Visitor FAQs17 Oct 2011
Question 1. How do I apply for a visa at the U.S. Consulate in Madras / Chennai, India?
Because each consulate is unique and requires its own comprehensive list of documents, we strongly recommend that you first visit the webpage of the consular post you are scheduled to visit. The U.S. consulate websites have a wealth of information on immigrant and nonimmigrant visa processing. This is the best source for the most current information.
Question 2. I have family members and friends in India who would like to visit me in the U.S. What do I need to do to make this possible?
An applicant for a B-2 (visitor for pleasure) visa must qualify based on his or her own circumstances. One should apply for the visa at a U.S. consulate in his or her home country. In determining whether or not to approve an application for a B-2 visa, the consular officer will assess whether the applicant: (1) has a residence in a foreign country that s/he does not intend to abandon; (2) intends to enter the U.S. for a period of specifically-limited duration; and (3) seeks admission for the sole purpose of engaging in legitimate activities relating to pleasure. Therefore, an applicant for a visitor visa should be able to prove ties to the home country by providing the consular officer with documentation such as:
- employment verification letter stating job title, salary, and length of employment
- evidence of home/property ownership (copy of title)
- a letter from the bank showing total balance in bank account/s
- letters from family members
- visa application and fee
IMPORTANT: The above list of documents is not exhaustive. These are merely examples of the types of information a consular officer typically expects from a B-2 applicant. Please visit the website of the consular post for a specific list of required documents.
Question 3. I am in H1B status and my parents are here for a visit in B-2 visa status. They would like to extend their stay in the U.S. Is there any provision to extend B-2 status?
It is possible for a person in B-2 status to apply for an extension of stay. Six months is the maximum time that one may request at any given time. However, one must provide the USCIS with a detailed explanation of why the extension is needed, as the determination is made on a case-by-case basis. Whether an extension will be granted depends upon several factors, including the reason for requesting the extension and whether the USCIS is convinced that the applicant does intend to return to his or her country at the conclusion of the stay. One should request an extension based only on the need for this additional time in the U.S., rather than asking for the entire six months. In order to determine how long one is allowed to stay in the U.S., s/he needs to look at the I-94 card (i.e. the white card usually stapled in one’s passport), which shows an expiration date. The expiration date of the visa is not relevant to the length of authorized stay.
Question 4. On my previous entry into the U.S., I was given six months on my I-94 card. I remained in the country for approximately five months. Two months later, I am back in the U.S. and I am authorized to stay here for another six months. If I decide to use the entire six months, can I encounter problems later?
One who is granted a six-month stay, and decides to take advantage of most or all of this time, could be exposing him/herself to higher levels of scrutiny the next time s/he travels to the U.S. and/or at the time of the visa renewal. If one takes advantage of the long periods of stay granted every time s/he enters the U.S., exhibiting a pattern of travel that raises questions about his/her intent as a visitor, s/he risks being denied entry at some point. S/he may also encounter difficulties when attempting to renew a visitor visa at a consulate.
Question 5. What are the penalties for remaining in the U.S. past the expiration date on one’s latest I-94 card?
Anyone who has overstayed (remained in the U.S. past the expiration date on her/his latest I-94 card) – even for a single day – is not eligible to apply for a nonimmigrant (temporary) visa from a country other than the home country. This is because the law automatically voids the visa stamp in the passport as soon as one continues to remain illegally in the U.S. or falls out of status. If a person has a visa and unlawfully remains in the U.S. for 180 consecutive days or longer (up to one year), and then leaves voluntarily, there is a three-year bar to reentering the United States. If one stays unlawfully in the U.S. for an entire year or more there is a ten-year bar to returning to the U.S.
A person who is out of status and wishes to apply for permanent resident status cannot complete her/his case without leaving the U.S., unless a petition or labor certification was (a) filed for him/her before January 14, 1998 or (b) filed by April 30, 2001, if s/he was present in the U.S. on December 21, 2000. (There are certain exceptions, such as a person applying for a green card based on marriage to a U.S. citizen.)
Apart from the consequences indicated above, there is also the possibility of being apprehended and placed in removal proceedings or actually being involuntarily removed from the United States.
Question 6. I am in the United States in H1B status and I earn a very good salary. I would like to sponsor my parents for a tourist visa. Can I provide an employment letter from my company for them to take to the consulate, which will demonstrate that I have the ability to support them while they are visiting? What other documents should they be prepared to provide at the consulate?
One of the most common misconceptions regarding nonimmigrant visitor visas is that someone can / should act as a sponsor or offer to guarantee a person’s return to his/her home country. Each applicant must qualify based on his or her own circumstances. Moreover, submitting evidence to show that a family member in the U.S. will financially support a visitor visa applicant actually could decrease the possibility of receiving a visa because it would tend to indicate that s/he does not have a level of socio-economic stability in the home country that is sufficient to overcome the burden of presumed immigrant intent placed on all applicants for visitor visas. Therefore, it is better to focus on relevant aspects of the intending visitor’s life that would lead a consular officer to the conclusion that s/he has enough reasons to return to the home country after a short trip, as discussed in question 2.
Question 7. I am in the U.S. in H1B status. I need to bring my parents here permanently, or for as long as I am here. How can I do this?
