Applying for a US Business Visa: Applicant Guidance
If you are a UK national looking to live the American dream, before you make any plans you will need to consider what visa options are available to you to make the move Stateside.
If you are a national of a Visa Waiver country, if your business trip will last for no more than 90 days and if you hold a current e-passport from your visa waiver country, you may be eligible to travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Under the VWP, you will not need to apply for a US visa, but you will need to have passed the security pre-screening and been granted ESTA approval.
The nature of your intended activity will also be a factor when travelling under the VWP. You are not permitted to carry out gainful employment; you will instead have to apply for the relevant visa. For example, foreign journalists coming to the US on assignment should not travel visa-free. They should instead apply for the I media visa.
Business-related activities are however permitted under the VWP. For example, if your visit to the US is to meet with a prospective client, attend a business conference or inspect prospective new premises.
B-1 visa for business visitors
If you are not eligible for visa-free travel, you may wish to consider the B1 visa. The B1 visa is intended for business visits to the US that last for up to 6 months and can cover the following business-related activities:
- Selling – this will not allow the B1 holder to sell or take orders for American goods during their time in the US, however, they may meet a client to sign contracts, take orders for goods produced in their home country, display samples of their goods, or set up an exhibition booth.
- Service engineer – the B1 visa may be used to travel to the US to install, repair or service commercial or industrial machinery or equipment purchased from a business in the UK.
- Speaker or lecturer – to take up an unpaid speaking engagement that lasts no more than 9 days at any institution which is:
- a higher education institution
- a government research organisation
- a non-profit research organisation
- an institution which is related to any of the above
- Business venture – you may visit the US to look for business premises, either to buy or lease.
- Conference – to participate in a convention, conference or seminar that is educational, professional (connected with one of the professions), or business-related. You may also present a paper at a conference as long as your presentation is unpaid. Where you act as a speaker or lecturer, the same rules apply as already mentioned in the Speaker or Lecturer section.
- Researcher – you may participate in unpaid, independent research that will not benefit any US institution.
- Medical elective – as a medical student of an overseas medical school, you may travel on the B1 visa to take up an unpaid elective clerkship at a US medical school hospital.
- Voluntary work – taking part in a voluntary service program that will benefit a US local community, where the work is unpaid, does not involve any form of selling, and is organised by a recognised religious or non-profit charitable organisation.
- Work in the Outer Continental Shelf – in certain circumstances, the B1 visa may be suitable to persons working on the Outer Continental Shelf.
As part of your application, you will need to provide evidence of your planned business activities and that you can cover the costs of your time in the US, including your return travel.
You will also be expected to satisfy your local US embassy that you intend to return to your home country when your visa expires. As such, you must provide evidence in your application and during your interview of your status in your home country and your connections with that country.
US business visas for temporary workers
Living in the US as a temporary worker requires a petition-based, non-immigrant visa. This means that you are sponsored by a US employer who must obtain permission from the US government before they can employ a foreign worker.
Examples of temporary worker business visas include:
H1B – Speciality Occupation
For the purpose of the H1B visa, speciality occupations are those which require specialist knowledge in the related area and usually a bachelors or higher degree. Additionally, an unrestricted state licence, registration or certification may be required from the applicant.
For the vacancy with the US employer to be suitable, the position must require a bachelors or higher degree or equivalent, and this requirement must be the norm for the industry.
The 2019 H1B visa cap made 65,000 visas available, with an additional 20,000 visas for applicants with a master’s degree. The window for H1B applications opens in April and closes again as soon as the cap is reached, generally within a month or less. This is a hugely popular visa and there are far more applications each year then there are available visas.
Unlike other temporary worker visas, the H1B visa is dual intent. This means that it may be entered into with the intent to use it as a path to US lawful permanent residency.
L1 – Intra-Company Transfer
An L1 visa allows the foreign employee of an international company to transfer to a parent, branch, subsidiary or affiliate of that company based in the US. It may also be used where a foreign employee of an international company visits the US to set up a parent, branch, subsidiary or affiliate of that company.
The foreign company must already be conducting business in the US and with a minimum of one other country.
Any employee applying for a L1 visa must have worked for their employer overseas for a minimum of one continuous year within the last three years, and intend to work in the US in an executive, managerial or specialist capacity for that same employer.
E visas for treaty readers & investors
Anyone wishing to seek a Treaty Trader or Treaty Investor visa must be a national of a country that has a treaty of commerce and navigation with the USA. There are currently 79 such treaty countries.
E-1 Treaty Trader
The appropriate visa for a Treaty Trader is the E1 visa. The Treaty Trader visa is appropriate when you wish to establish and engage in ongoing, substantial trade between the USA and a business in your own home country. It is possible to use this visa to establish trade with other countries, but more than half of overall trade must be with the US. To be eligible for the E1 visa, you must also be an essential employee to the foreign business, in either an executive role, supervisory role or have appropriately specialised skills.
E-2 Treaty Investor
The appropriate visa for a Treaty Investor is the E2 visa.
The E2 visa is designed for entrepreneurs and business owners from US treaty countries who wish to run a business in the USA, either through setting up a new business or investing in an existing business. Either of these options is seen as an investment in the US economy.
Further eligibility for the E2 visa includes:
- half of the business which you have invested in must be owned by nationals of a treaty country
- the investment must be substantial and sufficient to ensure that the business or enterprise can run successfully
- the monies invested must be deemed to be put at risk, that is, should the enterprise fail the investment will be lost
- this is an actual enterprise or business, with an active investment
- the business or enterprise must have a significant, positive impact in the US or generate more than enough income to support you and your dependants
- you must have complete control of the monies to be invested
- you will be in charge of the enterprise or business yourself
If you are planning travel to the US for business purposes or for work on a temporary basis, take advice on the visa options open to you.
NNU Immigration are specialist US attorneys. We provide expert guidance on immigration routes and support applicants through the petitioning process and interview stage. For advice on your options or for help with an application, contact us.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.