When you seek to enter the U.S. for tourism or a temporary visit, the B-2 visa or combined B-1/B-2 visa is appropriate. Only certain activities are allowed on this visa. The U.S. consular officer will not grant the B-2 visa and the U.S. customs officer will deny your entry on this visa if your reasons for travel do not fit the criteria.
WHICH ACTIVITIES ARE ALLOWED ON THE B-2 VISA?
Legitimate B-2 visitor activities are described below. The list is not exhaustive, but is specified in the Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual and other official guidance as appropriate reasons for the consular officer to issue the B-2 visa.
Visitor for Pleasure
You may use the B-2 visitor visa to:
- Engage in tourism, i.e. take a vacation (holiday) and visit places of interest
- Make social visits to family members and friends
- Receive medical treatment to protect your health (NOTE: the consular officer or customs officer must be satisfied you have the means to pay for the treatment, which includes doctors and hospitalization fees and related expenses.)
- Participate in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations
- Participate in entertainment or athletic activity (e.g. event or contest) as an amateur who is not a member of any profession associated with the activity, but instead normally performs without compensation (except for reimbursement of incidental expenses)
- Take a short course of study, which is incidental to the visit and not for credit toward a degree
- Temporarily stay as dependent of alien member of any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces temporarily assigned for duty in the U.S.
- Temporarily stay as dependent of D visa crewman if you are coming to the U.S. solely to accompany the principal D visa holder
Visitor Under Special Circumstances
You may also receive the B-2 visitor visa under the following special circumstances:
Fiancé(e) of U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident
Foreign nationals must obtain a K-1 fiancé(e), instead of the B-2 visa, if they seek to come to the U.S. to marry a U.S. citizen and apply for adjustment to permanent resident status (green card). The U.S. Consulate, however, may grant the fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) a B-2 visa if it determines the fiancé(e) will return to a residence abroad soon after the marriage.
B-2 status may also be granted if you are traveling to the U.S. to:
- Meet the family of your U.S. citizen or permanent resident fiancé(e);
- Become engaged;
- Plan the wedding; or
- Rekindle or maintain a relationship with your prospective spouse
In reality, however, B-2 visas are not routinely granted in this situation. The Consulate tends to find that fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens (in particular) or permanent residents (in some cases) will simply overstay until they can eventually get a marriage-based green card within the U.S. Therefore, it’s necessary to present strong evidence and persuasive testimony showing you will in fact depart on time, following a temporary visit, before you proceed with the K-1 or immigrant visa process.
Fiancé(e) of Nonimmigrant in United States
Fiancé(e)s who have a residence abroad to which they intend to return, and who are eligible to receive visas, may receive B-2 visas if the purpose of the visit is to marry a nonimmigrant in the United States, who has valid nonimmigrant F, H, J, L M, O, P, or Q status. The U.S. Consulate will not grant the visa if it determines you will remain in the U.S. after admission and apply to adjust to permanent resident status, or request a change to a non-immigrant status that does not require a residence abroad.
Proxy Marriage Spouse of Nonimmigrant in United States
A spouse married by proxy to a foreign national in the United States in valid nonimmigrant status may receive a B-2 visa to join the spouse. Following entry to the U.S., the joining spouse must file a timely request to change to the appropriate derivative nonimmigrant status (e.g. H-4 or F-2) after the marriage is consummated.
Spouse or Child of U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident
A foreign national spouse, biological child, or adopted child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident may be issued a B-2 visa if he or she is only accompanying or following to join the spouse or parent for a temporary visit.
Cohabitating Partners, Extended Family Members, and Other Household Members Who Do Not Qualify for Derivative Status
The B-2 visa is issued to those who belong to the same household of another person in long-term nonimmigrant status, but who are ineligible for derivative status. These include cohabitating partners or elderly parents of temporary workers, students, diplomats assigned to the U.S. and accompanying parent(s) of minor F-1 student. It is also appropriate for persons who belong to the same household of a U.S. citizen who normally lives and works overseas, but will be in the U.S. temporarily.