The parents of a person in H1B status, or even permanent resident status, are only allowed to visit the United States as tourists unless they can qualify for different nonimmigrant status. A son / daughter is able to sponsor his/her parents for green cards only after becoming a U.S. citizen.
Question 8. I am in B-2 status in the U.S. If I am admitted to a school here and receive an I-20, would I be able to change to student status?
It is possible to apply to change status from tourist to student. Whether it is approved or not depends upon several factors, including how long one was here before applying for the change of status, what s/he told the consular officer at the time of application for the visitor visa and what s/he told the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the time of entry into the U.S. and whether s/he has adequate financial support to attend school. An additional factor that is sometimes raised by the USCIS, but more often by consulates, is whether you are able to show an intention to return to the home country. As a practical matter, you should be aware that a change of status application can take several months (4-8 months at the time of this writing) and, although one may have been accepted into an academic program, s/he is not legally authorized to attend classes until the application has been approved. One should consult with an experienced immigration attorney to discuss the risks of starting school while the application is pending.
Question 9. I am in the U.S. in B-2 status. Can I change my status to H1B while I am here?
A person in B-2 status is allowed to file an application with the USCIS to change status to H1B. In general, however, our firm does not advise that a person file an application to change status from B-2 to H1B. Even if the application for change of status from B-2 to H1B is approved by the USCIS, it may be difficult to obtain an H1B visa in the passport from a U.S. consulate abroad. A consular officer will deny the application for an H1B visa if s/he believes one has misrepresented him/herself upon entry to the United States. In fact, some consular posts in Canada and Mexico do not even accept such applications. Rather than file a change-of-status application from within the U.S., it is better to depart the U.S. and have one’s prospective employer file an H1B petition on one’s behalf for consular notification. Once the petition is approved, one will be able to apply for an H1B visa at the U.S. consulate in her/his home country.
Question 10. I would like to travel to the U.S. to marry my U.S. citizen fiancé and then file the relevant paperwork as an immediate relative so that I can legally remain in the country on a permanent basis. I already have a ten-year multiple entry visa in my passport. Is it okay for me to enter the U.S. on this visa?
One may only travel to the U.S. using a visa classification that is related to his/her reason for travel. Entering on a B-2 visa for the purpose of marrying a U.S. citizen and thereafter filing both an immigrant petition and an adjustment-of-status application would not be a consistent use of a visitor visa. Although one may already possess a B-2 visa, s/he must have nonimmigrant intent (i.e. intent to return to the home country) when entering the U.S. on this visa. One should consult an experienced immigration attorney to discuss other options.
Question 11. I recently was denied a visitor visa under 214(b). Am I allowed to re-apply in a few months?
Generally, nothing prevents you from re-applying for a visitor visa shortly after a 214(b) refusal. However, you should be aware that consular officers are able to access detailed records of previous interviews, including the reasons for a denial, and may not look favorably upon re-applications within a short period of time. Therefore, unless you are able to show that your situation has changed since your last visit, or provide new material evidence that was not previously considered, it is probably better for you to allow more time to pass before re-applying.
Question 12. I am in the U.S. in B-1 (visitor for business) status. Am I authorized to work with a U.S. employer during my short stay in the country?
Persons in B-1 status are not authorized to work for pay in the U.S. (as are persons in H1B status). Rather, they are only authorized to conduct business, such as attending conventions, engaging in consultations, and carrying out other commercial activities. Current regulations do allow persons in this status to supervise (not perform) construction work and foreign workers may install or repair equipment purchased overseas, but only if the purchase contract specifically requires the seller to do so. As each visit is temporary, such persons must maintain their residences in their foreign country (as required by most of the other nonimmigrant visa categories), even if the business activity is ongoing. Since it is sometimes difficult to distinguish conducting business, which is permitted, from engaging in employment, which is not permitted, one should first consult with an experienced immigration attorney. As is the case with persons in B-2 status, it generally is not a good idea to file to change one’s status to another visa category (for example, H1B) while in the U.S. Issues of preconceived intent and misrepresentation potentially could arise.
Question 13. I would like to enter the U.S. as a visitor under the Visa Waiver Program. Is there anything that I should be aware of before deciding to take advantage of the program?
Yes, one should consider a number of issues before entering the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). As you may know, the VWP allows travelers from certain countries to visit the U.S. for business or pleasure for a maximum of 90 days without a visa. While having the option to enter the U.S. without a visa greatly facilitates one’s ability to travel, a visitor entering the U.S. in WB (waiver-business) or WT (waiver-tourist) status should note that s/he is not eligible to change, extend, or adjust status in the U.S. In other words, s/he must first depart and reenter the country. The only exception is in the case of the adjustment of status of applicants who qualify as immediate relatives. A visitor entering the U.S. under the VWP must provide a machine-readable passport, evidence of a foreign residence to which s/he will return, and evidence of financial ties to the home country. Visa waiver applicants must now obtain travel authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before traveling. This application is submitted online and requires a small fee.
Question 14. I am interested in flying to the U.S. from Bermuda for a visit. Do I need a passport?
Yes, a passport (or other document/s required by DHS) reflecting identity and citizenship is required for one’s admission into the United States. This requirement came into effect on January 23, 2007, under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). Under the WHTI, all persons traveling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central or South America, the Caribbean, or Bermuda need valid passports, Air NEXUS cards, or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Documents. Additional information regarding the WHTI is available at the U.S. Department of State website.
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