USA business visa options
If you’re planning to travel to the US on business, you will want to avoid any issues with gaining entry into the country. Perhaps you already have meetings arranged, conferences to attend, associates to meet – having the correct permission to travel to the US will help avoid the cost, inconvenience and embarrassment of a failed visa application or being denied entry at the border.
Or if you have a past criminal conviction, you may be concerned about your eligibility to travel and be considering making a waiver application to support your visa petition.
US border officials have extensive discretionary powers to question travellers and refuse entry where they are not satisfied that travellers’ plans or intentions comply with immigration rules. This makes it vital for travelers to have the correct permission for the type of business activity they intend to carry out while in the US.
We take a brief look at some of the more common USA business travel visa options, but it’s important, given what is at stake professionally, to take advice on your circumstances.
Can I travel visa-free?
The Visa Waiver Program is available to citizens of VWP participating countries who meet specific eligibility criteria.
To travel under the VWP requires ESTA authorization to be granted before travel. This is a light-touch and lower-cost process compared with making a US visa application, making it more attractive to business travellers. However – there are strict restrictions on the type of activity that can be carried out while in the US under the VWP, and stay is limited to only 90 days. Travelling under VWP where your planned activities go beyond the permissible activities is not advisable and risks breaking US immigration rules and issues with future immigration applications for travel to the US.
Notable exclusions include:
- Business travellers staying in the US for more than 90 days
- All forms of paid employment from US-based sources
- Intra-company transfers
- Members of the foreign press
USA business visa options
If you’re ineligible to travel to the US visa-free, or if you want to stay in the US longer term for work or business, you will need to apply for a visa.
B1 business visa
The B-1 visa is the category for short term travel for business-related activities not involving gainful employment, where the VWP is not applicable.
The B-1 visa usually applies if you are a national of a country that does not participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) or you have been denied ESTA authorization to travel under the VWP. For example, if the visit is intended for a duration of between 90 days and six months, or the traveller has been refused ESTA due to a criminal conviction or if the traveller is a national of a country that is not participating in the VWP.
To be eligible, you will need to evidence in your application to the US consular that you meet the B-1 visa requirements. The B1 visa is highly discretionary, and any application should be well prepared with supporting documents to evidence to the consular officer that the requirements are met and avoid a visa denial.
Permissible activities under the B-1 business visa include:
- Attending conferences, meetings, trade shows, etc. in a non-functional (i.e. no work duties) capacity
- Attending expositions or trade shows as an employee of a foreign company
- Surveying potential sites for a new business or lease
- Taking orders for goods which must be produced outside the United States
- Negotiating contracts
- Consulting with clients or business associates
- Litigating or attending court
- Undertaking independent research
- Act as a lecturer or speaker
- Service engineer activities for a foreign company that sells to U.S. customers
- Participating in a training program that is not designed primarily to provide employment
- Personal/domestic servants accompanying citizens returning to the US who temporarily or permanently reside in the US
- Personal/domestic servants of holders of certain visa classifications
- Professional athletes receiving only tournament winnings and no salary, eg golfers, tennis players
Conversely, a number of activities are prohibited under the B-1 visa. For such reasons for visit, take advice on alternative immigration options open to you in your circumstances.
The B-1 visa cannot be used for the purpose of obtaining and engaging in employment within the US.
Other USA business visas
If your planned activity sits outside the VWP or the B-1 business visitor visa, take advice on alternative immigration routes, which could include:
If you are an employee of a non-US company looking to relocate to a US branch, subsidiary or affiliate on a temporary basis, the L-1 visa would be appropriate.
Business owners & investors
The E-2 visa is aimed at foreign entrepreneurs and investors looking to travel to the US to set up a business. Strict criteria apply to the nationality of the business owner(s), the amount of investment that must be made and projections around the future growth and profitability of the business, including job creation for US resident workers.
For nationals of E-1 treaty countries currently trading substantially with the US, the E-1 visa offers a temporary visa to come to the US to further that trade activity.
Members of the foreign press
Media professionals travelling on assignment should look at the I visa, taking advice on the eligibility of the type of content to be produced while in the US as this is a critical requirement of this category.
If you’re planning to travel to the US for business, you will want to ensure you have the correct permission to travel, to avoid issues at the border.
Traveling under ESTA carries restrictions on business-related activities, while B visa applications are scrutinized to ensure the traveler is a genuine visitor and will leave the USA by the end of their visa’s validity.
For visitors, this makes it imperative to ensure the most appropriate immigration route is selected and any immigration application is comprehensive and supported by extensive supporting documents to evidence eligibility and compliance with the relevant visa category rules.
NNU Immigration specialize in US business visas. We advise employers, business owners and travelling employees on their visa options and guide them through the petitioning process to maximize prospects. We have extensive experience across all types of business and market sectors, and can support you in meeting your US immigration needs. Contact us for advice on any aspect of USA business visa applications.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.