On Jun 12 2019 by Karuna Chandani Simbeck

What You Need to Know about Traveling to the U.S. for Tourism During Summer Holidays

Millions of international citizens travel to the U.S. each year for tourism, an industry that generates revenues of about $100 billion for the U.S. economy each year. Therefore, the U.S. has a vested interest in ensuring that the country remains accessible to tourists. Under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), the U.S. permits citizens of 30 countries visa-free travel to the U.S. for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days. In return, those 30 countries permit U.S. citizens and nationals to travel to their countries for a similar length of time without a visa for business or tourism purposes. Additionally, Canadian citizens generally do not need a visa to enter the U.S. as tourists. Those who don’t qualify under VWP can apply for B-1 visa (Visitor for Business); a B-2 visa (Visitor for Pleasure) or a combination B-1/B-2 Visitor Visa.

As we head into summer travel, this article will focus on the two most frequently asked questions about traveling to the U.S. on a B-2 visa.

To qualify for a B-2 Visa, the applicant must not be ineligible due to previous immigration or criminal violations. Additionally, they must prove to the consular officer that they have sufficient ties to their home country in order to show that any visit to the U.S. would be brief and temporary. At each entry into the U.S. on a B-2 visa, a foreign national can be authorized to stay for up to 180 days in the U.S.

Length and Frequency of Travel

The most common question immigration attorneys receive about traveling to the U.S. on a B-2 visa is: “How often can I come to the U.S.?”

Each time a person comes to the U.S. as a visitor, the officer must be able to determine that the person is simply visiting; and that the purpose, duration, and frequency of trips to the U.S. is consistent with evidence that the person permanently lives abroad.

There is no bright line rule for how many times a tourist can use their B-2 visa to enter the U.S. Instead, Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”) will look at the tourist’s travel history to determine if they are coming to the U.S. for brief, temporary stays, or using the tourist visa to essentially live or work in the U.S. Visitors who frequently spend prolonged periods of time in the U.S. may have difficulty convincing the CBP officer that they do not have intent to live or work in the U.S.

For example, a person who enters the U.S. once a year and stays for a couple of weeks or months at a time, is not likely to be stopped and questioned about their intent at the border. However, if a person were to enter the U.S. for a few months, depart the U.S. for a few days or weeks and re-enter for a few months, they are more likely to be stopped at the border and questioned about the purpose of their visits to the U.S. If the CBP officer does not believe that the person is coming in for brief and temporary stays, the officer can limit how much time the tourist is allowed to stay in the U.S. and in some rare cases, can prevent the tourist from entering the U.S. entirely.

So, depending on the frequency and duration of their trips, two trips in a year may be too many, or five trips in a year may be fine.

Ultimately, the CBP Officer is assessing each visitor’s honesty and reliability when interviewing the foreign national. The officer will also be considering any evidence they have brought with them of the purpose of their trip, duration of the trip, and the immigration service’s own records of the person’s travel history. 

If the officer is concerned about previous travel history or the foreign national’s intent, the officer can reduce the period of authorized stay from 6 months to a handful of days. In the most serious of cases, the officer can refuse a foreign visitor entry into the U.S.

Permissible Activities on a B-2 Visa

While the frequency and duration of visits are the most common questions, we also receive many questions about what activities are permissible on a B-2 visa.

Given the temporary nature of the visa purpose, it can only be used for certain activities within the U.S., such as tourism, visiting family and friends, medical treatment, short recreational courses of study, or other similar activities. Courses may not be for credit towards a degree, but rather for example, a 1-day cooking class while on vacation.

Certain activities are not permitted on visitor visas, including study and work. What constitutes “work” can be a tricky question. There is a common misconception that if an activity is unpaid, it is not work. Unfortunately, this is not true. For instance, working for free at a family friend’s business while on a tourist visa would be construed as a work. Babysitting family member’s children for room and board could also be considered employment.

B-2 visitors should be forthright about the reasons why they are seeking a B-2 visa at the U.S. Consulate overseas. After being granted the B-2 visa, it is important the foreign national be aware of restrictions on the B-2 visa and to ensure that all activities in the U.S. are consistent with the B-2 status. If there’s ever any doubt whether a certain activity is permitted on a B-2 visa or if multiple or prolonged trips to the U.S. might trigger issues at the border, the B-2 visitor should schedule a consultation with an immigration attorney.

The material contained in this article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.  An attorney-client relationship is not presumed or intended by receipt or review of this presentation.  The information provided should never replace informed counsel when specific immigration-related guidance is needed.

Reprinted with permission from the June 11, 2019 edition of the The Legal Intelligencer© 2018 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. 
Further duplication without permission is prohibited. ALMReprints.com  877-257-3382  reprints@alm.com.