My B-1/B-2 visa is valid for 5 years. Can I stay in the U.S. the entire time?

Visitor visas are non-immigrant visas allowing people to enter the United States temporarily for purposes of business (B-1), pleasure or medical treatment (B-2), or both (B-1/B-2). Although B-1/B-2 visas might state that they are valid for “multiple entries” into the United States, it is your responsibility to depart the country upon expiration of your initial authorized stay. This is usually no longer than 6 months. So no, you cannot remain in the United States for as long as your B-1/B-2 visa is valid.

After the authorized period expires, you must either obtain an extension, change visa categories, or leave the United States. Any period beyond that authorized by the Department of Homeland Security constitutes unlawful presence in the United States. Every day of unlawful presence, in turn, counts toward a 3 or 10-year bar precluding the visa holder from re-entering the United States.

I-94 Record of Arrival & Departure

Temporary visitors entering the United States under a B-1 or B-2 visas are given a small white card called an I-94 Record of Arrival/Departure. It is important to keep this card with your passport. The I-94 marks your date of admission and states your maximum period of stay in the United States. It will usually state that you are permitted to remain in the United States “for a period not to exceed” a certain date. With few exceptions, failure to depart the United States by that date will result in the accrual of unlawful presence, barring your re-entry once you depart the United States.

Although visitor visas are valid for up to 10 years, they do not necessarily authorize the holder to remain in the United States for the entire period. Rather, the I-94 determines the maximum period of stay. Further, B-1 and B-2 visas are just that—non-immigrant visas permitting their holders to stay for a temporary period not to exceed that designated on the I-94. They are not meant for individuals intending to immigrate to the United States.

B-1/B-2 Visas and Employment in the United States

B-1/B-2 visas do not authorize employment in the United States. Working is not within the scope of such visas because they only entitle the holder to visit, receive medical treatment, or conduct narrowly specified business within a short period of time. Unauthorized work performed during this period is taken seriously and could result in complicating future applications for relief, including adjustment of status to legal permanent residence. As such, other travelers to the United States, such as students, temporary workers, and crewmen must obtain different visas to visit the United States. B-1 and B-2 visitors are for business and pleasure only.

Applying for a B-1/B-2 Visa

Applicants for B-1/B-2 visas are encouraged to apply at the U.S. Consulate or embassy in their country of origin. They must complete Form OF-156, have a valid passport to travel to the United States, and present two photographs for each applicant. In order to better understand what is permitted under these visas, it is best to consult an immigration lawyer. Your attorney can help you apply for a visitor visa and explore future forms of relief for which you might be eligible once you are admitted to the United States.