US B1 B2 Visa vs. US Visa Waiver Program:

Pros and Cons

Introduction

The United States welcomes over 40 million visitors each year, most of who come on a US B1/B2 Visa or under the US Visa Waiver Program.

Although very similar, there are distinct differences between B1/B2 Visitor Visa and the Visa Waiver Program. To enable foreign nationals choose the most appropriate visa category between these two options to visit USA, we are providing you the key differences between B1/B2 visa and Visa Waiver Program.

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A. The US B1/B2 Visa

Generally, foreign nationals who would like to come to US temporarily must have the appropriate nonimmigrant visa. The B1/B2 Visitor Visa allows foreign nationals to come to the US for business, pleasure, or tourism.

The B1 Visa is for business visitors. The B2 Visa is for visitors who are coming to the US for tourism or pleasure.


1. How To Apply For B1/B2 Visa

A B1/B2 visa applicant must apply for the visa at a US consulate. The visa applicant must be able to show that he or she:

a.Has a residence in a foreign country that he or she doesn’t intend to abandon

b.Is entering the US for a specific permitted purpose

c.is entering the US for a specific duration, and

d.has the ability to pay for the costs of the trip.

If approved, the US B1/B2 Visa will be stamped in the passport.

DID YOU KNOW?
While most B1/B2 visitor visas are valid for 10 years, the visa officer at the US Consulate has the discretion to shorten the validity of the visa to 5 years, 2 years, 1 year or 3-6 months.

2. Entering The US On A B1/B2 Visa

The B1/B2 visitor visa stamped in the passport at the US Consulate does not guarantee entry into the US. The visa only allows the foreign national to seek entry into the U.S. The Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Officer has the final say in deciding if an applicant at the port-of-entry is eligible to be admitted into the US.

DID YOU KNOW?
If admitted into the US, B1/B2 visa holders are generally admitted for six months or the period necessary to conduct their activities.

3. Permissible Activities Under The B1/B2 Visa

The B1 business visa allows foreign nationals to come to the US for specified business purposes. Some activities allowed under the B1 visa include:

  • Attending business, educational, professional, business or religious conference
  • Attending business meetings to negotiate contracts or consult with business associates
  • Participation by professional athletes in a competitive event for prize money (no salary)

The B2 tourist visa allows foreign nationals to come to the US for sightseeing, visiting friends and relatives, or obtaining medical treatment.


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4. B1/B2 Extension OR Change of Status In The US

A foreign national in B1 status or B2 status can apply for an “extension of stay” by filing Form I-539 with the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS will consider all the circumstances surrounding the applicant’s situation, including current status, the reasons for extension and continuing ties to the home country in deciding whether or not to grant the extension of status.

A foreign national in B1 status or B2 status may also be eligible for a change of status. The B1/B2 visitor can file Form I-129 if he or she is eligible for a work visa (H, L, O, P, etc.) or can file Form I-539 to change status to F-1 or J-1.

Foreign nationals in B1/B2 status can also file for Adjustment of Status if the individual is a Beneficiary of a qualifying immigrant petition.

IMPORTANT
If a request for Extension of Status is denied, the B1/B2 visitor may remain in the US until the date of the original period of stay (when the I-94 expires).

If an extension is denied and if the original period of stay has expired, then the applicant must leave the US immediately. The B1/B2 visa in the passport automatically becomes void in such circumstances. Once the visa is void, the foreign national must obtain a new B1/B2 visa stamp at a US consulate in the home country before being able to return to the US in visitor status.

B. The US Visa Waiver Program

The US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows the citizens of certain designated countries to travel to the US for business or tourism without a visa. All activities allowed under the US B1/B2 visa are permitted while on the VWP.

There are currently 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program.


1. Entering The US Under The Visa Waiver Program

Visitors coming to the US using the Visa Waiver Program must have:

1.a machine-readable passport;

2.prior authorization from the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

At the time of entry, the VWP traveler applicant must be able to show that he or she:

a.Has a residence in a foreign country that he or she doesn’t intend to abandon;

b.Is entering the US for a specific permitted purpose;

c.is entering the US for a specific duration; and

d.has the ability to pay for the costs of the trip.

If admitted by CBP, VWP entrants are generally admitted for up to 90 days or the period necessary to conduct their activities.

IMPORTANT
Certain travelers are barred from using the Visa Waiver Program, even if they are citizens of participating countries. These include individuals:

  • who have traveled to or have been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (except those who were there for diplomatic or military related purposes).
  • Who are dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria.

 

Foreign nationals who are otherwise eligible for the VWP but meet one of these two criteria must instead apply for the US B1/B2 visa.

2. Extending Or Changing Status In the US

Visa Waiver entrants cannot extend or change status once they have entered the US. They can however, file for Adjustment of Status if they are Beneficiaries of a qualifying immigrant petition filed by an Immediate Relative (US Citizen spouse; US Citizen parent, if child under 21; or US Citizen child).

USCIS does have the authority to extend the stay of a VWP entrant for 30 days in the case of emergencies (medical emergency, change in travel schedule that was beyond the control of the visitor, etc.). The VWP entrant must appear in person at an InfoPass appointment to apply for the extension.

IMPORTANT
A foreign national who overstays in the US by even one day forfeits the ability to use Visa Waiver to enter the US in the future. In order to visit the US again, the foreign national must obtain a B1/B2 visa.

C. US B1/B2 Visa vs. US Visa Waiver Program – Differences You Must Know

While almost exactly the same in scope, the B1/B2 Visa and the Visa Waiver Program differ in some very distinct ways. Here is a quick side-by-side comparison of the two:

US B1/B2 VisaUS B1/B2 Visa US Visa Waiver Program
Available to individuals who want to visit USA for business or pleasure. No restriction on the country of origin.Available to individuals who want to visit USA for business or pleasure if the visitor is a citizen of one of 38 designated US visa waiver countries.
Can extend status for up to 1 year and can request a change of status, if eligible.Cannot generally extend status or change status.
Eligible to file for Adjustment of Status to become a legal permanent resident during the authorized period of stay.Eligible to file Adjustment of Status to become a legal permanent resident but only as a beneficiary of an Immediate Relative immigrant petition.
Overstaying will result in the automatic revocation of the B1/B2 visa. A new visa will be required in order to re-enter the US.Overstaying will result in the automatic forfeiture of the ability to use Visa Waiver. Individuals will need to apply for a B1/B2 visa in order to re-enter the US.
B1/B2 visa holders have a right to contest any action for removal (“deportation”).VWP entrants waive the right to be able to contest any action for removal (“deportation”) when they enter the US. A VWP entrant can be removed or “deported” without ever seeing an immigration judge.

Conclusion

Although deceptively similar, there are key differences between the US B1/B2 visa program and the US Visa Waiver Program that travelers should take into account before making plans to visit USA. All the rights and privileges afforded to nonimmigrants in the US are not necessarily extended to Visa Waiver participants.

If you need help in making the right choice to visit USA, or determining your eligibility for a B1/B2 visa, or filing for a B1/B2 extension, contact our experienced immigration attorneys immediately for a FREE Immigration Attorney Consultation. Our experienced attorneys will be happy to assist you.


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