Typically, individuals who wish to enter the U.S. will be required to obtain a visitor visa if they intend to stay temporarily for tourism or business purposes. However, some visitors may qualify for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that enables them to stay for 90 days without a visa.
To determine whether individuals qualify for the program, it’s important to understand the different types of visitor visas and the circumstances that warrant a waiver.
The Types of Visitor Visas
When foreigners want to gain entry into the country as visitors they typically need to obtain a visitor visa. The specific type of visitor visa will depend on the individual’s reason for entering the U.S.
Business (B-1) Visas
Foreigners will want to obtain a B-1 visitor visa if they are in the country for business purposes. These purposes may include consulting with business associates, settling an estate, negating contracts, or attending a convention or conference for business, education, scientific, or professional reasons.
Tourism (B-2) Visas
If individuals want to come to the U.S. for tourism-related purposes, they will need to obtain a B-2 tourist visa. These visas are reserved for foreigners visiting for tourism, holidays or vacations, visits with family or friends, medical care, participation in social events, participating as unpaid amateur performers in sports or other events, or enrollment in brief recreational unaccredited studies.
Other Types of Visas
Individuals will need to seek another type of visa if they want to enter the U.S. for other reasons. Other nonimmigrant or immigrant visas will apply if individuals wish to study, find work, participate in paid performances, or live in the U.S. It’s also important to note that individuals coming to the U.S. for birth tourism won’t qualify for visitor visas.
What Is the Visa Waiver Program?
For some individuals traveling to the U.S., it may be possible to enter without a visitor visa through the Visa Waiver Program. Developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the State Department, citizens from 39 listed countries can use this program to travel to the U.S. for either tourism or business for up to 90 days without obtaining a visitor visa.
The visit is done in exchange for allowing U.S. nationals and citizens to travel to the same 39 countries for the equivalent amount of time without requiring a tourism or business visa.
Exceptions to the Visa Waiver Program
While individuals from the 39 listed countries are permitted to enter the U.S. for tourism or business without a visitor visa, there are exceptions. First, nationals from these countries won’t qualify for the program if they have traveled to or been present in Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, or North Korea on or following March 1, 2011, with some exceptions. Nationals from these countries will also be unable to enter without a visitor visa if they are also nationals of Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, or Sudan.
Individuals can visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website for more details about VWP and apply if they qualify. Otherwise, they may need to apply for a visitor visa.