, or due to additional requirements such as a waiver of admissibility. For advice and guidance, take professional legal advice prior to submitting your application.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.