The B-2 visa is also granted to a spouse or child who qualifies for derivative status (other than derivative A or G status) but who finds it difficult or impossible to apply for the proper H-4, L-2, F-2, or other derivative visa, as long as he or she intends to maintain a residence outside the U.S. and is eligible for the B visa. Those who plan to remain in the U.S. for more than six months may request a one-year stay when they apply for admission at the U.S. port of entry. They may then apply for extensions of stay, in six -months increments, while the principal applicant holds nonimmigrant status in the U.S.
Foreign Nationals Seeking Naturalization under INA 329 (Naturalization Through Active Duty-Service in the Armed Forces During World War I, World War II, the Korean Hostilities, or in Other Periods of Military Hostilities)
A person who qualifies for naturalization under INA 329, and who seeks to enter the U.S. to make use of this benefit, may receive a B-2 visa without being required to maintain a foreign residence.
Children Seeking Expeditious Naturalization under INA 322 (Children of U.S. citizens who are born and residing outside the U.S. and meet the conditions to acquire certificate of citizenship)
The U.S. Consulate may grant a B-2 visa to a foreign-born child who is eligible for expeditious naturalization under INA 322. But even when the child intends to naturalize, he or she must intend to return to a residence abroad after naturalization, i.e. overcome the presumption of immigrant intent. The child whose parents are living abroad will normally meet this requirement, but a child whose parents reside in the U.S. will not.
The U.S. Consulate may also issue a B-2 visa to an adopted foreign-born child of a U.S. citizen who seeks to naturalize under INA 322 if he or she presents a DHS-issued Form G-56, General Call-In letter for a naturalization interview; maintains a residence abroad and does not intend to stay permanently in the U.S,; and meets other eligibility requirements.
Dependents of Alien Members of U.S. Armed Forces Eligible for Naturalization under INA 328 (Naturalization Through Service in the U.S. Armed Forces)
A dependent of an alien member of the U.S. Armed Forces who qualifies for naturalization under INA 328 and who seeks to accompany the spouse or parent on the service member’s assignment to the U.S. may be issued a B visa. The possibility of adjustment to permanent resident status does not require a visa denial.
Foreign Nationals Enrolled in an Avocational or Recreational School
A person may receive a B-2 visa to attend a school for recreational or avocational purposes. When the U.S. Consulate is unable to determine the nature of the school’s program, it normally asks DHS to confirm whether approval of Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status for Academic and Language Students (for an F-1 student visa) is required.
Lawful Permanent Residents Who Need to Come to the U.S. for an Emergency Temporary Visit
The I-551, Permanent Resident Card, becomes invalid for re-entry if the lawful permanent resident (LPR) remains outside the U.S. for more than one year. If the LPR needs to return to the U.S. sooner than when a returning resident visa can be obtained, the U.S. Consulate may issue a B-2 visa for re-entry purposes.
Adoptive Child Traveling to the U.S. to Acquire Citizenship foreign-born children who did not acquire U.S. citizenship at birth through a U.S. citizen parent to acquire U.S. citizenship automatically upon fulfillment of certain conditions while under the age of 18.
The U.S. Consulate may grant a B-2 visa to a child seeking to enter the U.S. to acquire U.S. citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-395), as long as the child shows an intent to leave the U.S. after a temporary stay.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR THE B-2 VISA?
Temporary visitors must meet the following eligibility requirements:
1. Maintain a residence in a foreign country, which you do not intend to abandon
Under U.S. immigration law, the term “residence” is defined as the place of general abode, i.e. your principal, actual dwelling place in fact, without regard to intent. You must show strong ties to your country, including family connections, property ownership, investments, and steady employment.
2. Intend to stay in the U.S. for a specific, limited period
The period of stay must be limited and not indefinite in nature. The expected length of stay must match the stated purpose of the trip. You must show with reasonable certainty that you will leave the U.S. upon completing your visit, prior to expiration of the authorized stay.
3. Seek entry solely to engage in legitimate activities permitted by the visa
You must be coming to the U.S. only to complete activities that are allowed by your visa classification. U.S. consular officers will deny the visa and U.S. customs officers will deny your entry if they have reason to believe or know that, while in the U.S. as a visitor, you will engage in unlawful or criminal activities.
