Let me paint you a picture: You’ve been sitting on an airplane for 10 hours, reviewing that presentation for the umpteenth time, and praying that the client will engage your company because of its award winning technology (but mostly because of your outstanding power point skills). Within minutes of deplaning, you find yourself stuttering before an immigration officer when asked: “What is the purpose of your visit to the United States?”

In an increasingly unpredictable U.S. immigration climate, foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States for business on a B-1 visa, or under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), have recently become the subject of heightened scrutiny.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

I’ve heard it from companies time and time again: “We’re just sending him over for a short business trip”. Come on folks, your CEO has been to the U.S. FOUR TIMES over the past month and is practically living at your U.S. subsidiary office.

While in reality, the CEO may not be performing any type of “hands on” work, the frequency of his visits to the U.S. may eventually raise suspicions.

So what can happen to the CEO upon arrival if an eyebrow is raised?

  • Secondary inspection interrogation.
  • A strong warning not to return to the U.S. without a work visa. 
  • Denial of admission.

Prevent Defense

The decision to admit you to the United States rests solely upon the discretion of the immigration officer. However, it may be helpful to consider the following in advance of your next business trip:

  1. What are you planning to do while in the U.S.? Work of any kind (skilled or unskilled, paid or unpaid) is prohibited on a B-1 visa and under the VWP, regardless of the duration of the trip. Attending meetings and conferences are examples of permissible activities.
  2. How often do you travel to the U.S.? The assumption that you are entering the U.S. for work purposes rises with the frequency of your visits. If are a frequent business traveler, consider applying for a temporary work visa (this does not necessarily have to involve relocation).
  3. Who, what, when, where: You should be able to clearly articulate the purpose of your travel to the U.S. and the general details of your business itinerary.
  4. Come prepared. Have your HR manager prepare a short letter describing the nature of your planned business activities in the U.S. This can be presented to the immigration officer if further information regarding the purpose of your visit is required.
  5. Ask your U.S. business contact to be “on call”. It is not unusual for immigration officers to ask to speak to someone in the U.S. who can verify the purpose of your visit.

Bottom Line

B-1 legal regulations are vague and ambiguous. It is often difficult to determine which activities are permissible and which are considered a violation of status. When in doubt – consult with immigration counsel. Knowing is half the battle.