The Visitor Visa is a nonimmigrant visa for persons desiring to enter the U.S. temporarily for business (B1) or for pleasure or medical treatment (B2). Applicants for visitor visas should generally apply at the U.S. Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. No special permission needs to be obtained from the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS) before a visa is issued by the Consulate. The period of admission into the U.S. is normally for a period of up to six months, as shown on the Form I-94 issued at the port-of-entry. Once entry with a visitor visa is made into the U.S., an application to extend visitor visa status may be filed with the USCIS requesting extension for up to six additional months.
Nationals of certain countries, most of which are located in Western Europe, may enter the U.S. without a visa under the visa waiver program. If entry to the U.S. is made under the visa waiver program, it is not possible to extend visitor visa status in the U.S. with the USCIS.
The duration for which the person can stay depends upon the expiration date of the I-94, and not on the expiration date of the visa stamp. The date on the visa stamp is irrelevant. For example, an individual who enters the U.S. on a 10 year multiple entry visitor visa is not entitled to remain in the U.S. for 10 years, but only for the amount of time specified on the I-94. As long as the visa is unexpired, a person can apply at the port of entry for entering the U.S. A single entry visa allows the person to apply to enter the U.S. once. A multiple entry visa allows the person to apply to enter the U.S. multiple times while the visa is unexpired.
Application for extension of visitor visa status while in the U.S. is made by mail with the USCIS. The USCIS looks at factors such as a definite plan to depart the U.S. at the end of the proposed extension period; a residence abroad which the applicant has no intention of abandoning; that the applicant submits the extension of stay application before the current authorized stay expires; that the applicant has not committed any act which would make him or her ineligible for an extension, such as employment in the U.S.; and that there is proper evidence of financial support.
Extension of visitor status should be filed at the appropriate time. Applying for an extension of visitor status as soon as one arrives in the United States may lead the USCIS to consider that the applicant does not intend to return to his/her home country after the temporary stay in the United States, and that the individual was planning to extend nonimmigrant status even before entering the USA (an example of “fraudulent entry”).
Typical reasons for extending B1 business visitor visa status includes continuation of consulting with business associates, participating in scientific, educational, professional or business conventions, conferences, or seminars, settling estates, negotiating contracts, and presenting business proposals. B1 visa status does not allow for employment in the U.S. and should not be used as a substitute for common employment based visa categories such as H1B or L1 visa categories.
Typical reasons for extending B2 visa status includes continuation of tourism activities, social meetings with friends and relatives, and participating in social organizations and functions.
In some cases it is prudent to change status from another nonimmigrant visa category to B1 or B2 status. For example, if the employment of an individual in H1B status is terminated, there is only a 10-day grace period to have another employer file an H1B petition or, alternatively, for the individual to file for change to another nonimmigrant visa category. If timely and properly filed, the change of status application will enable legal stay in the U.S. and buy time to find other employment or to conduct activities not inconsistent with maintenance of B1 or B2 status. Indeed, at least in B2 status, there is no legally mandated compulsion to necessarily be an active tourist or to constantly meet with friends and relatives. A tourist in B2 status can relax and ordinarily if he or she is not employed and otherwise has a permanent residence abroad to which he plans to return, will not violate his B2 status.
If the USCIS denies the application for extension of B2 status and the Form I-94 has expired, the USCIS usually allows 30 days to depart the United States starting from the date of the letter notifying the applicant of its decision to deny the application for extension. One should depart the United States as soon as possible or at least within the 30 days allowed by the USCIS, or he/she will be deportable.
If the USCIS denies the application for extension of B2 status, retain the USCIS decision letter, the receipt notice of filing evidencing that extension was filed in a timely manner, and the boarding pass and passport stamps showing entry into another country after departure from the United States. Having the above specified documents may mitigate the apparent overstay and could improve the probability of securing any subsequent U.S. visa.
If the USCIS denies the application for extension of B2 status and the Form I-94 has expired, the visa stamped on the passport (though it is a multiple-entry visa) is considered automatically cancelled under section 222(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Though there is no seal or stamp canceling the visa on the passport, this information is stored in the USCIS records as well as the US consular databases and may be accessed during future visit to the United States. Obtain a new B1/B2 visa stamp from a U.S. Consulate prior to future travel to the United States as a visitor.
Improper filing or denial of B1 or B2 extension can cause unforeseen difficulties. Please contact our law firm for additional discussion of this category, practical advice, and alternative options.
[Note: Please consult with an attorney specializing in Immigration & Nationality law for professional advice in specific situations.]