Transiting the U.S.
If you are transiting the U.S. en route to another foreign destination, even if you only intend to be present in the U.S. for a few hours and do not plan to leave the airport, you still need a valid visa, or must be eligible for visa-free travel under the Visa Waiver Program. There are several options open to those transiting the U.S., either visa-free entry under the Visa Waiver Program, or on a B-1/B-2 Combined Business/Tourism Visa, or on a C-1 Transit visa.
Visa Waiver Program
Australians and nationals of 35 other countries, including New Zealand and the U.K., traveling to the U.S. for business or pleasure may be eligible for visa-free travel under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) if certain conditions are met. These include, staying less than 90 days, traveling via a commercial carrier and with a return ticket, traveling on a machine readable passport, and having no criminal convictions.
Please note, however, that under the VWP, time spent in Canada and Mexico and adjacent islands counts towards the maximum of 90 days stay allowed under the program. If for instance, you are transiting the U.S. on a 6 month trip to Canada, you cannot travel on the Visa Waiver Program, as your total stay in the U.S, Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands exceeds 90 days. In this case you would need to apply for a B-1/B-2 'visitor' visa, or a C-1 Transit Visa.
C1 Transit Visa or B-1/B-2 Combined Business/Tourism Visa
The main advantage of the B-1/B-2 visitor visa over the C-1 transit visa is that the B-1/B-2 visa can be used for visits as well as transits through the U.S. during its period of validity. Therefore, if you your travel plans are likely to change, or if you think you may want to visit in the near future, the B-1/B-2 visitor is a more flexible option.
Most applicants receive a combined B-1/B-2 visa, enabling them entry for business, tourism or both.
A temporary visitor for business or tourism must establish that he or she:
- Has a residence abroad which he or she does not intend to abandon;
- Is coming to the U.S. for a definite temporary period;
- Will depart upon the conclusion of the visit;
- Has permission to enter a foreign area after his or her stay in the U.S.; and
- Has access to sufficient funds to cover expenses of the visit and return passage.
The application procedure is the same as for C-1 transit visas. Please see 'What you need to apply' below.
C-1 Transit visa
If you are not eligible to transit the U.S under the Visa Waiver Program or on a B-1/B-2 visitor visa, you will be required to apply for a Transit C-1 visa before traveling.
A Transit visa is issued to aliens proceeding in immediate and continuous transit through the U.S. en route to a foreign destination, and will only be issued when an officer is satisfied that the transit journey will not be interrupted. "Transit aliens" are not required to remain in the transit lounge at the airport; once admitted to the U.S., they can visit friends, see a show, etc., so long as they continue their journey within the authorized period of stay. In issuing the visa the consular officer must be satisfied that the principal purpose of the trip is to transit the U.S.