B1/B2 and Visa Wavier Program

The B Visa for Visitors

The B non-immigrant category permits temporary entry to the United States for either business (B-1) or pleasure (B-2). The statute creating the B nonimmigrant classification describes a qualifying alien as:

…an alien (other than one coming for the purpose of study or of performing skilled or unskilled labor …. having a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning and who is visiting the United States temporarily for business or temporarily for pleasure..

INA 101(a)(15)(B).

The term "business," as used in the B regulations, refers to conventions, conferences, consultations and other legitimate activities of a commercial or professional nature. It does not include local employment or labor for hire.

The Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) lists several examples of uses of the B-1 that the State Department has found to fit within the parameters of the regulatory definition of “business.” FAM examples that are directly applicable in the academic context include:

(3) Consulting with business associates; ….(5) Participating in scientific, educational, professional, or business conventions, conferences, or seminars; or…..(6) Undertaking independent research...

9 FAM 402.2-5(B)

The use of the B-1 category is not limited by regulation to the examples in the FAM; however, we base our recommendations for B-1 usage on one of the FAM categories. 

The FAM also recognizes some special uses of the B-1 category.  For example, it recognizes use of the B-1 for students pursuing a medical degree at a foreign institution, who are coming to the United States to engage in a required clerkship (unpaid). The use of the B-1 for this purpose is limited to medical students, and does not extend to alien physicians who have already completed medical school.

….An alien who is studying at a foreign medical school and seeks to enter the United States temporarily in order to take an “elective clerkship” at a U.S. medical school’s hospital without remuneration from the hospital. The medical clerkship is only for medical students pursuing their normal third or fourth year internship in a U.S. medical school as part of a foreign medical school degree. (An “elective clerkship” affords practical experience and instructions in the various disciplines of medicine under the supervision and direction of faculty physicians at a U.S. medical school’s hospital as an approved part of the alien’s foreign medical school education. It does not apply to graduate medical training, which is restricted by INA 212(e) and normally requires a J-visa.) 9 FAM 402.2-5(E)(3)(b)

Foreign medical doctors can also obtain a B-1 visa to observe U.S. medical practices and consult with colleagues on latest techniques, provided no remuneration is received from a U.S. source and no patient care is involved.

….A medical doctor otherwise classifiable H-1 as a member of a profession whose purpose for coming to the United States is to observe U.S. medical practices and consult with colleagues on latest techniques, provided no remuneration is received from a U.S. source and no patient care is involved. Failure to pass the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination (FMGE) is irrelevant in such a case.  9 FAM 402.2-5(F)(8)

See also 9 FAM 402.2-5(E)(3)(c)

…An alien who is coming to the United States merely and exclusively to observe the conduct of business or other professional or vocational activity may be classified B-1, provided the alien pays for his or her own expenses. However, aliens, often students, who seek to gain practical experience must qualify under INA 101(a)(15)(H), (L), or (J), when an appropriate exchange visitors program exists.

The B-2 classification can be used for a variety of activities that require a temporary entry to the United States "for pleasure." State Department regulations define the statutory term "pleasure" to encompass activities that are not so pleasurable as well:

The term pleasure, as used in INA 101(a)(15)(B), refers to legitimate activities of a recreational character, including tourism, amusement, visits with friends or relatives, rest, medical treatment, and activities of a fraternal, social, or service nature. 22 CFR 41.31(b)(2)

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism for 90 days or less without obtaining a U.S. visa. Those entering for business purposes are admitted in WB status. Those entering for purposes of pleasure are admitted in WT status. For a list of countries currently participating in the VWP, see the US Department of State website. The website also provides information about general VWP eligibility, requirements, and restrictions. 

An applicant for the B visitor visa must satisfy the US consular Officer that he or she qualifies for the B. The applicant must present evidence which shows the purpose of the trip; proof residence abroad; intent to depart the United States at the end of the visit; and arrangements made to cover the costs of the trip. The applicant may present a letter from the U.S. business /host indicating the purpose of the trip; the bearer's intended length of stay; and the source of funding for the trip.  Documentation from the alien's occupation abroad should complement any documentation coming from a U.S. concern.

The visa affixed to a successful applicant's passport will bear either the notation "B-1," "B-2," or "B-1/B-2." The notation “B-1/B-2” is most typical.

At the US port of entry, the B-1 or B-2 applicant for admission will present his or her passport with valid B-1/B-2 visa, and request admission in one of those statuses (as applicable). Usually the interchange between the applicant and immigration official is very quick, and will consist of a simple question on what the plans of the applicant are, and for how long he or she will be in the United States. 

Even if the individual has a combination B-1/B-2 visa, he or she can only be admitted either in B-1 or in B-2 status at any particular entry, depending on the purpose of that entry. B-1 or B-2 status will be annotated on the alien’s Form I-94, as evidence of a lawful admission.

B-1 visitors for business are admitted to the United States for a period based primarily on the amount of time that the B-1 states is necessary to accomplish the business purpose, but not to exceed 1 year; while B-2 visitors are usually admitted for 6 months, regardless of validity of their visa stamp, and regardless of whether their stated length of stay is shorter than 6 months.

B-1 visitors for business and B-2 visitors for pleasure are prohibited from "enrolling in a course of study" unless they apply for and USCIS approves a change from B status to F-1 or M-1 student status. Because the nature of classification as a WT or WB visitor under the Visa Waiver Program derives from the definition of B-2 and B-1 visitors, WT and WB visitors are likewise subject to the prohibition on "enrolling in a course of study." However, several entries in the Department of State's Foreign Affairs Manual suggest that a B-2 visa can be issued to someone "coming to the United States primarily for tourism, who also incidentally will engage in a short course of study during their visit."

As a general rule, B-1 and WB visitors are not permitted to engage in employment of any kind while in the United States. For example, they may not legally accept part-time, full-time, or temporary teaching or research positions, for which they are paid by a U.S. institution.

Visitors in B-1 and WB status have traditionally been allowed to receive reimbursements for incidental expenses or per diems related to their B-1/WB activity. The total amount of such payments cannot exceed what is "reasonable" as a business expense. 

Visitors in B-1, B-2, WB, and WT status may receive "academic honoraria" payments and payments for associated incidental expenses pursuant to the criteria set forth in INA § 212(q).

Any alien admitted under section 101(a)(15)(B) may accept an honorarium payment and associated incidental expenses for a usual academic activity or activities (lasting not longer than 9 days at any single institution),…….. if such payment is offered by an institution or organization described in subsection (p)(1) and is made for services conducted for the benefit of that institution or entity and if the alien has not accepted such payment or expenses from more than 5 institutions or organizations in the previous 6-month period. INA § 212(q)