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How To Get a US ​Tourist Visa in Your Home Country

Whether you dream of visiting the bustling streets of New York City, the grandiosity of the Grand Canyon, or simply longing to meet friends and family members, traveling to the United States requires a visa for most foreign nationals. The temporary visa is a nonimmigrant visa and is valid for a limited period of time. Navigating through the complex rules of U.S. immigration laws may seem challenging. But this comprehensive and easy-to-understand guide will help you understand the process better.

What Activities Can You Do With U.S. Visitor Visas?

Generally, foreign nationals who want to visit the United States should get a U.S. visa first. They can get an immigrant visa if they seek permanent residence or a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stays. Visitor visas are nonimmigrant visas issued to a person who wants to go to the U.S. temporarily for tourism, business, or a combination of both.

The following are some of the activities allowed for those with U.S. visitor visas.

B-2 Tourist Visa

  1. Tourism
  2. Visiting friends or family members
  3. Medical Treatment
  4. Vacation
  5. Participation in social events or gatherings
  6. Participation by amateurs in sports, musicals, or similar events or contests

B-1 Business Visa

  1. Attend educational, scientific, professional, or business conventions or conferences
  2. Negotiate a contract
  3. Consult with business associates
  4. Settle an estate

What Are the Restrictions on Your U.S. Tourist Visas?

You can't do the following activities while holding a tourist visa. These activities need a different visa category:

  1. Work at a job in the U.S.
  2. Academics
  3. Paid or professional performing before a paying audience
  4. Arrive as a crewmember in an aircraft or ship
  5. Work as an agent of a foreign press
  6. Gain permanent residence

The U.S. Department of State also prohibits the issuance of visitor visas for birth tourism. This happens when the person travels to the U.S. to give birth and give the child U.S. citizenship.

How To Enter the U.S. Through the Visa Waiver Program

In some situations, foreign nationals may enter the U.S. without a visa if they are citizens of countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows nationals of participating countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa for business or travel for a maximum of 90 days. To travel to the U.S. on VWP, you must meet the two requirements:

  1. A citizen or a national of a VWP country.
  2. Have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)

What Changed in the Visa Waiver Program Eligibility

As of 2015, in light of terrorist travel prevention, the eligibility to travel to the U.S. under the VWP of the following foreign nationals has changed. They are now required to get a U.S. visa before entering the United States:

  • Citizens of VWP countries that traveled to or visited North Korea, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Somalia, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011.
  • Citizens of VWP countries who traveled to or visited Cuba on or after Jan. 12, 2021.
  • Citizens of VWP countries who are also citizens of North Korea, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Syria, or Sudan.

Certain exceptions apply to those who traveled for military or diplomatic purposes on behalf of a VWP country.

How Do You Apply for a U.S. Tourist Visa

If you are looking to apply for a tourist visa, there are various steps you should take.

  1. You should complete an online nonimmigrant visa application form, DS-160. Then, you should print the confirmation page and bring it with you for your interview.
  2. You have to upload a valid picture while filing for your application online. Note that a specific format is required for U.S. visa pictures, as explained in these photograph requirements.
  3. Schedule an interview with the U.S. consular officer.

In general, the U.S. requires interviews for visa applicants. But, consular officers may allow certain limited exceptions below:

  • Visa applicants 13 and younger
  • Visa applicants 80 and older

You should schedule the visa interview in your country, another U.S. embassy, or consulate. But, qualifying for a U.S. visa might be difficult if the interview is outside your home country. Also, U.S. visa interview wait times may differ on each location and visa category. So, apply for a U.S. visa as early as possible if you plan to travel to the United States.

How Should You Prepare for Your U.S. Visa Interview?

After completing all the documentation for a pleasure visa, the biggest challenge lies ahead. To get a visa, the applicant must pass the U.S. visa interview. The applicant should clearly and convincingly show the purpose of the trip, the intent to leave the United States, and the economic ability to pay for the trip.

No forms or regulations govern what an applicant must submit to the consular officer to establish these things. But, a letter from a business that states the purpose of your travel, letters from friends and relatives, bank statements, a tour company itinerary, or a letter from a doctor stating that you will receive medical treatment may all help meet this rule.

Tips for Your U.S. Visa Interview

One of the most essential parts of your travel visa application is proof that you intend to return to your home country after your temporary trip to the United States.

