The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) regulates the entry of aliens into the U.S. In the INA, there is a presumption (subject to certain exceptions) that any alien entering the U.S. intends to “immigrate” or remain in the U.S. In order to receive a visa authorizing entry into the U.S., aliens must overcome this presumption.
Categories of visas are designated by capital letters that correspond to sections in the INA. One section of the INA creates the “B” visa category for those visiting the United States temporarily for business or pleasure. This article focuses on the B-1 visa for business visitors.
Application for B-1 visas may be made in the U.S., although it is more commonly submitted through a U.S. embassy abroad prior to traveling to the U.S. It requires submission of forms, a passport and picture, fees, and back-up documentation. There may be additional requirements for nationals from certain countries. General requirements include:
- The visitor must have a residence in a foreign country and have no intention of abandoning such residence;
- Having sufficient funds to cover travel and expenses while in the U.S.;
- The visit must be temporary, with no intent to remain in the U.S.; and
- The visit is for business purposes.
Allowable “Business” Activities in the U.S.
Under current regulations, B-1 visa visitors may be admitted for “not more than one year, and may be granted extensions of temporary stay in increments of not more than six months each.” Religious workers and missionaries may be granted extensions of temporary stay in increments of up to twelve months each. The visa holder generally cannot engage in any “gainful” employment in the U.S.: the visa holder is not entitled to receive a salary from a U.S. employer. A salary paid by a foreign company for services rendered in the U.S. is allowable, as is an allowance for expenses and reimbursement by a U.S. company for expenses incidental to the visit.
The Department of State advises that the following are among acceptable B-1 activities:
- Engaging in market research or commercial transactions in the U.S., such as a merchant taking orders for goods manufactured abroad;
- Negotiating contracts;
- Consulting with business associates, such as board of directors meetings;
- Litigation related activities;
- Coming to install, service or repair commercial or industrial equipment purchased from abroad, or train U.S. workers in their use and repair;
- Supervising and training U.S. workers for building or construction work, although an alien may not actually perform such work;
- Participation in scientific, educational, professional or business conventions, conferences, or seminars; or
- Undertaking independent research.
NAFTA and Its Effect
Under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) among the U.S., Canada and Mexico, business visitors from these countries have more relaxed rules regarding allowable activities in the U.S. under a B-1 visa. An appendix to NAFTA lists such allowable activities.
Changing B-1 Status
Changing from B-1 status to another status is possible, but is not encouraged. Applying for such a change may raise doubts about the visa holder’s intention to remain temporarily in the U.S. at the time of application, especially if the application for change in status is filed soon after entry. If it is determined that the visa holder entered without the requisite intent to leave after a temporary stay, the visa holder may be accused of fraud and/or misrepresentation in entering the U.S., which can have dire consequences, including permanent denial of entry into the U.S.