Generally, a foreign national who wishes to come to the United States must first obtain a visa. An individual can apply for one of two types of visas: a nonimmigrant visa for those who wish to enter the United States on a temporary basis, or an immigrant visa for those coming to the United States for obtaining permanent residency. A visa allows a foreign national to travel to any port-of-entry in the United States and request permission of a U.S. immigration inspector to enter the U.S.
The B-2 visitor visa is also referred to as the "tourist" visa. Foreign nationals who wish to enter the United States for recreation and pleasure or for medical treatment often use it. If your intention is to enter the United States for business purposes please click here for information on the B-1 Visa for business visitors.
A B2 visa may also be used to enter the United States for certain types of study. Usually, student visas are only given to students attending full-time academic or vocational programs at a United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) approved institution. But if one is traveling to the U.S. primarily for tourism, but while in the U.S. they want to take a short course of study that is recreational and not for credit towards a degree, and the course is less than 18 hours per week, then this is allowed on a B2 visa. An example of this is if one is taking a vacation to the U.S., and during that time they wish to take a two-day cooking class for their enjoyment, and no credit is earned, then this would be permitted on a B2 visa.
While it is possible for individuals to use a B2 visa (visitor visa) for participating in certain types of recreational or part-time study, students should always check with the school or program they wish to attend and with the U.S. consular officer in their home country to determine if they are definitely able to use a tourist visa for their specific school or program.
Note: Individuals planning to travel to the U.S. for a different reason such as students, temporary workers, crewmen, journalists, etc., must apply for a different visa that is appropriate for their specific category. If an individual is planning to come to the United States for a course of study that is 18 hours or more a week and credited towards a degree, then they will need a student visa. Also, when one intends to travel to the U.S. to attend seminars or conferences to obtain credit towards a degree, then they too will need a student visa.