Headed to the U.S. on a visitor visa for recreation or a business trip? Your U.S. visitor visa authorizes you to enter the U.S. and travel around for a fixed, short duration. A clear understanding of the guidelines and restrictions associated with the visitor visa will help you make the most of your travels.
U.S. visitors visa specifications
- The U.S. visitor visa is non-immigrant, so you must understand that your visit is temporary. This visa is strictly for tourism (B-2 visa), short-term business activities (B-1 visa), or a combination of tourism and business (B-1/B-2 visa).
- The U.S. tourist visa duration is usually 6 months. In certain cases, this visa can be granted as a multiple-entry visa for up to 10 years.
- If you need to extend your stay in the U.S., you can apply by visiting the USCIS website, filling in the visitor visa extension form, and paying the required fee. The maximum duration of visa extension is 6 months.
- If you’re a citizen of Bermuda or Canada, you do not require a visa to travel to the U.S. as a visitor. If you’re from a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) designated country like Austria, Australia, Czech Republic, New Zealand, or the Republic of Korea, you should check if you’re eligible for a visa waiver. Visits to the U.S. for a duration of up to 90 days are usually eligible for a visa waiver.
Activities you can do with a U.S. visitor visa
The list of activities you can engage in while touring the U.S. depends on your visa category.
Activities permitted on a B-2 visa
- Visit friends or family members living in the U.S. You can spend time with an ailing relative or friend, or you can attend private functions such as a wedding, housewarming party, or baby shower.
- Medical consultation and treatment. Post-surgery rest is also permissible. The period of rest, however, needs to comply with the length of your visitor visa. You can apply for a visa extension if your rest and recovery period exceeds the time left on your Form I-94.
- Take part in meetings, conventions, or similar events organized by a social, fraternal, or service-related institution that you’re a member of.
- Holidaying and sightseeing. You can do this either by purchasing a packaged tour to the U.S., traveling with your U.S.-based/co-traveling friends or relatives, or travel around by yourself.
- Take part in short-term study or recreational courses, such as a three-day art class or a two-week skiing course. These courses cannot be accredited to any academic program or degree that you’re enrolled in.
- Apply for jobs or attend job interviews. However, you cannot work in the U.S. on a B-2 visa.
- Amateur participation in sports or musical contests and events, as long as you’re not getting paid for your participation.
- Shop, watch live events and plays, and visit museums and theme parks.
- If you’re a student planning to study in the U.S. in the future, you can visit different colleges and universities.
- Volunteer at programs run by charitable organizations. Note that the permissible volunteer activities you can engage in are subject to the guidelines of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You cannot engage in any paid work, even if it’s been defined as voluntary service.
- Help with the pregnancy of your sister, daughter, daughter-in-law, or other family member or friend. It’s common for non-U.S. resident sisters, mothers, and mothers-in-law to want to visit their expecting family member in the U.S. and help with the different aspects of pregnancy.
The U.S. immigration laws are strict in this regard and prohibit visitors to work in any capacity that would otherwise provide a job for a U.S. resident. For instance, you cannot take on the full responsibilities of caring for a newborn, a task that would typically employ a nanny.
Activities permitted on a B-1 visa
- Meetings with U.S.-based businesses to negotiate or sign a contract
- Meetings with your business associates
- Applying for jobs or attending job interviews. However, you cannot work for a U.S. company on a B-1 visa.
- Settling an estate. This includes administrative activities such as appraising and insuring the assets, settling taxation issues, and creating inventories.
- Take part in business conferences or conventions. With a B-1 visa, you can also attend educational and scientific conventions.
If you’re visiting the U.S. on a B-1/B-2 visa, you are free to engage in all the above activities during your stay.
Activities you’re not allowed to do on a U.S. visitors visa
When you’re in the U.S. on a visitor visa, you must be sure not to engage in these activities:
- Any form of paid work: Your visitor visa does not allow you to work in any capacity that’s otherwise a paid position. This applies to working at a friend’s or a relative’s business units, such as restaurants, motels, and gas stations. All such work is prohibited, even if you’re not drawing a salary through these activities. You are allowed to apply for jobs and attend job interviews though.
- Journalism and media-related activities: If you’re a journalist or a representative of an information media channel, including film and radio, you’re not allowed to engage in activities related to your profession while you’re in the U.S. on a visitor visa. Doing so requires a Media Visa (I visa).
- Enroll and study in a US school or college: Students touring the U.S. as visitors are prohibited from accepting admission in a U.S. school, college, or other educational institutions. If you plan on studying in the U.S., you can make inquiries and check out the schools or colleges you’re interested in, but you cannot start studying while you’re in the country on a visitor visa. You cannot enter the country on a visitor visa and change it to a student visa. Attending a U.S. school or university requires either an F or J student visa.
Getting a U.S. visitor visa gives you the pass to enter the country, explore thousands of popular U.S. tourist attractions, and make use of the various resources open to visitors. It also makes you responsible for respecting and abiding by U.S. laws and regulations for foreign visitors. Sticking with these regulations will ensure your trip is pleasant, hassle-free, and rewarding.
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