2016 Visa Waiver Program changes prompt more B visa applications

Several recent factors have impacted the use of the B-1/B-2 visa for many foreign nationals around the world. Currently, the United States permits visa-free travel for a period of up to 90 days to citizens of 38 counties under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). In addition to holding a valid passport from a VWP country, the applicant must be traveling to the U.S. on a VWP signatory airline, and usually must have a return flight out of the United States. Applicants intending to travel to the U.S. under the VWP are also required to complete an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before traveling.

In January 2016, the U.S. government made significant changes to the VWP. These changes were aimed at increasing U.S. national security. Effective January 21, 2016, foreign nationals who had traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria, on or after March 2011 are prevented from traveling to the United States under the VWP. Additionally, nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria are also prevented from applying for an ESTA and traveling to the U.S. under the VWP. This change has made travel to the U.S. for many foreign nationals harder, as foreigners that were once permitted to travel under the VWP must now apply for a B visa at a U.S. consulate.

B-1 & B-2 visa requirements:

The B visa is available to business visitors (B-1), as well as foreign visitors for pleasure and tourism (B-2). Regularly, U.S. Consulates will issue a combined B-1/B-2 visa to applicants that qualify for either a B-1 or B-2 visa. To qualify for either visa, the applicant will be required to clearly demonstrate their business or tourist-related activities in the U.S. (or both), their permanent residence and ties outside the U.S., as well as their intent to return to their home abroad. Applicants must show that their stay in the U.S. is for a limited duration, and must also show they have adequate funds for the duration of their stay. If a B visa applicant has recently traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on or after March 2011, they should also be prepared to provide the consulate with information regarding their purpose for traveling to those countries.

What activities are permitted on a B-1/B-2 visa?

With limited exceptions, holders of B visas are not permitted to undertake any form of employment in the United States. If the B visa holder derives a salary from any U.S. source, it is highly unlikely the visa will be granted by the consulate. B visa holders in the U.S. can, however, generally undertake the following business activities (non-paid): consulting with business associates, traveling for a scientific, educational, professional or business convention or a conference on specific dates, settling an estate, negotiating a contract, participating in short-term training, and transiting through the United States. This visa can also be used for undertaking business research or for establishing investments in the U.S. During their interview at the consulate, applicants will be required to provide evidence that they will only engage in permitted activities for which the B visa is intended.

Can I travel to the U.S. on the B visa for the purpose of finding lawful work?

A B visa can be obtained for the purpose of traveling to the U.S. to find a position that may lead to the issuance of a work visa. Where a B visa holder is inside the U.S. and receives an offer of employment, it is critical that the applicant obtain the correct authorization before commencing work in the U.S. While applicants from VWP countries can travel to the U.S. under the VWP to undertake a job interview, a B visa is generally appropriate for applicants outside VWP countries.

How long can I stay in the U.S. on a B visa and can I extend my stay in the U.S.?

As a guide, applicants entering the U.S. for tourism related purposes will typically be granted admission for an initial period of 6 months. Applicants entering the U.S. strictly for business will generally be granted permission to stay in the U.S. long enough to complete their business related activities. An initial period of 3 months can be used as a guide. An applicant can extend the duration of their stay by filing Form I-539 with USCIS before the expiration of their current status in the U.S. If an extension of status is approved, it may be granted for a maximum period of 6 months. Applicants filing for an extension should include sufficient documentation and information about the reasons for extending, including information showing that the applicant has sufficient means to continue to support themselves throughout the remainder of their stay.

Note that this information is provided for educational purposes only. As each immigration matter is different, this general information should not be relied upon as legal advice. You should consult with an experienced U.S. immigration attorney before making any decisions applicable to your specific circumstances.