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The ABCs Of Immigration - Business And Tourist Visas
by Greg Siskind and Amy Ballentine

The most common nonimmigrant visa is the B visa. There are two types of B visas: B-1 visas for business visitors, and B-2 visas for visitors for pleasure. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the INS has proposed a few significant changes to the way people are admitted to the US on these visas.


The B-1 Business Visitor category is available to persons who can demonstrate that they 1) have no intention of abandoning their residence abroad and 2) they are visiting the US temporarily for business. Entry is, theoretically, granted for up to a year, but most B-1 admissions are approved for just the period necessary to conduct business and are normally permitted to stay no longer than 3 months. Under the proposed changes, the maximum admission period would be reduced from one year to six months.

Business visitors are quite limited in the activities in which they are permitted to engage. B-1 visa holders must not be engaging in productive employment in the US either for a US employer or on an independent basis. Any work done in the US must be performed on behalf of a foreign employer and paid for by the foreign employer. The work should also be related to international commerce or trade. The consulate will consider several factors when deciding whether to issue a visa including 1) whether a US worker could be hired to perform the work, 2) whether the work product is predominantly created in the US, and 3) whether the work is controlled mainly by a US company. If the answer to any of these questions is "yes" then the B-1 visa is likely to be denied. The following are some activities normally considered appropriate for the B-1 visa:

employees of a US company's foreign office coming to the US to consult with the US company
an employee of a foreign company coming to the US to handle sales transactions and purchases and to negotiate and service contracts
coming to the US to conduct business or market research
coming to the US to interview for a professional position in order to gain experience to help in finding a position in one's home country
attending business conferences, seminars, or conventions
an investor coming to set up an investment in the US or to open a US office
personal or domestic servants who can show they are not abandoning a residence abroad, have worked for the employer for a year and the employer is not residing in the US permanently
airline employees who are paid in the US but an E visa is not available because no treaty exists between the US and the airline's country
professional athletes who are not paid a salary in the US and are coming to participate in a tournament
a member of a board of a US company coming to a board meeting
coming to the US to handle preliminary activities in creating a business (opening bank accounts, leasing space, incorporating, etc.)


Of the more than 20 million nonimmigrants admitted annually to the US, more than three fourths come as tourists. The appropriate visa category for a tourist is the B-2 visa (a B-2 visa actually covers tourists, visits to relatives or friends, visits for health reasons, participation in conferences, participation in incidental or short courses of study and participation in amateur arts and entertainment events. Prospective students can also obtain a B-2 visa, but they will no longer be allowed to change to student status in the US unless they announce their intention to do so to the INS inspector at the border).

The process for obtaining the B-2 visa can be quite simple or very difficult depending on the national origin of the applicant, the age and marital status of the applicant, and the applicant's ties to the US and his/her home country.

Tourists are normally given a six month visa which can be extended in some circumstances for an additional six months. Under the regulation proposed earlier this year, the default period of admission will be 30 days, with the onus resting on the visitor to show why a longer period of time is required. Unlike some other nonimmigrant visas, application is made at a US consulate and no INS approval is necessary. Also, the applicant's spouse and children must independently qualify for the B-2.

In order to qualify for a tourist visa, an individual must meet a few broad requirements necessary to show nonimmigrant intent:

The alien is coming to the US for a specific period of time
The alien will not be engaging in work and will engage solely in legitimate activities relating to pleasure
The alien will maintain a foreign residence that he or she has no intention of abandoning during the period of his or her stay in the US.

For a tourist to show nonimmigrant intent and demonstrate compliance with the above tests, the key issues are financial arrangements for the trip, specificity of trip plans, ties to the alien's home country and ties to the US.

More specifically, consular officers are instructed to consider the following factors:

whether the arrangements for defraying expenses during the visit and return passage are adequate to obviate the need for obtaining employment in order to provide the funds to return home;

if relatives or friends are sponsoring, whether the ties between the alien and the supporter are compelling enough to make the offer credible;
whether the alien has specific and realistic plans for the visit (not just vague and uncertain intentions) for the entire period of the contemplated visit;
the period of time planned for the visit is consistent with the purpose of the trip and the alien has established with reasonable certainty that departure from the US will take place when the visit is over;
the applicant's proposed length of stay is consistent with the timeframe limitation offered by the hosting relative or fried (an alien's stated intention to remain in the US for the maximum period allowable by US authorities will be looked upon negatively);
whether the applicant can show reasonably good and permanent employment, meaningful business or financial connections, close family ties, or social or cultural associations which indicate a strong inducement to return abroad.

