B-1 and B-2 Visitor Visas
Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain an appropriate visa. The most common visa for visitors is the B visa. This applies to people entering the United States temporarily for business (B-1), or for pleasure or medical treatment (B-2).
B-1: What does “business” mean? In lay terms, it basically means coming to the U.S. to engage in business. Examples including traveling to the U.S. to consult with business associates; to attend a scientific, educational, professional or business convention; to settle an estate; or to negotiate a contract. The best way to think about it is that you can come to the U.S. to conduct business, but you should not be employed by a U.S. employer, or take a wage/salary while you are down here. If you do, then a B-1 may not apply, and you should consider something else like an L, O, TN, or H visa. Professional athletes coming to the U.S. to compete for prize money can enter on a B-1 visa. While you are receiving compensation, it is not really a salary or employment that would require another type of visa. You may be required to pay U.S. taxes on any prize money you win.
B-2: If you are coming to the U.S. for vacation or to visit family and friends for a short period of time, then a B-2 visa is for you. These visas are generally valid for up to six months at a time. If you plan to stay longer, be sure to apply for an extension of status (or leave and re-enter). There are other unique situations in which you may enter on a B-2. For example, you may come to the U.S. on a B-2 visa if you are seeking medical treatment. To do so, be sure to bring appropriate documentation, including a copy of your diagnosis, a letter from the medical establishment in the U.S. which has agreed to treat you, as well as documents indicating that you can support yourself financially while in the U.S.
While these visas may appear straightforward on its face, several things must be considered before coming to the United States under a B visa, particularly if your intent is something other than just a temporary visit. For example, if you are engaged to a U.S. citizen and are planning to come to get married, a B-2 visa is not for you. You need to obtain a K visa (to be discussed in the near future). However, if you enter on a B visa, meet someone and get engaged, then you may change to a K visa. If you are a prospective student traveling to the U.S. looking to apply for a school, you may do so on a B visa. Once you enroll in a school, you can change your status to an F visa (to be discussed in the near future). However, you NEED TO SPECIFY THIS with the customs agent that you are entering the U.S. as a prospective student when applying for a B visa. Otherwise, you will likely have difficulty changing your status to an F visa later on. Few people know this, and prospective students often find themselves having trouble enrolling in a U.S. school after they choose one and try to enroll.
On balance, the B visa is rather straightforward. However, its simplicity masks plenty of subtle complications that may seem innocuous at first blush. Most of these complications stem from the foreign national’s intent when he/she first arrives in the country on a B visa. Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions about the B visa.