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Visitor Visas and the Difference Between the B-1 and B-2 Categories

Visitor visas are for people who want to enter the United States temporarily for business (visa category B-1) or for tourism (visa category B-2).

A visitor under the B-1 visitor for business category is permitted to, among other things:

  • Consult with business associates
  • Attend a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention or conference
  • Settle an estate
  • Negotiate a contract
  • Perform as a professional athlete who will receive no salary or payment other than prize money for participation in a tournament or sporting event

The following activities, among others, are permitted under the B-2 visitor for tourism category:

  • Tourism
  • Vacation (holiday)
  • Visit with friends or relatives
  • 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

Often, a visitor visa will be issued with the notation B1/B2, indicating that it can be used to enter the United States as a visitor for either business or tourism. Regardless of that B1/B2 notation, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will grant you status and allow you to enter the United States under only one category, B-1 or B-2, exclusively.

It is important to clarify for the CBP officer which category of status should be granted, especially if you will be a B-1 visitor for business. That is because it is considered a violation of your status if you are granted B-2 status but undertake activities that are permitted only under the B-1 visitor for business category.

Pursuant to the federal regulation at 8 C.F.R. § 248.3(e)(1), an individual granted B-1 status can freely undertake activities permitted under the B-2 visitor for tourism category. However, an individual granted B-2 status is not authorized to undertake activities permitted under the B-1 visitor for business category without first filing a formal application to change status with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, paying the appropriate filing fee, and waiting months (or years) for that application to be approved.

Alexander Farquhar
Senior Associate Attorney – Dallas, Texas
David Swaim and Associates, P.C.