You must have the funds and make arrangements to cover the cost of the trip and your stay in the U.S. Otherwise, the U.S. consular officer or customs officer will likely conclude that you will work in the U.S. without authorization to defray expenses. You could even be issued an expedited removal order at the U.S. port of entry if the customs officer determines you have previously violated your B-visa status or intend to do so.
Whether remote work for a foreign employer on U.S. soil is allowed on a visitor visa does not have a clear-cut answer. During a business trip or vacation, for example, you might need to check in with your boss or team overseas. This is a grey area where it’s better to err on the side of caution.
Even if you are a freelancer, independent contractor or employee of a foreign employer, and the income source is outside the United States, you might still face U.S. immigration issues if you perform work during your temporary visit. This is especially problematic if some clients or customers are in the U.S. or you get paid while you’re physically in the U.S.
U.S. tax law states that income from services performed for a foreign employer by someone present in the United States is deemed to be U.S. income — unless ALL THREE of the following conditions are met:
- You perform personal services as an employee of or under a contract with a nonresident alien individual, foreign partnership, or foreign corporation not engaged in a trade or business in the United States; or you work for an office or place of business maintained in a foreign country or possession of the United States by a U.S. corporation, U.S. partnership, or U.S. citizen or resident.
- You perform these services while you are a nonresident alien temporarily present in the United States for a period or periods of not more than a total of 90 days during the tax year.
- Your pay for these services is not more than $3,000.
Chapter 3 of IRS Publication 519, US Tax Guide for Aliens, states that if you do not meet all three conditions, your income from personal services performed in the United States is U.S. source income and is taxable in the U.S.
The visitor visa does not permit you to have U.S. income. Although some lawyers argue tax law is independent from immigration law, a U.S. immigration officer might find that you violated your visitor status simply because you worked on U.S. soil.
At the U.S. port of entry, the U.S Customs & Border Protection has broad discretion to refuse admission and even issue an expedited removal order if it determines that you intend to work in the U.S. or you have worked in the U.S. on a prior visit. The B-1 visa and status allow you to negotiate contracts, attend business meeting and make deals to perform the work outside the United States, but not to actually do the work during your visit. The B-2 visa and status permits you to engage in tourism and recreational visits only, with limited exceptions in special circumstances.
4. Have no immigration violations or criminal offenses that make you inadmissible, or otherwise qualify for an inadmissibility waiver
You will not receive the visa or be admitted if you are barred from entering the U.S. due to immigration violations or criminal offenses that make you inadmissible under U.S. immigration law. These include the 3/10 year bar due to accrual of unlawful presence of more than 180 days during a prior stay; conviction for a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (e.g. theft or fraud) that does not qualify for the petty offense or youthful offender exception; and willful misrepresentation of material facts to gain entry into the U.S.
When you are inadmissible, but are otherwise visa eligible, you may file a 212(d)(3) nonimmigrant waiver to be excused from almost all inadmissibility grounds. . A separate I-212 waiver (Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States After Deportation or Removal) is needed if you are barred due to a prior removal order or illegal (or attempted illegal) reentry into the U.S.
B-2 IS DIFFERENT FROM B-1
The B-2 is under the same B-visa classification as the B-1 Temporary Business Visitor visa, but is more limited. If you have only a B-2 visa – and not a B-1 visa or combined B-1/B-2 visa, you may not engage in any business visitor activities, such as attend business meetings or negotiate contracts.
WORK WITH AN IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY
Failure to overcome the presumption of immigrant intent and show strong ties abroad is one of the top reasons for a visa refusal or denial. Inadmissibility grounds can also prevent a visa grant or your entry into the U.S.
Consult an experienced immigration attorney to assess your visa eligibility, advise you on the forms and documents to submit, and assist you with the application process to get the B-2 or combined B-1/B-2 visa.
For more information, read our related articles, B-1 Visitor Visa: Traveling to the U.S. for Business and B-1 Visitor Visa: Traveling to the U.S. for Work as a Personal/Domestic Employee.
Keep in mind that entering the U.S. too frequently for extended visits on a B-2 or combined B-1/B-2 visitor visa may lead to problems at the U.S. port of entry. See Birth Tourism, Frequent/Extended Trips, Immigration Status Change: 3 Things That Often Prevent Entry to the U.S. (even though they are not strictly prohibited).
This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.
Photo by: Richard Burger