Frequently Asked Questions about Visas

Q. What is the difference between a B-1 visa and a B-2 visa?

A. A B-1 visa is issued to a visa applicant who is coming to the U.S. for business purposes (not for employment in the U.S.) such as a business meeting or conference, a trade show, to take orders for a foreign based company (such as the Hong Kong tailors who come to the U.S. to measure people for suits to be manufactured and shipped from outside of the U.S. to customers in the U.S.), or honor a warranty or service contract to service or install machinery manufactured and sold from a company abroad to a U.S. company. A B-2 visa is issued to a visa applicant who is coming to the U.S. for the primary purpose of tourism or visiting friends and relatives. The visa itself is usually issued as a dual purpose "B-1/B-2" visa, and U.S. Immigration Officials at the port-of-entry will determine the visitor's designation of class of entry based on the explanation of the purpose of the trip provided at the time of entry. Applicants for this type of visa must establish, to the subjective satisfaction of U.S. Consular (visa issuing) Officials, the following:

  1. That the applicant has a residence in a foreign country which he/she does not intend to abandon;
  2. That the applicant intends to enter the United States for a period of specifically limited duration; and
  3. That the applicant seeks admission to the United States for the sole purpose of engaging in legitimate activities relating to business or pleasure.
    In assessing whether an applicant has satisfactorily established a persuasive case for B-1/B-2 visa issuance, Consular Officials are instructed to consider whether visa applicants generally meet the following criteria:
  1. That the applicant has adequate funds to avoid unlawful employment, and that the arrangements made for such funding are reasonable, dependable, and credible;
  2. That the applicant's plans or itinerary are specific and realistic and cover the entire period of the applicant's planned visit;
  3. That the period of time projected for the applicant's trip to the U.S. is consistent with the stated purpose of the trip, and that the applicant has established with reasonable certainty that his/her intended stay in the U.S. is not of an indefinite duration, and that he/she will depart from the United States at the completion of the temporary visit;
  4. That the applicant's proposed length of stay in the United States must be consistent within the time-frame limitation offered by the relatives or friends the applicant will be visiting or the expressed business purpose of the trip;
  5. That the applicant must be able to show reasonably good and permanent employment, meaningful business or financial connections, close family ties or obligations, or social/cultural associations which will indicate a strong inducement to return to the applicant's home abroad after the temporary U.S. visit; and
  6. That the applicant shall satisfactorily explain provisions made for support of the applicant's spouse/children (where applicable) while the applicant is in the United States in cases where the applicant is the prime or significant wage earner.

Q. Why are some B-1/B-2 visas valid only for a single entry while others are valid for multiple entries for a period of up to ten years?

A. In some cases, duration of visa validity is based on the concept of "reciprocity"; if a given foreign country will only issue a single use visitors visa to a U.S. citizen seeking to visit that country, the U.S. will only issue a single use visitors visa to citizens of that country who wish to visit the United States. In other cases, even though U.S. Consular Post may issue a visitors visa valid for ten years for multiple entries, the Consulate determines that the legitimate needs of the visa applicant only require a single use visa, and the U.S. Consular Officials want to see if the visa applicant complies with the terms of his or her admission to the U.S. before they will issue a multiple entry visa valid for several years. In many cases, such as a person coming to the United States for needed medical treatment or to donate an organ to a relative, the U.S. Consulate determines that the single use visa is appropriate under the circumstances, and wants the visa applicant to medically justify each trip to the United States if additional trips are requested.

Q. My sister has been denied a visitors visa several times. The Consular Officials repeatedly base the denial on Section 214 (b) of the Immigration and nationality Act (8 U.S.C.A. 1184 (b)), advising her that she is inadmissible as she appears to be an intending immigrant. It seems that the wealthy and well-connected people in my country don't have any trouble getting visitors visas. What is going on here? Is the system corrupt?

A. While I can't vouch for the integrity of the system, I can provide some explanation of the system. Most nonimmigrant visas (except H-1B and L visas) require the visa applicant to have a "bona fide" or genuine nonimmigrant intent. Section 214 (b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA") creates a legal presumption of immigrant intent in all nonimmigrant visa applicants. Section 214 (b) states, "Every alien (other than an H-1B or L) shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for a visa, and the immigration officers, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status..." In other words, every time that a person applies for a visitors visa, the Consular Officials are required to presume that the visitors visa applicant has a secret plan or intention to remain in the United States; and the Consular Officer is not permitted by law to issue the visitors visa until and unless that legal presumption of immigrant intent is rebutted and overcome to the satisfaction of the Consular Officer. The reason that the wealthy and well-connected don't seem to have trouble getting visitors visas may be that they are living the good life in their native country, and they have every reason to return to their native country. They are able to establish firm ties to their native country, and that life and circumstances in the United States would not be an irresistible lure that would cause them to want to remain in the U.S.

Q. If my application for a B-1/B-2 visitors visa was denied, can I submit a new application?

A. Generally, nonimmigrant visa denials are "without prejudice", meaning that if a visa applicant believes that they have evidence or documentation that can overcome the basis of the previous denial, they are free to reapply for the visa. Some Consular Posts have their own rules about how often or how soon an applicant can reapply for a visa after a denial, and a lot may depend on the basis of a denial. If a denial is based on insufficient supporting documentation for the visa application, and the required documentation is then secured, most Consular Posts would accept a new application as soon as the required documentation becomes available. On the other hand, if a visa denial is based on a finding that the applicant is ineligible for any nonimmigrant visa as a matter of law, then a Consular Post may not be willing to accept a new application unless it can be clearly established that the bsasis for ineligibility no longer exists. When a Consular Post accepts a nonimmigrant visa application, the Consulate usually places a stamp in the last few pages of the visa applicant's passport that states that a visa application was submitted on a particular date. If a visa application is denied, that stamp is evidence that the application was submitted. If a new application is filed later at the same (or a different) U.S. Consular Post, the visa applied for stamp in the passport, without a visa issued bearing the same date, is evidence of a previous visa denial, and the visa applicant will have to make a very solid case for visa approval while explaining and overcoming the basis for the previous denial.

