The B-2 (visitor for pleasure) visa is as flexible as a world-class gymnast. The State Department has announced that a B-2 visa may be used by parents to accompany a minor with an F-1 (student) visa to the U.S.
As background, its well known that an F-1 student’s spouse and children (under age 21) can get F-2 visas to accompany the student in the U.S. Children in F-2 status are able to attend public school in the United States. Spouses in F-2 status may not work. Procedurally speaking, F-2 visa applicants will need to obtain a Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant F-1 Student Status) from the F-1 student’s school but will not need to pay the SEVIS fee.
But what about other family members of the F-1 student besides the spouse and unmarried children? F-2 visas are unavailable to parents, in-laws, or adult sons and daughters of an F-1 student.
The State Department says that the B-2 classification is appropriate for noncitizens who are members of the household of another person with F-1 or other long-term nonimmigrant status. Other examples include cohabitating partners or elderly parents of temporary workers, students, or diplomats posted to the U.S.
Household members may be allowed to stay in the U.S. for the same period as the long-term nonimmigrant relative they are accompanying. For example, if an F-1 student is admitted to a 4-year high school program in the U.S., the parents may be able to stay in the U.S. for the same period. At the port of entry, they may request that the supervisor initially admit them for a period of one year. Extensions in increments of up to six months are available thereafter.
Here’s the rule:
The B-2 classification is appropriate for applicants who are members of the household of another noncitizen in long-term nonimmigrant status, but who are not eligible for derivative status under that applicant’s visa classification. This is also an appropriate classification for applicants who are members of the household of a U.S. citizen who normally lives and works overseas but is returning to the United States for a temporary period. Such applicants include but are not limited to the following: cohabitating partners or elderly parents of temporary workers, students, foreign government officials or employees posted to the United States, officers or employees of an international organization posted to the United States, and accompanying parent(s) of a minor F-1 child-student. B-2 classification may also be accorded to a spouse or child who qualifies for derivative nonimmigrant status (other than derivative A or G status) as an eligible immediate family member, but for whom it may be inconvenient or impossible to apply for the proper H-4, L-2, F-2, or other nonimmigrant derivative visa, provided that the applicant (the derivative) intends to maintain a residence outside the United States and otherwise meets the B visa eligibility requirements. If such individuals plan to stay in the United States for more than six months, you should advise them to ask DHS for a one-year stay at the time they apply for admission. If needed, they may thereafter apply for extensions of stay, in increments of up to six months, for the duration of the principal’s nonimmigrant status in the United States. You should consider annotating the visa to indicate the purpose of travel and the length of stay in such cases.—9 FAM 402.2-4(B)(5) (May 21, 2021)
While the B-2 visa is flexible, there are important limitations. Most importantly, like F-1 visa applicants, B-2 visa applicants must prove they meet the “nonimmigrant intent” requirement. This means they must have an unabandoned residence abroad to which they intend to return after a temporary stay in the U.S. Generally speaking, a “residence” refers to one’s main home where they sleep most nights and to which they will return after temporary absences. In deciding whether a B-2 applicant meets this requirement, the officer will consider whether they have such strong family, economic, cultural, and other ties to their home country that the consular officer is persuaded the applicant will return home upon completion of the stated purpose of the visit. For details, see Proving Nonimmigrant Intent for a U.S. Visa.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing posts this FAQ:
My child is studying in the United States. Can I go live with him?
While you can use your own B-1/B-2 visa (or travel under the Visa Waiver Program, if eligible) to visit your child, you may not live with your child unless you have your own immigrant, work, or student visa.
That FAQ is a fair interpretation of the law to the extent that a B-2 visa is only for persons who “reside” (live) abroad and are coming to the U.S. just temporarily. For a parent who wishes to accompany an F-1 student to the U.S. for multiple years, it can be hard to draw a distinction between prohibited intent to abandon their foreign residence (living in the U.S.) and permissible temporary stay in the U.S. Yet that’s what the B-2 applicant needs to prove to the consular officer.
Where the B-2 visa applicant seeks to accompany an F-1 student, you can anticipate that a consular officer will also scrutinize the student’s lawful status and nonimmigrant intent. If the student has violated status or lacks nonimmigrant intent, the B-2 visa application will likely be denied.
Another challenge is that B-2 visitors in the U.S. are not authorized to work. So a parent applying for a B-2 visa will need to prove sufficient savings to cover living expenses and the child’s tuition for the entire contemplated period in the U.S.
An example of a strong B-2 visa application may be where there are compelling reasons for the child to study in the U.S., such as in a special education program or a gifted program that is not available in the home country. In such compelling situations, a U.S. consular officer may understand that a parent may be willing to take a prolonged (but still temporary) leave from a job in his or her home country just so the child can take advantage of the unique educational opportunity.
There may be other ways to achieve the same result. For example, the parent may apply for a U.S. work visa, such as an H-1B, J-1, L-1, or O-1, and the child may be able to apply for either the F-1 student visa or the dependent visa corresponding to the parent’s work visa (H-4, J-2, L-2, or O-3).
Feel free to schedule a consultation with our firm to discuss this in further detail.