The Guide To United States Business Visa Applications
Keep reading to learn about different visas, their application processes, and where you can find additional help if needed.
What Is A Business Visa?
Business visas are issued to citizens of other countries who travel to the U.S. for business reasons. A B-1 visa is the most common visa used for business travel.
Citizens of certain countries, such as Canada and Bermuda, can travel to the U.S. for business without a visa. Other countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows people to travel without visas.
Keep in mind that a U.S. business visa isn’t a replacement for a passport. Almost everyone who enters the U.S. will need a valid passport. If you obtain a business visa, it’ll be placed on one of the pages of your passport book.
The Business Visa Center (BVC) is an office of the U.S. Department of State. It helps U.S.-based companies with the visa application process. The BVC site provides information and directs companies and workers to local embassies for assistance. It’s a helpful resource for questions about the application process.
About The Visitor’s Visa (B-1)
There are two types of visas for visitors to the U.S.
The B-1 Business Visitor visa is for business purposes. The B-2 Visitor for Pleasure visa is mainly for tourists. Both types are nonimmigrant visas, as they’re used for temporary visits to the U.S. Someone who’s permanently moving to the country would need an immigrant visa.
B-1 visas are required for a variety of business purposes. You’ll need one if you’re coming to the U.S. for a business meeting, conference, or seminar. In addition, you’ll also need one if you’re visiting to purchase materials or goods or to conduct market research. If you’re meeting with a U.S. client to make a sale or negotiate a contract, you’ll need a B-1.
The amount of time you can stay in the U.S. with a business visa depends on your country and your reason for travel. Typically, you may stay for up to six months with a possible extension of another six months.
There are certain restrictions for B-1 visa holders. For example, you may not use a B-1 visa if a U.S. company will pay you for labor. In that case, you would need a temporary worker visa instead.
About The Visa Waiver Program (VWP)
Several countries worldwide participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). This program allows citizens or nationals of these countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa.
There are currently 39 countries that take part in the program, such as the United Kingdom, Japan, and Chile. Visit the VWP website to see if your country is a participant.
There are some other requirements to qualify for the VWP. If you don’t qualify, you’ll need to look into applying for a B-1. For example, the VWP is only for people who plan to stay in the U.S. for 90 days or less. Your passport should be valid for six months after you plan to leave the U.S. You’ll need an e-passport, which has an embedded electronic chip.
To travel through the VWP, you’ll need authorization with ESTA, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. You can submit an ESTA application online through the Customs and Border Protection website.
Special Provisions: Canada and Bermuda
Citizens of Canada and Bermuda don’t need a business visa in most cases. However, there are some exceptions. If you’re a government official or work for an international company, for example, you’ll still need a visa.
There are some other reasons you may need a visa, even if you’re a citizen of Canada or Bermuda. Make sure you understand the requirements and give yourself enough time to apply if necessary.
Most citizens of Bermuda can travel to the U.S. for business for up to 180 days without a visa. If you plan to stay longer, you’ll need to apply for one.
The Steps To Obtaining A Business Visa
There are several steps in the process of applying for a B-1 visa. The process can vary slightly based on the embassy or consulate in your country. It’s a good idea to verify the steps before you begin.
To start, you’ll need a digital photo of yourself, which must follow certain requirements. Next, you should complete Form DS-160, which is the application for a nonimmigrant visa.
You can complete Form DS-160 online, but you’ll need to print the confirmation screen to bring to your interview appointment. You’ll have a chance to upload your photo while you fill out the form.
The next step is to schedule an interview at the embassy or consulate near you. The amount of time you have to wait for an interview varies by country. Your wait time may be a day or two or several weeks, which is why it’s important to schedule it as early as possible. You can check the estimated wait time using the Department of State website.
There’s a fee of $160 per visa application. You may need to pay the fee before your interview. In some countries, there’s also a visa issuance fee.
When it’s time for your interview, bring the following documentation with you:
- Valid passport
- Form DS-160 confirmation page
- Receipt for your application fee if you had to pay in advance
- Your photo, if you did not upload it online
Your embassy or consulate will let you know if you need any other documents.
During the interview, you’ll answer questions about yourself, your work, and the reason that you’re traveling. The interviewer will also confirm that you aren’t planning to stay in the U.S. indefinitely. After the interview, you may be asked to provide additional information or documentation.
If your visa is approved, it’ll be added to your passport and sent back to you.
Frequently Asked Questions About Business Visas
The process of applying for and obtaining a business visa can be confusing. Keep reading for answers to some common questions. If you still need help, check out the Department of State’s business visa site or the Business Visa Center.
What If My Company Is Overseas?
The Business Visa Center (BVC) works with companies to facilitate business travel. However, the BVC only works with U.S.-based businesses.
If your company is based overseas and you need help applying for a visa, there are resources available. The Embassy or consulate in your country is the best place to start. Visit the U.S. Embassy website to locate the office closest to you.
How Early Do I Need To Apply?
It can take several weeks before a visa application is approved. If you need one, you should apply for it at least 60 days before you plan to travel. Wait times vary by country, so try to verify your expected wait time in advance. If you work in a field related to science or you’re attending a scientific conference, allow at least 90 days.
I Have An ABTC; Do I Still Need To Apply For A Business Visa?
An ABTC is an APEC Business Travel Card. APEC refers to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation. The purpose of APEC is to promote free trade throughout the Asia Pacific region.
When people travel between countries that are full participants in APEC, they don’t need a visa. However, the U.S. is currently only a transitional member. This means that there’s no visa waiver for travel to the U.S. People who have an ABTC will need to follow the standard business visa application process.
My Visa Was Denied, Now What?
Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that your application will be approved. Some applications are declined even when the applicant has a legitimate reason to visit the U.S.
One common reason for a decline is that information or supporting documents are missing or incorrect. Another reason is a history of criminal or drug activity. You may be declined if the interviewer believes that you plan to stay in the country indefinitely.
You can reapply after being found ineligible. Make sure you know the reason you were declined so that you can resolve it on your next application. You’ll need to re-submit your paperwork and pay the application fee again.
Business Visa Alternatives
You may find that you aren’t eligible for a B-1 visa. Or, perhaps there’s an alternative that would be a better fit for your needs. Before you begin applying for a B-1, do some research to confirm your eligibility, and explore alternative options.
- Alternative programs for certain countries. Citizens of some countries may be able to travel to the U.S. without a B-1. Examples include people from Bermuda, Canada, and the countries that are eligible for the VWP.
- H1B visa: The H1B is a temporary worker visa that the U.S. government issues to people whose employment involves specialized knowledge or skills.
To be eligible for this type of visa, you must work for a company willing to sponsor you. The H1B allows you to stay in the U.S. for three to six years.
- Other temporary worker categories. In addition to the H1B, there are other kinds of temporary work visas for specific types of work. You may qualify if you’re an athlete, entertainer, or laborer, for example.
- E-1 Treaty Trader visa. People traveling to the U.S. to conduct international trade usually aren’t eligible for B-1 visas. They’re required to apply for an E-1 instead.
- E-2 Treaty Investor visa. The E-2 visa is for people visiting the U.S. to invest money in a business venture. The amount they plan to invest usually needs to be at least $100,000 to qualify.
Wrapping Up Business Visas in the USA
Traveling to another country for business is an exciting opportunity. You’ll get to meet new people and experience a new place while achieving your business goals.
Business travel can also be stressful, especially if you don’t prepare carefully. Having the correct documents is a great way to reduce that stress. If you need a business visa for yourself or an employee, the information above should help you get started.
Looking for more tips on business travel and other topics? Sign up for the Fora Financial newsletter now.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.