Which US Business Visa?
If you are a non-US national travelling to the United States of America for business, it is your responsibility to ensure you have secured the required permission to travel to the US.
Unless you are eligible to travel to the US visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program, or you are a citizen of Canada or Bermuda, you will need to have a visa to temporarily travel to the US for either business (or pleasure).
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Do you need a US business visa?
You may be eligible to enter the United States without a visa if you meet the requirements for the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows citizens of 38 countries (including the UK) to travel to the US without a visa for business, tourism or for transit to another country for up to 90 days.
The VWP is intended for occasional short visits to the US. Visa free travel does not include those who plan to study, work or remain in the United States for more than 90 days. If you wish to stay in the US for longer, you will need to obtain a visa for US temporary travel for up to 6 months.
Travellers that qualify for VWP must obtain authorization to enter the US using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
You will generally be granted authorization if you are a citizen of one of the listed VWP partner countries and you hold a valid electronic passport with an electronic chip. However, you will not be eligible to travel visa-free under ESTA in the following circumstances:
- You have been arrested for certain crimes, even if the arrest did not result in criminal conviction, or you have a criminal record.
- You have been denied entry to or deported from the US, or you have previously overstayed on the VWP.
- You have a serious communicable illness.
Some travellers who are citizens of a VWP partner country may still be unable to travel to the US visa-free if they have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Somalia or Yemen any time after 1 March 2011, although there are some limited exceptions. For example, the rule does not apply to VWP eligible travellers who were there to perform military service on behalf of the relevant VWP eligible country.
If you are a dual national of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria, you will not be eligible to travel without a visa.
How do I apply for visa-free travel?
To apply for visa free travel you should complete an online pre-registration form on the ESTA website. It is advised by the US Customs and Border Patrol that you do this at least 72 hours before departure.
If your application for visa free travel is denied, you will need to make an application for a B-1 or B-2 visa for US temporary travel from your nearest US Embassy or Consulate. In these circumstances, this is likely to significantly delay your travel plans.
B-1 business visa
The main type of visa for non-US nationals temporarily travelling to the United States for business is the B-1 visa. This is a nonimmigrant visa for those travelling to the US temporarily to engage in non-revenue-generating business activities. B-1 permissible activities can include attending a conference or seminar, or other legitimate activities of a commercial or professional nature.
The B-1 visa will not allow for gainful employment or productive activity such as operating a business. However, limited additional activities can be conducted under the B-1 visa, for example, participating in a voluntary service program that benefits a US local community.
If your proposed business activity falls outside those permitted within the B-1 category, a temporary work visa will be required.
In addition, if you intend to combine your business trip with tourist activities, you would be required to hold the B1/B2 combination visa.
How long can you stay on a business visa in USA?
With a B-1 visa, you are usually granted permission to stay in the US for a visit of up to six months.
It may be possible to apply to extend a business visa for a further period of six months, if you meet the requirements.
Business visa requirements
Your B-1 visa application will need to prove to the adjudicator that you are travelling to the US for permissible, business-related reasons (and not, for example, to take up paid-employment in the US). You will also need to show that you will be visiting and that you intend to leave the US and return to your country of residence before your visa period expires. Finally, you will need to evidence you have sufficient funds to support yourself during your stay.
Applying for a US business visa
If you are aged between 14 to 79 years old you are required to apply for a visa in person through a pre-arranged interview at the US Embassy or Consulate, by appointment only. Applicants under 14 or 80 years and over may be eligible to apply by courier.
There is no cap on the number of B-1 visas that can be issued, so your application will be decided on merit against current applicable US immigration rules and policy.
B1 visa interview
At your interview, in addition to any category-specific documentation to prove the purpose of your trip, you will be required to bring the following:
- a print-out of your appointment confirmation
- a print-out of the confirmation page for form DS-160
- a 5 x 5 cm (2” by 2”) colour photograph taken within the last 6 months
- a passport
You will also need, where applicable, documentary evidence of the following:
- your status in the country of which you reside
- any previously issued US visas
- any serious communicable medical condition
- any arrests, convictions or cautions, regardless of when they occurred.
- being denied entry to or deported from the US.
You may also need to show that you have sufficient funds available on arrival to support yourself during your stay in the US, and the residence abroad to which you intend to return.
If your application is successful, this can take only a few short days to process. If additional processing or a criminal waiver of ineligibility or a national interest exception waiver is required, your application for a visa for US temporary travel could take several weeks, if not months.
Note that if you are granted a US business visa, this provides perimssion for you to travel to the US, but entry is not guaranteed. Border officials have discretion to question travellers at the border and have the authority to refuse entry if they are not satisfied that your reason for travel qualifies under the visitor rules.
If you are travelling with a business visa, you are advised to carry with you documentary evidence of your reason for travel, such formal confirmation of a business meeting on company letterhead, and proof of your intention to leave the US at the end of your stay (eg your return travel details).
What is the B1/B2 visa?
It is common for US embassies and consulates to issue visitors the combined B1/B2 visa. This allows the visa holder permission to undertake a combination of business (B1) and tourism (B2) activities during visit.
Avoid issues at the border by ensuring you have the correct permission to travel to the US. If you need to visit the US for business, depending on the circumstances and your reason for travel, you may be eligible to travel visa-free. If you do not qualify for visa-free travel, you would usually need to apply for a B-1 business visa.
Issues or delays with your visa application can significantly impact on your travel plans.
You should always apply well in advance of your intended travel date and not make non-refundable travel arrangements until you have been issued the visa and are in receipt of your validated passport.
If you are unclear about any aspect of obtaining a US business visa, including updated information on current travel restrictions or special requirements, speak to our specialist US immigration attorneys.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.