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U.S. Visitor Visas: An Overview

The B1 and B2 visas are part of the U.S. visitor visa group. A B1 B2 visa allows you temporary entry into the United States for specific activities that are allowed.

However, some rules apply. Anyone applying for a B1 B2 visa should be well-informed about what activities are allowed under this tourist visa to avoid breaking any visa rules.

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For those who don’t qualify for the visa-free ESTA travel, a B visa could be the best choice.

Permissible Activities for B1 B2 Visas

The B1 visa is mainly for short-term business trips, and the B2 visa is mostly for leisure travel.

B1 Visa: Short-Term Business Activities

With a B1 visa, you can do the following:

  • Negotiate business contracts
  • Attend business-related meetings and conferences
  • Take part in trade events and exhibitions
  • Conduct research and tours for business purposes
  • Make purchases for your business

Importantly, B visa holders are not allowed to work for pay in the U.S.

If you aim to earn money in the U.S., you should apply for a different type of U.S. work or business visa. Consulting an advisor before applying can help ensure your planned activities are within the allowed scope.

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B2 Visa: Leisure Travel

Activities permitted under B2 visas are:

  • Sightseeing in the U.S. and its islands
  • Visiting family and friends
  • Receiving medical treatments
  • Attending non-business events and programs.

A valid B1 B2 visa grants you the flexibility to engage in both business and tourism while in the U.S.

Duration of B Visas

Both B1 and B2 visas allow a maximum stay of 6 months. Each application is reviewed individually, and you might be granted a stay shorter than 6 months.

It’s important to note the difference between visa validity, which is the time frame your visa is issued for, and visa duration, which is the time you are allowed to stay in the U.S. For example, if your B1 B2 visa is valid for ten years, you can travel to the U.S. multiple times within those years but can stay for up to 6 months each time.

Extensions for B1 B2 Visas

Extensions are possible up to a total stay of 12 months. You’ll need to provide a strong reason for the extension and apply through U.S. immigration authorities. Changing your visa status is complex and may require expert advice.

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What is ESTA?

ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) screens travelers’ eligibility for visa-free travel under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

Initiated post 9/11, an ESTA approval is sufficient for travel to the U.S. under the VWP. Applications should be made at least 72 hours before your trip.

ESTA isn’t a substitute for a visa. Admission to the U.S. is ultimately decided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. No ESTA is needed if entering the U.S. from Canada or Mexico by land.

An ESTA is valid for two years or until your passport expires. You can stay in the U.S. for up to 90 days per visit.

Certain conditions might require you to get a new ESTA:

  • New passport issuance
  • Change in name or gender
  • Change in citizenship
  • Criminal records
  • Acquiring a communicable disease

Note that frequent visits to the U.S. without enough time between trips may raise suspicions from CBP officers about your intentions, possibly leading to denial of entry.

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