What is a United States “B Visa?” 

Chances are, if you have known anyone traveling to the United States for tourism or a business trip, you have heard of the “B visa.” The United States offers two types of B visas, the B1 and B2. These visas allow non-citizens to visit the U.S. for up to 180 days. In this post, I will discuss whether you can work in the USA on a B1/B2 visitor visa.

While they fall under the same category of short-term visitor visas, the B1 and B2 visas are meant for different purposes. The B1 visa is for visitors traveling to the U.S. for a short business event such as a conference, a stakeholder meeting, or to conduct market research. The B2 visa is a tourist visa suitable for anyone on holiday, visiting family, or undergoing a minor medical procedure. 

B Visa Application and Requirements 

While the two visas are intended for distinct groups of travelers, they have nearly identical application processes and requirements. The processing fee for both visas is $160, and both are valid for a maximum of 180 days. 

Both B visas can be completed online, but some applicants must attend a B Visa interview with the relevant authorities at a U.S. embassy or consulate. Sometimes, a B visa may be extended for up to 10 years, depending on the applicant’s unique circumstances. 

The required documentation for a U.S. B visa application will vary by applicant. Based on their nationality, the reason for traveling to the U.S., and the type of visa they are applying for, they may need to provide a different list of documents. 

However, there are basic requirements that most applicants will need to submit to obtain a United States B1 or B2 visa: 

  1. A valid passport or identity document 
  2. Passport-style photos that are clear and in color 
  3. Valid recent bank statements
  4. Documents demonstrating ties to your home country and clear intent to return 
  5. A letter declaring the purpose of the trip 
  6. Documents related to previous U.S. visits
  7. A letter from an employer (if applicable) 
  8. Recent pay stubs (if applicable) 

Some applicants will need to submit other documents in addition to this list. It’s important to understand exactly what is required before submitting the B visa application. Nearly all information regarding required documentation can be found at the official United States government website. 

Working on a B1/B2 Visa

One of the major questions applicants have is whether they can work while holding a U.S. B visa. As a tourist visa, it is usually clear that the B1B2 visa does not allow holders to work while traveling in the United States. In short, a U.S. B visa does not permit the holder to work in the United States. 

However, there are some business-related activities that B1-B2 visa holders can undertake. This might include attending a conference, meeting with stakeholders or investors, attending business meetings, signing contracts, or filing the paperwork to incorporate a U.S.-based company. 

U.S. B visa holders cannot engage in active work online or in person for an American or a foreign company, organization, or any other entity that would pay them for their services. This also applies to those who work online as “digital nomads.” If it becomes clear that a B1-B visa holder is working unlawfully, their visa status would be jeopardized, leading to very serious legal and immigration issues. 

Applying and Interviewing on a B1/B2 Visa

That being said, there was very good news recently for U.S. B visa holders who are interested in finding employment during their stay. As of March 2023, B1-B2 visa holders are permitted to apply for jobs in the U.S. and attend interviews while visiting. While it is still necessary to change their visa status to work status before actually starting the role, this is a huge step for anyone hoping to establish themselves professionally in the United States. 

Applying for a Work Visa 

As stated above, B1 and B2 visa holders are not permitted to work in the U.S. If a B visa holder is offered a position in the U.S. or finds another means of legally working in the country, they will need to apply for a U.S. work permit. Generally, it won’t be possible to change a B1/B2 visitor visa to a work visa due to time constraints. It’s advised that applicants leave and apply for a work visa through a US consulate or embassy in their home country. 

This rule has certain exceptions but is rare and requires specific circumstances. In some cases, applicants can apply for a change of status application with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This process is straightforward but does require all applicants to follow the appropriate steps carefully to ensure their application is successful. 

Due to the limited validity of the B1-B2 visa, it’s important for a holder who wants to switch to a work status to do so in a way that does not cause them to overstay their visa. Overstaying a visa is illegal and could have lasting negative consequences for their future travel or employment opportunities. 

There are two options for B visa holders to avoid this scenario: 

  1. Apply to extend their immigration status as a B1-B2 visa holder and file the change of status application within the duration of their extended B1-B2 visa.
  2. File a change of visa status application and obtain a U.S. work permit within the duration of their current valid B visa. 

Of course, applying for a change of status does not happen overnight. There are several steps that applicants must take before they can lawfully transition from a B1-B2 visa to a valid U.S. work status. First, the applicant will need to select the appropriate work visa. This will dependent on the offer they received, the duration of the employment, the type of work being done, the applicant’s qualifications, their immigration status, and their nationality. While all work visas will have a similar application process, there will also be visa-specific requirements that applicants must understand before starting the application process. 

The most common U.S. work visas are the H-1B and the O-1. The former is intended for foreign workers traveling to the U.S. to engage in specialized, temporary work. The latter is for foreign workers who possess “extraordinary abilities” and is also for temporary employment. These are just two examples from a long list of work visas that applicants can choose from. 

Frequently Asked Questions for work in the USA on a B1/B2 visitor visa

Is it possible to work remotely for an employer based outside the U.S. on a B1/B2 visitor visa?

No, all work is prohibited for B1/B2 visitor visa holders, even if the work is being done remotely. The B visas only allow for short-term visits for tourism or business purposes. 

Can B1/B2 visa holders attend job interviews or job fairs while visiting the United States?

As of March 2023, you can attend job interviews or job fairs while on a B1/B2 visitor visa in the USA, as long as you do not accept any employment offers or work for US-based employers.

Can B1/B2 visitor visa holders engage in volunteer work or internships?

No, internships and volunteer work are also considered work and therefore prohibited for B visa holders. Short training programs or attending conferences are allowed on a B1 visa.

Can I change a B1/B2 visitor visa to a work permit if I receive a job offer?

Yes, it is possible to apply for a change of visa status from a B1/B2 visa to a work permit, but it may be complicated or cause you to overstay your B visa. The best scenario is to leave the U.S. and apply for a work permit through the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. If that is not possible, an extension for the B visa can be obtained through the USCIS offices, allowing you more time to file the change of status application. 

What are the consequences of working illegally on a U.S. B1/B2 visa?

If caught working illegally in the U.S., B visitor visa holders can face serious consequences, from deportation to a long-term ban that prevents them from reentering the U.S. for many years. The B visa holder may also be fined or face criminal charges. It will also make it very difficult to have another visa application approved. 

Final Thoughts On Working in the USA on a B1/B2 Visitor Visa

While the B1/B2 visitor visa for the United States offers opportunities for short-term visits for tourism or business purposes, it’s important to understand its limitations, particularly regarding employment. Holders of the B1/B2 visa are not permitted to work in the U.S., whether in person or remotely, for American or foreign employers. However, recent changes allow visa holders to attend job interviews or job fairs, providing a pathway for those seeking employment opportunities in the U.S.

For those who receive a job offer while on a B1/B2 visa, the process of transitioning to a work permit can be complex and may risk overstaying the visa. It’s advisable to leave the U.S. and apply for a work permit through the appropriate channels, such as a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country. Engaging in unauthorized work on a B1/B2 visa carries severe consequences, including deportation, bans on reentry, fines, and criminal charges, impacting future travel and employment prospects.

Understanding and adhering to the regulations surrounding the B1/B2 visa not only ensures compliance with U.S. immigration laws but also safeguards against potential legal and immigration issues. Ultimately, while the B1/B2 visa offers opportunities for short-term visits, it’s crucial to navigate its limitations and requirements diligently to make the most of one’s time in the United States while avoiding any adverse repercussions.