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I try to gather information about the initial length of stay with a B-2 Visa. I'm getting conflicting information.

People admitted to the United States on a B2 Tourist Visa are usually issued a 6-month stay. The maximum length of stay for visitor visa holders is 6 months. immigration.terra.com

Also this one:

The maximum duration of stay on a B1/B2 visa is 6 months. immihelp.com

And on the other hand there is:

You may be granted a duration of stay up to a period of one year hooyou.co

Which references the following law:

Any B-1 visitor for business or B-2 visitor for pleasure may be admitted for not more than one year and may be granted extensions of temporary stay in increments of not more than six months each, (8 CFR § 214.2(b)(1) law.cornell.edu

While it seems obvious, the law quoted says you may be allowed to stay up to one year. But where comes the 6 months from? I guess it must be at least common practice to get 6 month, because this information is all over the internet.

So my next guess would be that the immigration officer is allowed to admit you more then 6 month of initial stay.

My situation is that I plan to hike the Appalachian Trail. An activity that is going to take about 6 month. I don't want to face my self in the situation where I almost hiked all of the Appalachian Trail, but had to stop, because my stay permit expired. I know there is the option to apply for extension. And I researched that the best thing to do, would be to visit Washington from Harpers Ferry. But I really would like to avoid the hassle!

So my question is, what do I need to do, say or ask for, to get admitted for a stay longer than six month? Also I will travel together with my girlfriend. What are the chances, that we get admitted to different lengths?

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If you wind up with six months admission, it is possible to apply to extend your stay by filling out the paperwork electronically (see also USCIS's tips, paying $290 (er, on behalf of America, I'm sorry!), and waiting. They recommend you do this at least 45 days before your status expires, and I'd allow even more time. While it would be inconvenient to do all this from the trail, it may be possible at an internet cafe in town. – Zach Lipton Feb 22 at 3:33
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Congratulations, you've discovered that tourists can be admitted to the US for up to a year, which (unfortunately for you) is so rarely done that it's possible the immigration officer you see when you arrive might not know he can do it.

The first thing I would consider if I were you is: Will it take you more than six months? If you're both in good shape and have done some long distance hikes before, you are likely to be able to finish in less than six months.

Further, to rain on your parade, most people who attempt a thru-hike of the AT don't finish. In 2014, about half made it to Harpers Ferry, and only half of those made it to Katahdin. Therefore it's possible you won't need the extra months anyway.

I think you should be fine to ask for a 7 or 8 month admission, provided that you can fully justify it to the CBP officer at the airport. Remember that he will be looking for:

  • You are planning to engage in tourist activities.
  • You are not intending to work, and can support yourself.
  • Your activities will come to an end and you will depart the US.

Since it's not common for someone to ask for such a length of admission, you should be prepared for the possibility that you will go to secondary and have a more extensive interview with the officer. Here is where you will lay out your detailed plans for the thru-hike, if necessary.

So, you need to consider:

  • What will you be doing? Can you confidently explain the Appalachian Trail thru-hike to a skeptical immigration officer?
  • When will you depart the US? Be prepared to show why you believe it will take you more than six months to hike the AT, and approximately when you expect to finish. (Hint: Baxter State Park closes to camping on October 15, so know this date and what it means to planning your thru-hike and explaining its length to an immigration officer. He will be happier when you tell him that you must finish by a specific date.)
  • How will you depart the US? How will you get to the airport from Katahdin and how long will that take? If you have an open return ticket, do you know how to use it and actually get on a specific flight? If you don't have a return ticket, can you prove you can pay for one in addition to all your other expenses?
  • How will you support yourself? It's fairly cheap to hike the AT, but it can vary widely. I happen to like the occasional private hotel room, and so I spent about $1000 a month when I was out there. It's possible to spend much less, or even more. Think how you will demonstrate this to an immigration officer who may only have heard of the Appalachian Trail and may not be aware of how much it costs. What will you do if you run out of money? Can you demonstrate this at the airport?
  • What other ties do you have to your home country? It's common in many other countries for people to take a "gap year" between secondary school and university, and US immigration officials are aware of the gap year. Bring documents that show that you have a good reason to return to your country.

I suggest that, even if you think you can finish in less than six months, that you ask for admission through the end of October, just in case you take longer to complete the thru-hike than you originally expected.

Finally, let me say I hope you have a great hike!

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2  
If you are taken aside for secondary screening, they'll probably take you to get your luggage from the belt. This will presumably support your claim that you're coming to go on a long-distance hike. – David Richerby Feb 22 at 2:13

The absolute theoretical maximum for the initial admission period for B-1 and B-2 is 1 year, according to the regulations.

However, a regular visitor on B-2 will get 6 months, or in some uncommon cases, less than 6 months if the officer thinks the person has been to the US too often; but I have never heard of it being more than 6 months, probably because this would be considered inconsistent with the purpose of a personal visit. I don't know if there is anywhere where this is officially written.

There are some special cases for B-2, for example, B-2 for cohabitating partners or other household members, where the initial admission period can be requested to be 1 year. I am not sure if there are some other special cases for B-2 that can also ask for 1 year.

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