Visitors: How Often Is Too Often?

June 2nd, 2009 by William Stock

Deborah from the UK just submitted a wonderful question to the blog, which gets at a very important set of concepts one must understand about the rules for visiting the US.  While the question is about entering on the Waiver Program (for nationals of countries that do not need a B-2 visa to visit the US), the answer applies equally to visitors who have obtained B-2 visas in their countries.

The question, how often can one come to the US as a visitor, and how long can one stay, plus the answer, after the jump.

Deborah’s question is:

Hi. I am a UK citizen and regular visitor to the US for vacation purposes.  I am about to have more free time (wonderful!) and would like to spend more time in the States – say 3 months at a time twice a year.  Can I do this under the Visa Waiver program? Noting the VWP is OK for trips up to a max of 90 i days, is this a limit per trip or a cumulative number over a period of, say, a year?

There is no one answer to this question, but it does illustrate the tension between two principles that apply to visitor entry applications.

The first principle is that the United States wants to encourage tourism and visits from other countries, so there is no hard-and-fast or bright-line rule for how many times a person may use the Visa Waiver Program, or a visitor’s visa, in a single year.  Depending on the person’s situation, two trips in a year may be “too many,” or seven trips in a year may be fine.

The second principle is that each time a person comes to the United States as a visitor, the Immigration Inspector must be able to determine that the person is, indeed, “just visiting” — that is, that the person maintains their residence (their “principal place of abode,” as we say) in another country, and that the purpose, duration and frequency of trips to the United States is consistent with the fact that the person lives abroad.

What kinds of facts will determine how often is “too often”?  Well, for example, if a person has few personal or career ties to the home country, then the chances are higher that entry as a visitor will be denied.  So, for example, a university student who has two long vacation periods in her school terms and comes to the US during those breaks would have a lower chance of refusal than an unemployed recent graduate (who has plenty of time to visit, but no particular reason to return home).  Similarly, a person who came twice in one year and stayed one month each time, with six months between them, is much less likely to have a problem than someone who came twice in one year, but stayed for three months, left for one week and is now returning the second time after almost no time at home.

At the end of the day, the Immigration Inspector is assessing each visitor’s honesty and reliability when interviewing him or her, as well as looking at any evidence they have brought with them of the purpose of their trip, and the immigration service’s own records of the person’s travels in and out.  Whatever the reason for a person’s trips, therefore, honesty is always the best policy.

Visitor’s entries are the most common kind of entries to the United States, and can often be quick and easy.  There are important limits, though, as I’ve discussed in this post, and so prospective visitors should be sure that they are not entering so often that they have abandoned their residence overseas.

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