The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides several categories of nonimmigrant visas for those who want to visit or work temporarily in the United States.
Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Visitor visas are nonimmigrant visas for persons who want to enter the United States temporarily for business (visa category B-1), tourism, pleasure or visiting (visa category B-2), or a combination of both purposes (B-1/B-2).
Here are some examples of activities permitted with a visitor visa:
- visit with friends or relatives
- business meetings that do not involve directly earning income in the United States
- medical treatment
- participation in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations
- participation by amateurs in musical, sports, or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating
- enrollment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree (for example, a two-day cooking class while on vacation)
You may use VWP if you meet the following criteria:
- Plan to travel to the U.S. for 90 days or less;
- Starting January 12, 2009, have an approved Electronic Travel Authorization (ESTA). ESTA is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP); note that multiple ESTA applications can be submitted at the same time for persons traveling in groups.
- Are traveling for tourism or business;
- Carry a machine-readable passport;
- Have a return ticket or onward ticket to most a non U.S. destinations;
You will need a visa, and may not use VWP, if you any of these criteria apply to you:
- Want to remain in the United States for longer than 90 days;
- Intend to travel by private/charter aircraft or sea carriers;
- Want to work or study in the United States, including working as a foreign journalist. This includes attending secondary or tertiary school, and paid or unpaid employment (including au-pairs, interns, working journalists, and government representatives on official business.) For more on the appropriate visa classifications for these activities, please see travel.state.gov;
- Have been deported or refused admission to the U.S. before, or failed to comply with a previous VWP admission or visa. This includes overstaying a previous admission by even one day.
- Have a criminal record
Travelers With Criminal Records
- Convictions for certain crimes may make you ineligible to travel to the U.S. The only way to know for sure if your criminal record makes you ineligible is to apply for a visa. Only a consular officer can determine your visa eligibility.
- You need to bring a copy of your Criminal History Report with you to the visa interview.
- Even if your conviction makes you ineligible to travel to the U.S., you may be able to obtain a temporary waiver of this ineligibility. You should discuss this with the consular officer at the time of the interview. Waiver processing can take 6 – 8 months, so if you think you may require a waiver, please apply early. We always recommend you do not make any financial commitments for travel until you have received a visa.
- A special note about applicants with drunk driving convictions: Applicants with a single DIC/DUI conviction is NOT grounds to deny entry into the U.S; however, multiple DIC/DUI convictions or a DIC/DUI conviction in combination with other misdemeanor offenses can make a person inadmissible and require a waiver prior to entering the United States.
- If you have had any minor traffic offenses which did not result in an arrest or conviction, you may use the VWP, provided you are otherwise qualified. If the traffic offense occurred while you were in the United States, and you have an outstanding fine against you or you did not attend your court hearing, it is possible there may be a warrant out for your arrest. You should resolve these issues before traveling by contacting the court where you were to appear. If you do not know the address of the court, information is available on the U.S. Courts website.