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If you are a citizen of a foreign country, and not a resident or citizen of the USA, and you want to enter the United States then you must first obtain a visa. A visitor visa to the United States allows you to spend a short amount of time in the country – visitor visas are non-immigrant visas and are for people who want to conduct business, visit as a tourist, or take part in an exchange program for a specified period of time. You can also travel for a combination of business and pleasure by combining two types of visas. Here are the four visitor visas to the US that you need to know about:
1. Business (Visa Category B-1)
If you want to visit the US for the purpose of doing business then you will normally need the B1 visa for visitors. With this visa you can consult with business associates and colleagues in the US, attend a conference in the US that is educational, scientific, or business-oriented, settle business issues such as an estate, or negotiate a contract with US business people.
Other reasons for acquiring a B1 visa include surveying potential sites for an investment or a business start-up in the US, as an athlete or sportsperson, as a lecturer or speaker, a researcher, setting up contracts or promoting products that will be sold from outside the US, or completing an engineering contract.
Click here for more information on the requirements and the specifications for the business visitor visa to the US (B1).
2. Tourism (Visa Category B-2)
When visiting the United States for tourism you need the visitor visa for pleasure and leisure – the B2 visa. As a tourist to the United States you can visit on a vacation, take a trip to America to see family and friends, tour the country as a tourist, get medical treatment at a US hospital or clinic, take part in social events organized by a club, society or organization that you are a member of, take part in an amateur contest – for example a music competition or a sports event – or enroll in a course of study that is not credited towards a degree or other study (for example, you could take a two-day cookery course in the United States as part of your vacation.)
3. Combination of Business and Leisure (Visa Category B-1/B-2)
When you are planning to visit as a tourist and also take part in some of the business activities listed above, you need a combination of the two B visas – B1/ B2.
4. Visa Waiver Program
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is designed for citizens of participating countries to visit the United States for up to 90 days, for the purposes of tourism or business. In order to be eligible, the traveler must come from a participating country (38 countries are participating, including the UK, Australia, Chile, Singapore and more), and must have an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approved before travel. If you can travel on the Visa Waiver Program but you would prefer to travel with a visa, you can apply for the B visa for visitors.
5. Student (Visa Category F or M)
International students – students from foreign countries – need a valid student visa (F or M) before traveling to the US to study at a university, college, school or other academic institution. You can study on the visa, and you can travel on tourism purposes around the country, but you cannot work.
You need an F visa if you are going to the US to attend university or college, high school, private elementary school, a seminary, a conservatory, or a language training program or other academic institute. You need an M visa if you are attending a "vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution, other than a language training program."
6. Exchange Visitor (Visa Category J)
A J1 visa is a visa for people who are coming to the US for a short period of time to participate in an exchange visitor program. There are various categories for the J1 visa including visas for au pairs, short term scholars, camp counselors, government visitors, interns, secondary students, physicians, teachers, professors and research scholars, and trainees. You can also use this visa category to participate in a summer work/ travel program in the States. You generally cannot use this visa to arrive as a foreign journalist, or for study at a US college for a full-term degree, or for paid performances as a foreign musician. The J1 visa has an insurance requirement – you need medical insurance for the full duration of your program at a set level of benefits.
Exchange Visitor Visa requirements vary depending on what role you will be performing in the United States. For example, if you are going to be a camp counselor then you need to be over 18, have a good level of English, and be enrolled in a participating program.
If you want to apply for a visitor visa in any of these categories (apart from the Visa Waiver Program) then you must complete an online visa application, upload a photo, then make an appointment for a visa interview at a participating US Embassy or Consulate. You will normally need an interview if you are between the ages of 14 and 79 – younger and older people do not generally need an interview. You schedule an appointment for an interview in the country where you live – it can be difficult to qualify for a visa if you are applying outside of your country of residence. In addition to the other application requisites, exchange visitors have to meet some insurance requirements while for the other visa categories, health insurance is not a requirement. For specific visitor visa requirements, consult the US Embassy closest to you or find out through a US Consulate. There can be differences in the requirements based on the location of the US embassy.