Immigration issues for business travellers
When traveling to the U.S., business visitors should be aware that only a limited number of activities are allowed under a B-1 visa or related U.S. visa waiver programs. Before entering the U.S., travellers should be prepared for questions regarding the nature of their trip and itinerary.
When entering the United States as a business traveller under a B-1 visa or under a visa waiver program such as ESTA, individuals are limited to a small list of permitted business activities, which include attending meetings, conferences, or hands-on trainings, negotiating contracts and consulting with business associates.
If the purpose of the trip is to open a new business, you are allowed to hire the necessary financial, legal, tax, and human resources professionals to get the business off the ground and consult with business partners and other service providers. However, you are not personally allowed to perform any of the services these professionals would render.
If you are traveling to the U.S. on a work trip, you first and foremost cannot earn any income from a U.S.-based source during your temporary stay. However, per diems and reimbursement for travel costs are allowed. Additionally, any hands-on work or training would require a U.S. non-immigrant visa, so you should always ensure that the purpose of the trip is to listen, talk and observe. To that end, it is usually helpful to have a letter from your employer that includes your name and title, the purpose of the trip, your itinerary, and a statement declaring that you will remain on a foreign payroll.
With regards to timelines, if you are entering the U.S. under a visa waiver program, which is approved online for foreign nationals from qualifying countries, you are allowed to stay in the U.S. for up to 90 days. If you are entering the U.S. under a B1/B2 visa, approved directly at a U.S. consulate abroad, you are allowed to stay in the U.S. for up to six months. To determine how long you may stay in the U.S., you must check the expiration date of your I-94, which is issued upon your arrival (to find your latest Form I-94, visit the I-94 website).
Because these visas are temporary, long stays in the U.S. (90 days or more) without express justification are generally discouraged. You should also be aware that staying in the U.S. for more than 90 days could trigger U.S. tax fillings.
Denial of entry at the U.S. border can cause significant issues if you wish to enter the U.S. at a later date or apply for another visa category. Should you have any questions regarding whether certain business activities are appropriate under the business visitor category or need assistance drafting a letter from your employer to ensure that the correct information is included, you should always consult an immigration professional for advice.