Visitors for Business or Pleasure
The vast majority of foreign visitors who enter the United States do so as “B” visitors. B visitors must have a foreign residence to which they intend to return. Some B visitors are issued a small white or green card known as an I-94. Most persons admitted through airports now receive an electronic I-94 which must be retrieved from the CBP I-94 website. The I-94, not your visa, says how long you can remain in the United States. The maximum period is one year. Most people are admitted for a shorter period of time. Canadians are not issued an I-94, but are still B visitors and must leave the U.S. when the purpose of their temporary entry is completed.
B-1 visitors are business visitors. Examples of permissible B-1 activities include selling or buying goods or services, negotiating contracts, consulting with business associates, attending conventions, or transporting goods to or from Canada or Mexico. Arranging for investments in the United States is also a permissible B-1 activity. A B-1 visitor may not engage in employment in the United States labor market. Some B-1 activities are controversial. These include after-sales warranty service, and the so-called “B-1 in lieu of H-1.” Get legal advice before engaging in such activities!
B-2 visitors are visitors for “pleasure.” B-2 visitors may be admitted for any legitimate temporary purpose that does not involve employment or an extensive course of study. This includes tourism, visiting friends or relatives, medical treatment, and participation in social events. Participation in amateur sporting events, or professional events where any compensation is dependent on success in the event, is also permissible. Checking out a school you hope to attend is also a permissible activity.
In the past, all B visitors except Canadians needed to get B visas from a U.S. consulate abroad. Now visitors from thirty-eight countries may be admitted to the U.S. under the visa waiver program. Under this program you will be admitted for ninety days. You cannot extend this period or obtain a change of status. Here is a list of visa waiver countries. All visa waiver visitors must first be cleared through the ESTA online system.
Visitors who do need visas must convince the consular officer that they intend to return after the visit is complete. In some cases and in some countries this is very difficult. This is especially true if you are waiting for an immigrant visa, or if you are married to a U.S. resident or have other close family members in the United States. Useful proof of nonimmigrant intent includes a round-trip ticket along with proof of a permanent home and permanent employment in the country of origin. Close social and family ties to your home country are also important.
Visa waiver visitors are generally not allowed to change status or apply for extensions. Other B visitors may apply for extensions for periods of up to 6 months, and may also apply for a change of status. Persons should exercise caution in applying for a change of status soon after arrival in the United States. In some cases USCIS, or the consulate overseas, may conclude the visitor misrepresented his intentions when applying for the original B visa.