Q. Can I use a B-2 visitors visa to look for a school to attend in the U.S. and then change my nonimmigrant status from B-2 to F-1 student status?

A. It is difficult to provide a simple answer to this question because so many factors and circumstances must be taken into careful and very deliberative consideration, and the facts and circumstances in no two cases are alike. I will, however, try to set forth some general principles that must be taken into consideration. U.S. State Department regulations provide that a B-2 visa may be issued to a prospective student to permit that visa applicant to visit the U.S. to review and assess scholastic opportunities if the visa applicant makes this intended use clear at the time of the visa application so that the visa may be annotated with the phrase, "Prospective Student". If the prospective student intention is revealed at the time of the visitors visa application, and the visitors visa is issued with the prospective student annotation, it is generally not too difficult to secure an approval of an application for a change of status from B-2 visitor to F-1 student. Unfortunately, I have also heard and read anecdotal instances of persons being denied a visitors visa after they advised the U.S. Consular Officials that they intended to use their visit to the U.S. to visit schools and examine the possibilities of going to school in the U.S. Consular Officers have incredible discretionary absolute power, and it often appears that some of these officers will use that power to deny visas for purposes for which the law permits visa issuance because the officer disagrees with the law. Generally, INS Service Centers receiving an application for a change of nonimmigrant status from a person admitted to the U.S. in B-2 visitor status seeking to change to F-1 student status will closely scrutinize the application looking for evidence or indications that the applicant has an annotated B-2 visa showing that the U.S. Consular Officials were advised of the prospective student intent at the time of the visa application. If the INS Service Centers. If the B-2 visa was not annotated in such a manner, then the INS Service Center will look for a means to deny the application for a change of nonimmigrant status based on a finding that the applicant had a "preconceived intent" to go to school in the United States at the time that the applicant applied for their visitors visa; and that the applicant committed fraud in the visitors visa application process because they did not advise the U.S. Consulate that they intended to go to school in the United States. The INS Service Centers will almost certainly issue a denial of an application (based on a finding of "preconceived intent") for a change of nonimmigrant status if the application was filed less than thirty days after the applicant entered the United States. A denial is likely if the application is filed more than thirty, but less than sixty days after entry to the United States. If possible, no application for change of nonimmigrant status should be filed unless the applicant has been in the United States for at least ninety days, and there should be no documentation in the application for change of status document package that shows a preparation for the filing of the application less than ninety days after entering the United States. In other words, it does no good to wait ninety days after your entry to file an application to change your nonimmigrant status from B-2 visitor to F-1 student if there are documents in your application package that are dated within sixty days of your entry to the United States. Even if the INS Service Center grants the application for change of nonimmigrant status, if the student travels outside of the United States, and tries to have the F-1 student visa stamped into his or her passport so that he or she can reenter the U.S. as an F-1 student, the U.S. Consulate abroad may deny the F-1 visa on the basis of a finding of fraud unless the previously issued B-2 visa has the prospective student annotation. As a general rule, U.S. Consular Officials do not like changes of nonimmigrant status granted by the INS. Some U.S. Consular Officials are very quick to make a finding of fraudulent misrepresentation and preconceived intent when a visa applicant travels abroad to get a new visa stamp reflecting the change in nonimmigrant status granted by the INS.

Q. If my trip to the United States will involve both attending business meetings and visiting with friends and relatives, should I get a B-1 Business Visitor or a B-2 Visitor for Pleasure Visa?

A. You will most likely be issued a B-1/B-2 visa that can be used for either business or pleasure visits to the United States. It is the INS Inspector at the U.S. port-of-entry who will determine the status (B-1 or B-2) under which you are admitted, based on your answers to the INS Inspector's questions. Most visitors for pleasure are granted an initial authorized stay of six months. Most business visitors are granted an authorized stay for only the period needed to accomplish their business objective, for a period up to six months. A person coming to the United States for the sole purpose of attending a corporate meeting on a particular date might get an authorized stay of only a few weeks or about ten days to two weeks after the date of the corporate meeting. A person seeking a longer B-1 business visitor authorized stay (up to six months) must present a detailed itinerary that involves six months worth of meetings or other acceptable B-1 activities, together with adequate assurances that the person will not be working in the U.S. and will not otherwise violate status. For a visitor with a dual purpose entry, it may be a good idea to advise the INS Inspector at the port-of- entry that your purpose in visiting the United States involves both business and pleasure, and outline an itinerary of about six months, together with providing documentation that you will be able to support yourself and travel around the United States for that period of time without having to work in the U.S. Such documentation may be in the form of a letter from your company abroad, assuring that they will transfer any funds necessary for your continued support in the United States. Such documentation could also be in the form of an affidavit of support from a relative in the United States, or documentation of your own available assets and credit.

Q. Can I use a B-1/B-2 visitors visa to come to the United States to take an examination required for professional licensure in the United States?

A. Yes.