What Is the B-1 Visa?

The B-1 visa is the basic visa for business trips within the United States. The B-2 visa is for pleasure visits as well as medical care and visiting relatives, and while the two are usually issued together, they aren't completely the same.

What Specifically Does the B-1 Visa Allow You to Do?

With the B-1 visa, you cannot:

  • Operate a business
  • Accept a payment from a US-based organization
  • Act as a professional athlete or entertainer
  • Attend a college, school, seminar, or conference for credits
  • Be "gainfully employed," which means accepting any kind of payment for work

There are different visas for each of the above-listed activities.

However, with the B-1 visa, you are allowed to:

  • Take part in a research project
  • Earn a living from a foreign-based employer
  • Solicit for sales or investments
  • Invest and buy products and services
  • Talk about and plan investments and purchases
  • Hire a local staff
  • Hold and take part in business meetings and negotiations

How Do You Get a B-1 Visa?

The normal way to get a B-1 visa is to contact the US embassy in your home nation and ask for an application. Because the B-1 visa is for visitors, the embassy officials will want to make sure you have reasons to come home again, a proof of intent to return. This proof can include:

  • Home and real estate ownership
  • A family in the home country, especially spouses and children
  • A job or business ownership
  • Respect within the community

You will go through an interview to give them this information in person, and so you should also bring written evidence like letters, bills, and pay stubs to prove your connections. You should also explain what you plan to do in America and show that you can support yourself throughout your stay without needing to find a job locally. A clean bill of health is another requirement. The immigration officer might not need every piece of paper you bring, but it's better to have too much than not enough.

You should also expect the process to take 60 days, or up to 90 if you're traveling for research or a scientific conference. If you pass the interview, you should expect to get a combined B-1/B-2 visa.

What Makes the B-1 Visa Unique?

The B-1 visa often comes attached to the B-2 visa because the requirements are basically the same.

If you go to the US on a B-1 visa, your family can't go with you unless they apply for their own B-2 visas. This is because you normally don't need to bring your family on a short business trip, and asking for these B-2 visas may make an immigration officer suspicious.

Still, getting a B-2 visa is the same process as getting a B-1 with the added step of proving a close relationship to the B-1 visa holder. You may also want a copy of the B-1 holder's passport, a letter and assurances from the holder if he or she can't come in person, and letters about the trip written by the B-1 holder's employer. However, keep in mind that a B-2 visa isn't guaranteed even if all of the paperwork is in order.

As a visitor visa, the B-1 doesn't have an annual quota. This means there are no lines or waiting lists to get one. You can even get an "expedited appointment," which means getting the paperwork done in a matter of days instead of the two to three months it normally takes. However, this only happens in very rare and important circumstances.

You can also get something called a " B-1 in lieu of H1B " visa. This gets around needing an H1B skilled work visa, and it comes with the same requirements. However, it also has the B-1 visa's time limit and the visa holder must get his or her income from a foreign-based company.

How Long Does a B-1 Visa Last?

When you get a B-1 visa, it will usually expire either in six months or ten years. The ten-year visa may last longer, but you can still only visit the U.S. six months at a time. You can also apply for a six-month extension to get a full year, but that's the limit. What makes the ten-year visa different is that you can use it again later for another visit.

The reason the visa's expiration date doesn't matter is because the length of your stay actually has to do with Form I-94. I-94 is an electronic form immigration officers fill out when you arrive in the U.S., and the date on that is when you need to leave the US. Like the B-1 visa itself, you can apply for a six-month extension on your I-94 when you visit on a ten-year visa.

You can also get a special B-1/B-2 visa waiver if you meet certain conditions:

  • You are a national of a participating nation.
  • You arrive through Canada or a participating airline.
  • You have a plane ticket that will take you back out of the country (or you drove in from Canada).
  • You are not also a national of and have not recently visited Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Libya, or Syria.

If you meet all these requirements, you can use the Visa Waiver Program to skip most of the paperwork and get permission to stay in the United States for up to 90 days. However, you still have to stick with the restrictions of the B-1 visa and you can't switch to a regular visa while you're in the US.

On the other hand, if you do have a regular B-1 visa, you may be able to convert it into a different kind of visa without having to go back to your home country. This includes permanent resident (green card) visas, temporary employment visas like H1B and E1, and student visas like F1. Most of these visas have a yearly quota, though, so don't count on getting one before you have to go back.

Getting a visitor visa like the B-1 might be easier than most others, but getting one can still take a lot of time and effort. That's why you shouldn't be afraid to ask for legal help from professionals by posting your job on UpCounsel's marketplace. The lawyers and firms on our marketplace include some of the best in the business and have represented and advised major corporations like Airbnb, Google, and Menlo Ventures.