Generally, a B visa (commonly referred to as a visitor visa) is for visitors who are entering the U.S. for a short time, typically no more than six months.
There are two categories:
- B-1 classification — is for a visitor who plans to engage in business consultations, independent research, or other professional activities. It is the classification used most frequently for those attending professional conferences, conventions, or symposia.
- B-2 classification — is for foreign nationals coming to the U.S. for tourism or for medical treatments.
It is also possible to request a waiver of the B visa requirement. See the Visa Waiver section below.
As a visiting foreign national, you are responsible for requesting entry in the classification appropriate to your planned activities.
IMPORTANT: As a B visa in either classification, you are not allowed to engage in any form of employment in the U.S. or engage in any course of study.
You can find additional information on B visas on the Department of State website.
Applying for a B-1/B-2 Visa
Visas are issued by the U.S. Department of State at consulates or embassies overseas. You must contact the consulate or embassy in your home country for instructions on how to apply and what documentation is required for a B visa.
The embassy will look to see that the prospective visitor’s visit will be temporary, that the visitor will not be employed in the U.S., have sufficient funds for the trip, have steady employment in his/her country, and have a round-trip ticket. In some cases, a business, faculty at a university, or conference organizer will issue a letter of invitation (see below) which may facilitate obtaining and entering the U.S. with a B-1 visa or Waiver Business.
It is also possible for a family member already in the U.S. to sponsor an applicant for a B-2 tourist visa. This arrangement can prove helpful if the visitor does not have sufficient funds to support the entire trip. For further information on sponsoring a tourist visa for family members, see Path2USA’s Visa Guide.
Visa approval is always at the discretion of the consular post.
B-1: Reimbursements, Per Diems, Honoraria and Speaker’s Fees
B-1 visitors may receive reimbursements, honoraria, and speaker’s fees if 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 has 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 stay may not exceed nine days at any institution. The visitor must not have accepted similar payments from more than five institutions during the previous six months.
- 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 visitor’s responsibility.
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).
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 six 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.
In filing the extension application, the B-2 visitor must demonstrate that they are maintaining their primary residence outside the U.S. and are otherwise meeting the B visa requirements. If such an extension is anticipated, the visitor should not enter the U.S. under the visa waiver program (see below), which does not in any situation allow extensions of stay.
B-1 Versus J-1
In some cases, prospective visitors — particularly at the scholar/professional level — are invited by Stanford for campus activities that initially seem appropriate for a B-1 visa or visa waiver because the visit is of short duration, and there is no payment or formal appointment at the university. However, the Department of State strongly recommends that any visitor to a U.S. academic institution who engages in a collaborative activity or research, and whose activity may benefit the hosting institution be sponsored for a J-1 visa, particularly if that activity/research may 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. Any use of Stanford-owned equipment for research, or an experiment that may 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.
When a J-1 visa is determined to be more appropriate, Bechtel International Center issues a DS-2019 and the department administrator should review the J-1 Scholars 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 obtaining a DS-2019.
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 visitor must have a machine-readable passport that meets the requirements of the program, have a round-trip plane ticket, and complete prescreening online with Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The visitor must do this at least 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 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 is 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.
Entering the U.S. on Visa Waiver While in F-1 or J-1 status
Those seeking to maintain F-1 or J-1 status (e.g., during a leave of absence of fewer than five months on F-1) should not enter on a B-1/B-2 visa unless they plan to abandon F-1 or J-1 status.
B Visa Invitation Letter Templates:
- B-1 Template: Invitation letter for B-1 visitors for campus visits or conference use.
B-2 Template PDF: Invitation letter for B-2 visitors to campus for personal events, for international students or students of international origin no longer sponsored by Stanford.