The U.S. immigration system admits and classifies foreign national visitors based on the purpose of their stay in the U.S. The visa classification controls what foreign nationals can do while they are in the U.S., and how long they can remain. The following is a general discussion of the B visa classification. Additional information may be found on the Department of State website.
Definition of the B Visa
The B visa is used for visitors who will enter the U.S. for a short period of time, generally no more than six months. There are two categories: B-1 and B-2. B-1 status is for a visitor who plans to engage in business consultations, independent research or other professional activities. It is the visa classification used most frequently for those attending professional conferences, conventions or symposia. The B-2 classification is used for foreign nationals coming to the U.S. for tourism or for medical treatments. Each visiting foreign national is responsible for requesting entry in the classification appropriate to his or her planned activities.
B-1: Reimbursements, Per Diems, Honoraria and Speaker’s Fees
B-1 visitors may receive reimbursements, honoraria and speaker’s fees as long as specific requirements are met. It is solely the visitor’s responsibility to track and comply with these requirements. Some institutions may, however, request proof that the visitor entered the U.S. with B-1 status before processing any payments, necessitating submission of the visitor’s Form I-94 arrival/departure card or WB stamp (visa waiver business—see below) obtained at the U.S. port-of-entry.
The requirements include
- the institution must qualify as an educational or nonprofit research institution;
- the visitor’s stay may not exceed more than nine days at any institution;
- the visitor must not have accepted similar payments from more than five institutions in the course of six months previous;
- the visit is for the benefit of the institution.
These payments may be subject to tax reporting and/or withholding requirements unless it is excludable under IRS regulations or treaty benefits apply: tax consequences are solely the responsibility of the visiting foreign national.
B-2: Cohabitating Partners
Most U.S. visas that allow work authorization have corresponding categories for dependent family members; however, those categories are currently limited to children and legally married spouses. The question often arises as to what status should be used for those not eligible for “derivative status” i.e., those who are not legally married (e.g., cohabitating partners) or legal dependents (e.g., elderly parents). Recent guidance by the Department of State allows such family members to enter the U.S. on a B-2 visa and request up to a one-year stay at the time they apply for admission. This one-year stay may be extended in increments of 6 months for the duration of the principal’s nonimmigrant status in the U.S., by filing Form I-539 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The form may be downloaded from the USCIS website. In filing the extension application, the B-2 visitor must demonstrate that he/she will be maintaining his/her primary residence outside the U.S. and must otherwise meet B visa requirements. If such an extension is anticipated, the visitor should not enter the U.S. under the visa waiver program, which does not in any situation allow extensions of stay (see below).
Applying for a B-1/B-2 Visa
Visas are issued by the U.S. Department of State at consulates or embassies overseas. The applicant must contact the consulate or embassy in his/her home country for the instructions on how to apply and what documentation is required. The embassy will look to see that the visit will be temporary, that the applicant will not be employed in the U.S., has sufficient funds for the trip, has steady employment in his/her country, and has a round trip ticket. In some cases, a business, faculty at a university, or conference organizer will issue a letter of invitation which may facilitate the visitor obtaining and entering the U.S. with a B-1 visa or WB.
It is also possible for a family member already in the U.S. to sponsor an applicant for a B-2 tourist visa to the U.S. This arrangement can prove helpful if the applicant does not have sufficient funds to support the entire trip. For further information on sponsoring a tourist visa for family member, see Path2USA. Visa issuance is always at the discretion of the consular post.
B-1 Versus J-1
In some cases, prospective visitors—particularly at the scholar/professional level—are invited by Stanford to campus based on reasons for visiting and activities on campus that at first glance might seem appropriate for a B-1 or WB visa: the visit is of short-duration, the visitor will not be paid, and the visitor will not have a formal appointment at the university. However, the Department of State has strongly suggested that any visitor to a U.S. academic institution who engages in a collaborative activity or research, and whose activity will benefit the hosting institution should be sponsored for a J-1 visa, particularly if that activity/research will result in a future publication. The Department of State precludes such visitors from entering with a B-1 visa, which allows only for “independent” research, not collaboration. Even use of Stanford-owned equipment for research, or an experiment which will appear at a future time in academic publications, requires the visitor to enter on a J-1—not a B-1—visa. Fellows coming to Stanford will need a J-1 visa; however, speakers invited to Stanford who will receive an honorarium may, in some cases, use a B-1 visa or WB.
If a J-1 visa is determined to be more appropriate, Bechtel will issue a DS-2019 and the department administrator should review this webpage for further information on the responsibilities of departments to host J visitors and the requirements that J visitors must fulfill. The department at Stanford initiates the process of DS-2019 issuance.
Nationals of some countries are not required to obtain a B-1 or B-2 visa stamp, but are instead eligible to enter under the Visa Waiver Program allowing entry to the U.S. for up to 90 days in WB (“waiver business”) or WT (“waiver tourist”) status, which carries the same underlying restrictions on activities allowed in the U.S. as B-1 or B-2 status.
In order to apply for a visa waiver, the applicant must have a machine-readable passport which meets the requirements of the program, have a round-trip plane ticket, and complete prescreening online with Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). This must be done 72 hours in advance of travel. This authorization is usually valid for up to two years (or until the applicant’s passport expires) and allows multiple entries.
Important for WB
Prospective business/conference visitors who will be using the Visa Waiver Program instead of obtaining a B-1 visa stamp and who want to enter in WB status must present a letter of invitation supporting this activity at the U.S. port-of-entry, particularly if the visitor will be receiving some sort of payment while in the U.S. in form of reimbursements, per diems, honoraria or speaker’s fees. The port-of-entry official will stamp the passport “WB” and issue a Form I-94 accordingly.
Unlike B-1 and B-2, however, WB and WT may not extend their visas beyond 90 days under any circumstances, nor can they apply for a change of visa status once in the U.S.
None of these categories of B visa are allowed to engage in any form of employment in the U.S. or engage in any course of study.
Entering the U.S. on Visa Waiver While in F-1 or J-1 status
Do not enter the U.S. with a visa waiver while maintaining F-1 or J-1 status (e.g., during a leave of absence of less than five months on F-1) unless you plan to abandon F-1 or J-1 status.
- B-1 template PDF: Template of invitation letter for B-1 visitors for campus visits or conference use.
- B-2 template PDF: Template of invitation letter for B-2 visitors to campus for personal events, for international students or students of international origin no longer sponsored by Stanford.