Prove That Your Trip Was for Nonimmigrant Intent

Since a B-1 or B-2 visa is a nonimmigrant visa, you should show proof to the U.S. government that your trip was for only a temporary period and that you do not intend to immigrate or stay permanently in the country. You must prove that you will use your U.S. visa for the intended purpose. If they deny your visa, you cannot appeal your case.

The easiest way to prove your intent to travel temporarily is by showing solid ties to your home country. When asked about your life, provide details about your education, employment, or family ties that will bring you back home. The information about your return travel is also helpful in proving that you only plan to stay temporarily.

Bring Essential Documents and Dress Appropriately

It helps to check your local U.S. embassy for the required documents to bring during the interview. Prepare them ahead of time and make a checklist. The officer might ask you for some documents during the interview, so you should prepare them beforehand. Some of the essential documents that you have to prepare are as follows:

  1. Valid passport
  2. Printed copy of Form DS-160 confirmation page
  3. Application fee payment receipt
  4. Two passport pictures

The U.S. embassy or consulate officer might also request more documents. For instance, they may ask for evidence of the purpose of your trip, an accommodation letter or invitation letter if applicable, the ability to pay the cost of the trip, etc. Organize your documents to make it easier for you to look for them when needed.

Also, it is best to dress professionally when visiting the U.S. consulate or U.S. embassy office. Dress as if you are going to a formal job interview. You must make a good impression when you face the consular officer conducting your interview.

Prepare Your Answers for the Commonly Asked Questions

Prepare for questions, be polite, and request an interpreter if you do not speak English. Generally, the interviewer tries to verify your application is accurate and establish your ties to your home country. Be honest and give detailed answers rather than a mere yes or no. Here are some of the most common questions you might get asked:

  • Why are you traveling to the U.S.?
  • How long will you be staying in the U.S.?
  • What is your occupation?
  • What is your annual income?
  • Have you traveled to other countries?
  • Do you have a credit card?
  • Do you have any children? How many and where are they?
  • Are you seeing anyone while you are in the U.S.?
  • Will you come back after your visit?

Be on Time for Your Visa Appointment

You should arrive at the U.S. embassy an hour before your appointment.

The U.S. visa will allow you to travel to the U.S. port of entry. Remember that your visa does not guarantee entry into the country. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), through the CBP officials at the U.S. port of entry, has the authority to allow or deny admissions into the United States.

How Long Can You Stay in the U.S. on a Tourist Visa?

In general, the length of time you can stay in the United States depends on the U.S. visa issued to you. You can lawfully remain in the country on tourist visas for six months. If the stamp on your passport does not reflect a specific date, it often means that the visa holder can stay for a maximum of six months. This is regardless of the time you mentioned to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the U.S. port of entry.

A B1/B2 visa holder may also apply for a visa extension for another six months. But, they should file their application for an extension before their current stay expires. The extension often needs a good reason the visa holders must stay longer and why the current purpose couldn't happen during the six months of the visit. Reasons such as an illness, being present for a once-in-a-lifetime event, or death in the family are some of the vital reasons to ask for an extension. Being unable to return to the home country due to the pandemic is also an acceptable reason for a more extended stay.

Is It Possible to Change from a Nonimmigrant Visa to a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)?

Let's say your plans change while you are in the U.S. Maybe you received an offer for employment, or you married a U.S. citizen. You may request a change of nonimmigrant status to LPR, work visa, or other categories. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processes the status change.

For more information about the adjustment of status from nonimmigrant to LPR or green card holder, you can visit the USCIS website. You can also read articles about the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) related to immigration law.

When Should You Consult a U.S. Immigration Attorney?

The U.S. visa application process is challenging for most. There are intricacies in the rules that are easier to understand, particularly if you have a legal background. On top of that, different types of nonimmigrant visas are available for other purposes. For instance, there are student visas for going to the U.S. as full-time students. There's a temporary workers visa for those entering the U.S. for temporary work. There are also different types of visas for treaty traders, members of international organizations, and more.

Due to these complexities, it is best to consult a U.S. immigration law attorney. They can help you understand U.S. immigration laws and the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which is crucial in processing your application. They can look at the factors that can help you. Immigration lawyers can also provide various immigration services for your case.

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