Visitor Visa How to Get a Visitor or Tourist Visa (B-1, B-2)

This article will answer common questions about getting a tourist visa or visitor visa and other related immigration law issues. You will learn more about how to obtain visas like the B-1 visa and B-2 visa, related forms like the form DS-156, and other important information about tourist or visitor visas.

If I just want to visit someone in the U.S. do I need a visa?

Yes, Individuals who wish to enter the United States on a temporary basis for business (B-1), pleasure or medical treatment (B-2) will need a non immigrant also known as a "visitor visa". Entry as a student or temporary worker should apply for another type of visa.

How does one obtain a visitor visa?

Certain types of non immigrant visas can be obtained by simply applying for it at the U.S. Consulate office located in your country. Other types of non immigrant visas must first apply to and get approval from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS, former INS) before applying at the U.S. Consulate.

What types do not need prior approval from the USCIS?

B-1 and B-2 visa.
  • B-1 - For those wishing to enter the U.S. for a business related trip. You must keep a residence in your home country and prove you have no intention of abandoning your citizenship.
  • B-2 – For those wishing to enter the U.S. for tourism or visiting a relative you must also prove you are there for that purpose (a firm and documented itinerary or agenda) and have no immigration intent.

What form and other documents are needed to file for the B-1 visa?

You will need to file Form DS-156 (standard non-immigrant visa application). You will also have to submit a supporting letter from the employer or an individual. (The letter should explain the reason for the trip, give itinerary, and give assurances regarding alien's continued employment abroad and source of income). You will also need supporting documentation establishing your non-immigrant intent and the legitimate business activity that you will be doing in the U.S for. Other necessary items needed are:
  • Passport of the applicant
  • One photograph
  • Payment of all fees

What form and other documents are needed to file for the B-2 visa?

You will also need to file form DS-156 (standard non-immigrant visa application). You will have to supply documentation establishing that you have non-immigrant intent. A letter of invitation from a U.S. host may be needed as well as an Affidavit of Support from a U.S. host. You will also need:
  • Your Passport
  • One photograph
  • Payment of all fees

Where does one apply for a visitor visa?

Visitor visa applications should be applied for at the American Embassy or Consulate that has jurisdiction over the area you live in.

What is the fee for a visitor visa?

There is a nonrefundable fee of US $45. Also a passport is required that is valid for at least six months after the non-immigrant's travel dates.

How does one demonstrate they should be classified as a visitor under the U.S. law?

The applicant will have to prove their intent in traveling to the U.S. to visit and they have no intention of staying. A person visiting on a Business visa can show a letter from the U.S. based company that clearly states the purpose of the trip. The letter must also state that there have been arrangements made for the financial expense of the trip also. Visitors who want to come to visit relatives or friends can present a letter from the person they are coming to visit. If the alien is coming for medical treatment, they should present a statement from a doctor or medical institution about the medical treatment being sought.

Do applicants have to prove they have enough finances to pay for the trip?

Yes they will have to prove that they have enough funds for the trip and time spent in the U.S. or that an American Citizen living in the U.S. will sponsor them. Depending on circumstances, they may have to supply evidence of strong family ties or employment in their home country that would compel them to return to it.

Can a visitor take a job while during their stay?

No, visitors are not allowed to work while in the U.S.

Do previous visitors still need to go through the same process to visit again at a later date?

There are special procedures that will expedite the process for repeat visitor visas and most consular offices will have more information on it.

How long are visitor visas valid?

Usually between 30 days up to 6 months. An expiration date will be stamped on the visa and the actual time will be decided by the USCIS.

Is entry into the United States guaranteed when you have a visa?

No, entry can still be denied by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. The point of entry official has the authority to authorize travel in the U.S. or deny it once you arrive at the port of call. The Form I-94, Record of Arrival-Departure, will be validated and the expiration date stamped on it. Visitors, who want to stay longer, must contact the Bureau for Form I-539, Application to Extend Status. Granting or denying the request is decided by the USCIS.

What does the Visa Waiver Pilot Program do?

The Visa Waiver Pilot Program allows visitors who will be coming to the U.S. for 90 or less to enter and visit without a visa. There are 29 countries in the Pilot Program and include:
  • Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Uruguay.
  • Visitors who have entered the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Pilot Program are not allowed to work or study while in the U.S. The maximum length of stay is 90 days. Filing for a change of status is necessary if they want to stay longer.
Immigration Law
Visitor, Tourist Visa (B2 Visa)
About author
Michael Wechsler
Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.


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