Visa Requirements for Business Travelers

In today’s global economy, people from all over the world visit the United States for business reasons. However, although the United States has a policy of allowing the free movement of people into the U.S. for cultural, social and economic reasons, at the same time it has to protect its labor force from those who enter the country to perform labor or seek employment.

Because of these two interests, U.S. consular officials carefully screen visa applications. With the exception of those in visa categories that allow “dual intent” such as H-1B and L-1 visas, nonimmigrant visa applicants are automatically seen as intending to settle permanently in the U.S. To be eligible for a B-1 visa, even business visitors must overcome the presumption of immigrant intent.

There are three basic requirements for a B-1 visa. First, the applicant must give proof of an unabandoned foreign residence. This refers to the principal actual dwelling place of the applicant. It is the principal place of abode to which he/she will return at the end of the temporary visit to the U.S.

Second, the entry must be for a temporary period only, meaning, that the stay is for a limited time and not indefinite. To prove this, the applicant must give evidence of specific plans for the visit, adequate financial resources, and sufficient business and family ties to his/her home country which would be a strong inducement to leave the U.S. at the end of the visit.

Third, the purpose of the visit must be to engage in permitted business activities. The applicant must be visiting for business and not for the purpose of local employment or labor for hire.

Sometimes, it is hard to distinguish between a permissible business activity and impermissible labor or employment. In such a case, the consular official must look at whether the principal place of business and the actual place where profits accrue are in the foreign country and not in the U.S.

The consular official may also use the old three-prong test which asks, first, whether the individual would be compensated from a U.S. source. The B-1 nonimmigrant may receive an expense allowance or reimbursement from a U.S. source, but he/she may not receive a salary or remuneration from U.S. sources in connection with activities in the U.S.

The second prong pertains to the nature of the services performed. Attendance at business meetings is allowed, but services, even if uncompensated, for which a U.S. worker would have to be hired, or those services inherently part of the labor market are not and could disqualify the applicant from the visa.

The third prong requires the officer to determine who benefits the most from the visitor’s services in the U.S. If it’s a U.S. entity that will benefit the most, chances are the visitor will be denied a B-1 visa. On the other hand, if the foreign national or foreign employer primarily benefits from the services, the visitor may be eligible for a B-1 visa.

Examples of business activities that are allowed under a B-1 visa are the following: engaging in commercial transactions; negotiating contracts; litigating; participating in a convention, conference or seminar; and undertaking independent research.