B1 and B2 visas (U.S. nonimmigrant business/tourism visas)
What are the distinguishing features of B1 and B2 visas？
B1 and B2 visas are generally referred to as “B visas”, and they are the most common types of visa issued for a wide range of uses in the United States. The B1 visa is issued mainly for short-term business trips, while the B2 visa is issued mainly traveling for tourism purposes.
Once a visa is issued after approval of your B1 or B2 visa application to the U.S. government, “B1/B2” is indicated under “Visa Type/Class.” Under this visa indication, the traveler may engage in both short-term business and tourism activities while in the United States.
The most common reasons for applying for B visas are to visit family, relatives, and friends residing in the U.S., and also to engage in short-term business trips in the U.S. for business discussions, negotiations, meetings, and site inspections. However, holders of B visas are prohibited from working and receiving salary or other remuneration in the U.S.
Travelers must apply for an E visa in order to work (including part-time) in the U.S. or to invest in businesses, shops, or other investments in the country.
Those who may be involved in some kind of business activities while in the U.S. are encouraged to check the content of such activities and their period in advance.
Advantages and disadvantages of B visas
Advantages of B visas are their relative simplicity and the fact that it does not take a long time to receive one after applying for it. It is said that obtaining a B visa can be relatively easier compared to the following two types of visas: the E visa, mainly used to serve as a resident employee, and the L visa, necessary in case of job transfers to the U.S.
The U.S. offers a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) for friendly countries. Under the VWP, nationals of such countries can enter the U.S. and stay there for up to 90 days even without a B visa. However, they must apply for and receive authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to travel. As of Nov 2019, the U.S. had applied VWPs with 39 countries. For this reason, demand for B visas for short-term visits to the U.S. is decreasing worldwide. One disadvantage of B visas is the fact that the business activities conducted under a B1 visa are limited.
Since a B1 visa does not permit doing business or employment in the U.S., it is restricted to business activities centered on meetings, tours, negotiations, and buying. The B2 visa also is intended for tourism purposes, so naturally it is prohibited to use one for employment.
About the Visa Waiver Program （VWP）
As of Nov 2019, nationals of the 39 countries listed below are able to stay in the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa when traveling for short-term business or sightseeing purposes. However, they must satisfy the following two conditions.
|①||They must have a valid passport, embedded with an IC chip, that satisfies the passport requirements of the VWP program.|
|②||They must apply for and obtain ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) before visiting the U.S.|
Countries eligible for the Visa Waiver Program （VWP）
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- San Marino
- Czech Republic
- United Kingdom
- (listed in no particular order)
Activities permitted under a B1 visa
Those traveling to the U.S. for short-term business purposes on a B1 visa or with prior ESTA authorization under the Visa Waiver Program may engage in the following activities while in the U.S.
- Business-related contractual negotiations
- Business discussions, conferences, meetings, etc. with trading partners
- Attendance in specialized business-related meetings, conferences, etc.
- Research, tours, inspections, etc. for business purposes
- Buying products, materials, etc.
- Testifying in U.S. courts of law
Activities permitted under a B2 visa
Those traveling to the U.S. mainly for tourism purposes on a B2 visa or with prior ESTA authorization under the Visa Waiver Program may engage in the following activities while in the U.S.
- Tourism and related activities in the U.S. and U.S. islands
- Staying in the homes of family, relatives, friends, or acquaintances in the U.S.
- Undergoing examination, treatment, surgery, etc. at medical institutions in the U.S.
- Participating in trade shows, exhibitions, and other events in the U.S.
- Participating in meetings, exchange programs, etc. in the U.S. organized by social organizations, friendly organizations, etc.
How long can a traveler stay on a B1/B2 visa?
The period of validity of a visa indicates the period during which the visa holder may undergo immigration screening to enter the U.S., not the period for which he or she may stay in the U.S. Accordingly, travelers should note that the period of validity indicated on the visa does not mean the period they can stay in the U.S.
The period for which a traveler may stay in the U.S. is determined by the immigration officer at the port of entry, depending on the purpose of the traveler, the officer will make a judgment for an appropriate period of stay. In general, travelers are not permitted to stay for longer than six months on a single visit. However, in the case of a B1 visa a traveler may be permitted to stay for one year if immigration determines that such a period is necessary for business reasons. If the traveler desires to stay even longer, he or she may apply for an extension while in the United States. If approved, the period of stay generally will be renewed for six months, although applications for extension may be rejected in some cases. In addition, a visa does not guarantee the right to enter the U.S. Rather, it merely indicates that a U.S. consulate has judged that the bearer is eligible to enter the U.S. for the specific purpose of the visa.
As in the case of ESTA authorization, the final judgment on admission to the U.S. is made by immigration officers at the airport. Travelers should understand in advance that the period they will be permitted to stay in the U.S. is not uniform but is on a case-by-case basis, determined by immigration officers at the port of entry.
Can a traveler visit the U.S. many times under a B2 visa, as long as it is in the period of validity of the visa？
You may travel to the U.S. as many times as you like during the period of validity of the visa. There is no restriction on the number of times you may visit. However, if you travel to the U.S. frequently and stay there for a long period of time, you may need to prove to immigration officers that you do not intend to immigrate to the United States.
It is important to demonstrate that you intend to return to your home country or to a residence outside the U.S. after your stay. If you do not prove to the immigration officer that you are indeed a traveler and have no intention to immigrate to the U.S., then you might be refused entry to the U.S. during immigration screening. Also, travelers who visit the U.S. frequently may be asked to explain the reason for their visit each time, even if it is for tourism purposes. Travelers who plan to visit the U.S. frequently are encouraged to choose the appropriate visa based on comprehensive consideration of matters such as their purpose of visit, planned length of stay, and future relation to the United States.
If your ESTA application is rejected, apply for a B visa
If you plan to stay in the U.S. for no longer than 90 days for purposes of tourism or a short-term business trip, applying for ESTA enables smoother and quicker entry procedures than applying for a visa. But if you are unable to receive ESTA authorization for any reasons, applying for a B1/B2 visa.
After preparing the required documents in order to apply for and receive a visa, make an appointment for an interview with your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate general through the U.S. visa application website. Make arrangements to apply for a visa with enough time to spare, by making sure to check your travel schedule.