B-1 "Business Visitor" status allows foreign nationals to come to the United States to engage in commercial transactions or meetings not involving gainful employment. The visa may be issued for one entry or multiple entries for a period of one month to five or ten years depending on, among other things, the reciprocity agreement the U.S. has with the applicant's home country. The longest that a person may be admitted into the U.S., however, is six months. Extensions may be sought from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) once in the United States.
To obtain a B-1 visa, the applicant must establish that he or she has a foreign residence that he or she has no intention of abandoning, is coming to the United States on a temporary basis and for a relatively short duration solely for the purpose of conducting business, and has adequate financial resources for purposes of the trip. B-1 status also requires that the applicant not receive any remuneration through a United States source other than a small per diem. Accordingly, when applying for a B-1 visa, applicants should always bring evidence of ties to their home country, such as records showing family relations (registry, birth records, marriage certificate, etc.), evidence of property owned in the home country, bank accounts, etc. The applicant should also bring a letter from his or her employer confirming that he or she is employed and paid outside of the United States and explaining with specificity the purpose and expected duration of the proposed trip to the United States.
The Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), USCIS regulations, and various agency policy memoranda establish guidelines for appropriate and inappropriate B-1 activities:
Activities which are generally found acceptable for B-1 status include:
- Attending conventions, meetings, seminars and conferences
- Participating in litigation (as a party, or as a witness)
- Negotiating contracts
- Engaging in commercial transactions
- Engaging in substantive business activities that benefit a foreign entity
- Undertaking independent research
- If a minister, engaging in evangelical tour or exchange pulpits
- Engaging in missionary work so long as the work does not involve selling of articles or solicitation or acceptance of donations, and the person will not receive remuneration from U.S. sources other than an allowance or reimbursement for expenses incidental to their stay in the U.S.
- Participating in certain voluntary service programs.
- Members of the Board of Directors of a U.S. Corporation may enter to attend Board meetings or perform other functions related to their position on the Board
- Acting as a personal/domestic employee where certain conditions are met and the employer is a foreign national working in the U.S. in an employment authorized status, or is a U.S. citizen employed abroad who is returning to the U.S. temporarily.
- Installing, servicing or repairing commercial or industrial equipment pursuant to a contract to sell goods with a company abroad where the contract calls for after-sale installation/service, the applicant is employed and remunerated by the company abroad that sold the goods.
Activities which are not acceptable for B-1 status include:
- Engaging in local work for hire
- Performing services as an independent consultant in the U.S.
- Looking for employment in the U.S.
The Department of State's Foreign Affairs Manual provides further detailed explanation on acceptable and unacceptable B-1 activities.
Visa Waiver Program
Not all foreign nationals are required to obtain a visa prior to entry into the U.S. as business visitors. Nationals of countries designated for participation in the Visa Waiver Program (formerly known as the "Visa Waiver Pilot Program") are allowed to enter the U.S. for business or tourist purposes for up to ninety days with a valid passport. A significant difference between entry on a B-1 visa and entry under the Visa Waiver Program is that persons who enter the U.S. under the Visa Waiver program may not extend or change status at a later date, and will be permanently barred from entering on the Waiver Program if their stay exceeds the 90 day limit, even by a single day. The list of participating visa waiver countries is subject change at any time. For an up-to-date list of participating countries, the reader is invited to visit the Department of State website at http://www.state.gov/travel/.
Use of the B-1 Visa in Lieu of H-1B or H-3
An employer may find itself in need of a foreign national for short-term work purposes where the foreign national normally be required to obtain an H-1B or H-3 visa, but the employer does not intend to source the foreign national for very long and the U.S. employer would not be paying for the foreign national's salary.
If the person will be retained on foreign payroll and receive no funds from any U.S. source (other than an expense allowance or reimbursement for expenses incidental to their temporary stay in the U.S.), it may be appropriate to seek a "B-1 in lieu of H-1B" or "B-1 in lieu of H-3" visa from the U.S. consulate. A person who holds a B-1 in lieu of H-1B or H-3 may not be paid in the U.S. In such cases, the person must prove to the satisfaction of the consular officer that the admission to the U.S. is to perform services for a U.S. entity under circumstances such that the person would clearly qualify for an H-1B visa (or is engaging in a training program at a U.S. site under circumstances such that the person would clearly qualify for an H-3 visa). It must also be established for the consular officer that the U.S. entity will not be offering a salary or any remuneration for the foreign nationals services (other than permissible expense account or expense reimbursement for the trip).
The applicant will still need to prove non-immigrant intent to the satisfaction of the consular officer before the B-1 in lieu of H-1B/H-3 visa will be issued. Length of authorized periods of stay upon admission are governed by the nature of the anticipated activities, and the admitting inspector will generally authorize periods from thirty to 180 days on the I-94 admission record.