Visiting the United States
The tourism industry is booming. Everybody seems to want to come to the United States for a visit. Well, anyone can, as long as they can convince the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services that their intentions are just that – tourism.
But USCIS officials interpret US immigration policies this way: the presumption in the law is that every potential visitor is an intending immigrant and wants to stay and get a green card. So it is your job as a tourist to convince the US Embassy in your home country, and then the Immigration officials at the border, that you really just want to visit; that you have every intention of going back home; and, that you would never even dream of overstaying your welcome, or in this case, the period you are permitted to remain in the United States with a visitors’ visa, as shown on your I-94 Card that you fill out on the airplane and have stamped as you enter.
Potential applicants should be aware, though, that a visa stamp in your passport that you get from the Embassy does not guarantee entry into the United States. It simply indicates that your application has been reviewed by a U.S. consular officer, and that the officer has determined you are eligible to enter the country for a specific purpose. Immigration officials at the border and other ports of entry [airports] have the authority to deny admission and to determine the period for which the bearer of a visitor visa is authorized to remain in the United States.
Not everyone is required to obtain a tourist visa. Visitors from certain eligible countries may travel into the United States on what’s called the Visa Waiver Program. It does make life a bit easier not to have to worry about getting a special visa at the US Embassy, however there are drawbacks too: while normally a visitor for business [B-1] or for pleasure or medical purposes [B-2] is granted 6 months to visit, those on a Visa Waiver Program are limited to 3 months, and that period is NOT renewable. Also, a visitor who did not enter the United States on the visa waiver program can change his or her status to another visa category or can even extend their lawful stay here in the United States for additional periods of time, usually with the help of an immigration attorney.
Which countries qualify for the Visa Waiver list? It has to do with a low refusal rate for applicants who apply for a U.S. visa [under 3 percent for at least one year]; the sharing of data concerning lost and stolen passports; a variety of cooperative efforts with law-enforcement authorities in the U.S; and the use of a biometrically enabled passport, meaning that it is capable of providing computerized access to the bearer’s biographic data. Currently, the following 27 countries are on the visa waiver list: Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The list has not been updated since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
In the end, whether you have to apply for a tourist visa at the Embassy or at the border under the Visa Waiver Program, you must convince the US Immigration official that, 1) the purpose of your trip is to tour/vacation in the US, receive medical treatment, or attend meetings or conferences for which you are NOT paid; 2) you have a permanent residence in your home country that you have no intention of abandoning; 3) you have other meaningful ties to your home country, such as family, property, a business or a permanent job; 4) you are not coming to the United States to provide services or to engage in business, and you will not be receiving any remuneration; 5) you have sufficient financial resources to cover all your expenses during your trip, or you could have a sponsor sign an affidavit of support on your behalf, promising to help you finance your visit.
If you are able to convincingly show all of the above, chances are high that you will get your B-2 tourist visa and have six months [or 90 days if you are from a Visa Waiver country] of vacation time to divide up between all the attractions and sights the US has to offer. Enjoy!