B-1 visitors for “business”

The B-1 visa permits persons to come to the US to engage in short-term, temporary professional activities related to their employment abroad; for example, consulting with peers, participating in conferences or seminars, lecturing or speaking, training, and independent research that provides no benefit to a US institution.

B-2 visitors for “pleasure”

The B-2 visa permits persons to come to the US for activities of a recreational character or to receive medical treatment. Cohabitating partners and extended family members (e.g., elderly parents) who are ineligible for derivative status on other visas (e.g., H-4, F-2, J-2) may qualify for a B-2 visa.

Acquiring B status

B status is acquired by either (1) applying for a B visa at a US consulate (Canadian citizens are exempt from the visa requirement) and then being admitted to the US in B status by an immigration officer, or (2) applying to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a change to B status from another nonimmigrant status if already in the US.

Applying for a B visa and entering the US

Applicants for B visas should generally apply at the US consulate with jurisdiction over their place of residence. There they will fill out visa applications, pay visa fees that vary from country to country, and present evidence of financial support, proof of foreign residence and intent to return, passport with a validity date at least six months beyond the intended period of stay in the US, photos that meet specifications described on the consulate’s website, and detailed information about the purpose and nature of the trip. If the application is approved, a visa stamp is affixed to the passport with the possible notations: “B-1,” “B-2,” or “B-1/B-2.” The B-1/B-2 notation is common and can be used for entry for either purpose for the validity of the visa stamp. At the port of entry, the visitor will present the passport and visa to an immigration officer, have digital photographs and fingerprints taken, then will be admitted either in B-1 or B-2 status, depending on the purpose of that entry.

B-1 visitors for business are admitted to the US for the period of time needed to complete the purpose of the trip. B-2 visitors for pleasure are generally admitted for 6 months, regardless of whether the intended length of stay is shorter than 6 months. The immigration officer can lengthen the period of stay to one year if more time is requested due to special circumstances (e.g., long-term medical treatment).

Changing to B status while in the US

To change status to B-1 or B-2 from another status while in the US, the applicant files Form I-539 with USCIS. Instructions on the form list supporting documentation. Generally, a nonimmigrant who files a timely application for change of status can remain in the US while the application is being adjudicated, provided the person was in valid status when the application was filed and continues to be in valid status until the date the B-1 or B-2 status is requested to begin. If the application is approved, the visitor will be sent a notice showing the new status and departure date; if the application is denied and the applicant’s prior status has expired, he or she must immediately depart the US.

Extending B status

Visitors in B status are eligible to apply to extend B status if they have been maintaining valid status throughout their stay, the purpose of the visit remains unchanged and temporary, and the extension application (Form I-539) is filed before the expiration of the current period of stay. Generally, the applicant can remain in the US while the application is being adjudicated.

The Visa Waiver Program

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables citizens of participating countries to travel to the US for business or tourism for 90 days without obtaining a B-1 or B-2 visa. Those entering for business purposes are admitted in WB status (equivalent to B-1) and those entering for purposes of pleasure are admitted in WT status (equivalent to B-2).

Beginning January 12, 2009, all nonimmigrants traveling to the United States via air or sea under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) must have an approved travel authorization from the Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). To comply with ESTA, VWP travelers must provide electronically to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) the information previously collected on the I-94W Nonimmigrant Alien Arrival/Departure (Form I-94W) and receive authorization to travel before embarking to the United States.  Department of Homeland Security recommends that ESTA applications be submitted no less than 72 hours prior to travel. Travel authorization under ESTA remains valid for the lesser of two years or the validity of your current passport.

Procedures for entering the US in WB or WT status are the same as listed above for persons entering in B-1 or B-2 status, except that the requirement of obtaining a visa at a US consulate is waived. Additionally, they must enter on an air or sea carrier that has signed an agreement with the US government to transport VWP passengers, have a return ticket to a foreign destination other than Canada or Mexico or adjacent islands, and have a machine-readable passport. Entry to the US at a land border from Canada or Mexico is permitted.

Visa Waiver Program participating countries include Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom (“United Kingdom” refers only to British citizens who have the unrestricted right of permanent abode in the UK).

Visitors entering the US under the VWP are admitted for a period of 90 days. VWP entrants cannot apply for an extension of stay or change of status. If they wish to obtain another nonimmigrant status, they must exit the US and return with a visa in the desired category.

Establishing eligibility as a visitor for “business”

To show eligibility for B-1 or WB status, the applicant must provide to the US consular officer abroad and/or immigration officer at the port of entry evidence documenting the purpose of the trip (e.g., a copy of the conference brochure), intent to depart the US (copy of round-trip air ticket), and source and amount of funding (if the UW will reimburse the visitor or pay an honorarium, this information should be included in a letter from the host department).

Establishing eligibility as a visitor for “pleasure”

To show eligibility for B-2 or WT status, the applicant should be prepared to provide a “what, when and where” agenda. If the visitor is coming to visit a friend or relative in the US, a letter of invitation from the inviting party may be helpful (note that if the inviting party is a student inviting his or her parents to visit, it is not helpful for the UW to write a letter on the student’s behalf). Additionally, the visitor will need to show evidence of funding, return transportation, and ties to the home country.

Restrictions on work and payments

Travelers entering the US in B-1, B-2, WB, and WT status are not permitted to engage in employment of any kind. However, certain honorarium payments and reimbursements for reasonable and incidental expenses are permissible, provided all the following conditions are met:

  • The visitor is performing an academic activity for the benefit of the UW.
  • The activity being compensated is performed within nine days.
  • The individual has not accepted honorarium payment or reimbursement for qualifying activities from more than five institutions in the previous six-month period.

UW departments are encouraged to contact Global Operations Support for further guidance and instructions.

Restrictions on study

Visitors are prohibited from “enrolling in a course of study” unless they apply for and USCIS approves a change to F-1 status. (VWP participants cannot apply to change status.) Immigration describes “course of study” as a focused program of classes, whether full-time or part-time. Casual, short-term classes that are not the primary purpose of the visitor’s presence in the US, such as a single English language or crafts class, would not constitute a “course of study.”

Frequently asked questions
  1. What distinguishes a “visitor” visa from an “exchange visitor” visa?
    The “visitor” categories (B-1, B-2, or WB, WT) provide an opportunity for individuals to enter the US temporarily for business or pleasure. The “Exchange Visitor” (J-1) visa is a program in which participants are invited by the University of Washington to the US for the purpose of promoting “mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchanges.”
  2. Does one have an advantage over the other?
    From an institutional and programmatic point of view, the J-1 Exchange Visitor visa has many advantages for the UW.  The J-1 Exchange Visitor visa, rather than the B-1 or WB visitor visa, should be used by campus departments inviting persons to the UW for teaching, research, observation, consultation or training activities.
  3. Can a visitor perform research at UW?Foreign nationals coming to the UW to perform research must hold a visa appropriate to the activity. Generally, this requires University sponsorship for a J-1 or H-1B visa. It is not lawful for foreign nationals to perform research in the United States on a visitor (B-1 or B-2) visa or visa-waiver, even for short periods, unless the research is strictly “independent” (e.g., book research in the library) and provides no benefit to a US institution.
  4. There are as many different kinds of visas as there are letters of the alphabet! How do I know which option is best?
    Please contact International Scholars Operations (ISO). We’ll evaluate your situation and propose a visa strategy that best meets your needs.