United States Immigration Series Post No. 2 Nonimmigrant Visas to the United States

Francisco A. Laguna & Annapurna Nandyal

Today we continue our series on United States immigration issues with a post on nonimmigrant or temporary visas. As the name suggests, nonimmigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals seeking to enter United States on a temporary basis, be it for tourism, business, studying or certain types of temporary work. The foreign national must apply for a specialized visa that authorizes that activity (tourism, medical treatment, etc.). There are more than 60 types of nonimmigrant visas, but we will summarize the popular ones.

B-1 Visas: If a foreign national wants to participate in a business activity which is commercial or professional in nature, the traveler needs to apply for a “Visitor for Business” visa. An individual must meet certain eligibility criteria, such as intending to stays for a limited period of time to conduct business of a legitimate nature. Besides this, the person needs to demonstrate he has binding ties in his home country which will ensure his return after the expiry of visa. Under the business visitor, an individual may:

  • Conduct negotiations with business associates
  • Solicit sales or investments
  • Discuss planned investment or purchases
  • Make investments or purchases
  • Attend a scientific, educational, professional or business convention, or a conference on specific dates
  • Interview and hire staff
  • Conduct research
  • Participate in short-term training
US Embassy in Santiago Chile

US Embassy in Santiago Chile

B-1 visa holders, however, cannot carry out certain activities, such as running a business in the United States or becoming gainfully employed. These activities require a work permit visa.

Those entering the United States on a B-1 visa are generally granted 6 months admission upon entry, and it is possible to apply for a six-month extension (the maximum allowable is one year). To get the extension, the individual has to present good reasons for needing the additional time and continue to maintain the business visa.

Businessmen who qualify for the visa waiver program routinely travel to the United States to conduct business activities. These visits tend to be short in duration.

B-2 Visas: Annually, the United States attracts some 60 million visitors, and most of them travel on a tourist or a B-2 visa, unless the individual qualifies for the visa waiver program. Under B-2 visa, an individual can:

  • Visit relatives/friends
  • Get medical treatment
  • Participate in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations
  • Participate in amateur musical, sports, or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating
  • enrollment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree (for example, a two-day cooking class while on vacation)

Applications for a tourist visa are long and require the applicant to submit extensive financial and other personal information.

US Embassy in London, United Kingdom

US Embassy in London, United Kingdom

Visa Waiver Program: Citizens from certain selected countries are allowed to travel temporarily to the United States without obtaining a nonimmigrant visa. Admission is for ninety days, and it can be either for pleasure/business or both. Those present in the US under the visa waiver scheme are subject to basically the same conditions as those on a B-1 / B-2 visa. Another important aspect is that it is not usually possible to extend the visa while in the US or change to another visa.

F-1 Visas: Those wishing to study in the US require an F-1, or student, visa. Studies include taking courses at a university, college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, language training program, or other academic institution. The United States has emerged as top destination for international students, and the number of F-1 visas issued has been increasing annually. Unlike certain visas, there are no caps to the number of F-1 visas granted. The main requirements for F1 student visa:

  • You must be enrolled as a full-time academic student in an established college which is SEVP (student exchange visitor program) certified
  • The university/college must be approved by the USCIE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to accept foreign students
  • You must show financial support to complete your studies
  • You must prove that you do not intend to abandon your foreign residency.

To maintain their nonimmigrant status, F-1 visa holders are restricted in terms of employment: F-1 students may accept on-campus employment, but may not work off-campus during their first academic year.

On-campus work does not have to be related to the student’s field of study. The USCIS imposes certain restriction on the number of hours F-1 visa holders can work. Students can apply for off-campus employment after having been in F-1 status for at one full academic year.

US Embassy in Bratislava, Slovakia

US Embassy in Bratislava, Slovakia

M-1 Visas: An M-1 visa allows an individual to pursue vocational or nonacademic studies. Courses which do not fall into a traditional academic category, such as technical studies, cooking classes, religious vocational classes require an M-1 visa. M-1 visa holders cannot change the status to F-1 visa, and may not work on or off campus while studying. M-1 visa students are admitted to the United States for a fixed time period. Their stay may not exceed one year, and only in special circumstances, like medical reasons, is the visa extended.

TransLegal is available corporations and individuals navigate the intricacies of the US immigration system. Call us with your questions.


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