US B1 and B2 visitor visas

Business travelers may enter the United States using a B1, or 'Visitor for Business' Visa. In practice these visas are invariably issued as jointly with B2, or 'Visitor for Pleasure' (i.e. Tourist) visa. This practice means that, if a candidate has an old US tourist visa, it may be valid for a planned business trip. For those who come under the visa-waiver scheme, details of which are provided below, there is usually no need to apply for a US visitor visa at all if the candidate wishes to visit the US for three months or less.

  • Conduct Negotiations
  • Solicit sales or investment
  • Discuss planned investment or purchases
  • Make investments or purchases
  • Attend Meetings, and participate in them fully
  • Interview and hire staff
  • Conduct research

The following activities require a US work visa, and may not be carried out by business visitors:

  • Running a business
  • Gainful employment
  • Payment by an organization within the US.
  • Participating as a professional in entertainment or sporting events.

Obviously there is a considerable 'gray area' in between what definitely is allowed and what definitely isn't. It is advisable to err on the side of caution when bringing overseas persons into the USA on business visitor visas. However, in certain strictly limited cases, paid employment may be possible using a 'B1 in lieu of H1-B'.

Those entering on US visitor visas will generally be granted 6 months permission to be in the country (the maximum allowable is one year) on entry. It may be possible to obtain a six-month extension to the visit visa as long as the candidate will be maintaining visitor status, and there are good reasons to do so. It is sometimes possible to change status to another longer-term visa whilst in the US as a visitor, as long as the candidate advised the relevant US Embassy or Consulate of this possibility beforehand, or there was no pre-conceived intent to do so.

N.B. US visitor visas should generally be applied for in a country of which the candidate is a Citizen or permanent resident. Applications made in other countries often run a high risk of being turned down. The most common reason for refusal of B1/B2 visas is the applicant showing insufficient evidence of social, family or economic ties to his/her country of residence that would ensure that s/he would return there following the visit to the USA.

The Visa Waiver Pilot Programme

The Visa Waiver Pilot Programme: As long as they are travelling on a participating airline (i.e. most scheduled airlines from participating countries), and hold a return or onward ticket to a country other than Canada, Citizens of the following countries do not need a visa for visits to the US of up to 90 days:

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Uruguay.

Those present in the US under the visa waiver scheme are subject to basically the same conditions as those on a B1/B2 visa, except that it is not usually possible to extend the visa while in the US or change to another visa.

NB: Visitors on private aircraft will generally require a B1/B2 visa.

The B1 in lieu of an H-1B

In certain, limited circumstances the US Consulate may issue an employment - authorized B1 visa where the work to be undertaken would usually require an H1B visa. This provision is particularly applicable to situations where you may need to send a member of staff to the US for a limited period in order to undertake specific projects for you. The requirements for acquiring a B1 in lieu of H-1B are:

  • The work to be undertaken in the US must be H-1B level – i.e. the worker must be engaged in a 'speciality occupation';
  • The worker must permanently employed (i.e. not a contractor) and paid by the employer outside the US;
  • The worker may receive no compensation other than expenses from a US source;
  • The worker must have a degree relevant to the services to be provided– there is no provision for work experience to be considered equivalent to a degree, as there is under the H-1B.

The B1 in lieu of H-1B visa generally takes 1 to 2 weeks to obtain, and considerably more supporting documentation is required than for a normal B1 visa. Periods of admission and extension are the same as for the standard B1 visa (i.e. generally 6 months).

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