The application for a B-1 or B-2 visa is made at a US consulate. An applicant will normally apply at the closest consular post in their home country. Some consular posts in other countries also accept applications from third country nationals. Most of the time, the application must be made in person, though some consulates allow the application to be made by mail, a travel agent, or drop box.

An application for a B-1 business visitor visa should normally be accompanied by a detailed letter explaining the reasons for the trip, the itinerary for the trip and, if the trip is on behalf of a foreign firm, the fact that the company is paying all of the expenses to be incurred during the trip. The application should also be accompanied by extensive supporting documentation showing the activities that will take place during the trip, travel documentation and information on the B-1 visitor's employer.

With respect to financial arrangements, the alien should possess the following:

a round-trip plane ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to cover the duration and purpose of the trip and
if the alien appears only marginally able to pay for the trip, an affidavit of support on INS Form I-134 from the person who the alien is visiting in the US should be provided.

With regard to specificity of the trip arrangements, the alien should show such items as confirmed hotel reservations, car rentals, internal travel arrangements such as domestic flights or tourist packages, and/or a letter of invitation from a US source.

With respect to ties abroad, the alien could demonstrate steady employment, substantial business or property interests abroad and close family ties. A real property lease or ownership is helpful as well. These items are particularly important if the alien has close ties with the US such as close family members here. The scrutiny in this category is particularly tight for persons from "high-risk" countries - aliens from countries with a high rate of visa refusal and a low rate of compliance - who are single, young and well educated.

At the consulate, the applicant should present the DS-156 Nonimmigrant Visa Application, passport, photos, the application fee and supporting documentation. The DS-156 form can be downloaded from the State Department's web site at Male applicants between 16 and 45 years of age from certain Arab and Muslim countries are also expected to submit form DS-157.

Shortly after the September 11th attacks, the State Department began requiring that all male nonimmigrant visa applicants between the ages of 16 and 45 from Arab or Muslim counties subject to increased security checks. They are now subject to an additional 20-day waiting period during which the State Department will check their names against an FBI database. While no official list has been published, it appears that the following countries are subject to this new security procedure: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Dijbouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.

In most cases, successful applicants for a B-1 or B-2 visa will be given a multiple entry visa stamp that stays valid for ten years. The stamp will often say “B-1/B-2,” indicating the person can use the visa to enter to conduct activities falling under either classification. Note that a multiple entry, multiyear visa DOES NOT mean that a person can stay in the US for as long as the visa is valid. Rather, the US has a “two ticket” system to entering. The visa is your first ticket and allows you to seek admission at a US point of entry (an airport in the US, a land crossing port, or a US seaport). The INS inspector at the point of entry will issue a second “ticket,” the white I-94 card authorizing the visitor to stay in the US for a specified period of time (normally less than six months). Thus, the 10-year visa would allow a person to seek admission multiple times over the 10 years. But an inspector will determine the length of time authorized for each visit.

It is sometimes possible to change from a B-1 or B-2 visa to another visa once in the US. Readers are cautioned, however, that the INS could deny a change of status request if they believe the person entered with the intention of switching to another visa. This is particularly true for changes to student visas and when someone applies for a change very soon after entering the US. Change requests made within 30 days are particularly suspect unless a good explanation for the change of heart can be provided or the intention to apply for a change was disclosed in advance to a consular officer or INS inspector.

Nationals of some countries are allowed to participate in the Visa Waiver Pilot Program (VWPP) which allows visits for up to 90 days without having to obtain the B-2 visa. The waiver countries are the following:

Andorra, 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.

All Canadian citizens and certain Canadian "landed immigrants" are also exempt from getting a visa under a different law.

While being able to travel without a visa is convenient for many, it is important to be aware of a few key restrictions on people entering under the VWPP. First, unlike a normal B-2 visas under which a visitor will be authorized to stay for six months, VWPP entrants can only stay for 90 days. Second, it is not possible to apply for an extension of stay or a change of status to another non-immigrant or immigrant classification. Finally, a VWPP entrant can normally not apply for a new visa at a US consulate in Mexico or Canada and reenter the US.

About The Author

Gregory Siskind is a partner in Siskind, Susser, Haas & Devine's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at

Amy Ballentine is an associate in Siskind, Susser & Haas's Memphis, Tennessee office. She graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Rhodes College in 1994. While in law school at the University of Memphis she was a member of the law review staff as well as a published author. She also worked with the local public defender’s office in death penalty cases. In May 1999, she graduated Cum Laude from the University of Memphis Law School. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She can be reached by email at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.