US Travel Visa for Work or Business

Travelling to the US for work or business, whether to start a new job, transfer to a US branch or to invest in an existing US company, you will need to ensure you have in place the relevant US visa and permission to carry out your intended activity.

The current US climate is challenging for visa applicants, but with a stringent approach to the application process, and ensuring a robust submission is made to the US Consular, visas continue to be issued, allowing individuals to pursue career and business opportunities.

US travel visa options for short-term trips

ESTA – visa-free travel

It may be possible to travel to the US without the need to secure a visa, provided you meet the following requirements:

  • You are the national of a Visa Waiver country with a valid e-passport from this country
  • You will be staying in the US for no longer than 90 days
  • Your reason for travel qualifies as business-related
  • You have valid ESTA authorization

Specific exclusions will apply and may require you to take advice on alternative entry options such as applying for a visa. For example:

  • You cannot undertake paid employment during your stay; the activity can only be business-related, such as attending a business meeting or looking at potential new business premises.
  • Nationals of countries who are not part of the visa waiver program will be required to apply for the relevant visa.
  • If you wish to stay for longer than 90 days, travel under the VWP would not be permitted.
  • If you are not eligible for ESTA or you have had your ESTA application denied, perhaps due to a prior conviction, you will need to seek permission to travel to the US under the relevant visa and potentially also a waiver of inadmissibility to address the reason for non-admittance.

US travel visa options for temporary work & business

B1 Tourist Visa

Where travellers are not VWP eligible, or if the length of stay will exceed the 90 day VWP limit, the B1 visa for business travel may be the appropriate option.

Other circumstances include where the individual cannot enter the United States as a result of a criminal conviction, a violation of US immigration law or an entry denial.

The B-1 visa for business travellers allows a stay of up to 6 months, with the potential to apply to extend this for a further 6 months.

Restrictions apply to the qualifying activity permissible under the B-1 visa. Examples of permissible activities could include:

  • Negotiate a contract
  • Consult with business associates
  • Travel for a scientific, educational, professional or business convention or conference on specific dates

The rules are clear however that the B1 visa cannot be used for the purposes of carrying out actual labor work or gainful employment. Temporary workers, crewmen, journalists, students and others intending to travel for activities non-permissible under the B visa category must apply for the appropriate visa.

More about the B-1 visa >

L1 for intra-company transfers

If you have been an employee of a multinational company for more than 12 months, you may be able to apply to transfer to a newly-established or existing US branch, affiliate or subsidiary office under the L1 visa.

The company can be a US company or a foreign company.

L1 visas are not however open to all employees. The applicant must satisfy that they operate either at executive or managerial level (L1-A visa) or in a specialized knowledge role (L1-B visa) within the organisation. A strong application will be required to evidence eligibility and pre-empt adjudicator objections.

The first step in the application will be for the employer to file a visa petition with USCIS on behalf of the employee. Companies with a need for multiple L1 employees can file a ‘Blanket L’ petition with USCIS to streamline the petitioning process.

More about the L-1 visa >

H1B visa

The H1-B visa is aimed at workers in highly specialized roles, who possess a minimum bachelors’ degree as required by the work in question. The employer must sponsor the worker.

This makes the H1-B visa highly unpredictable for employees and companies alike.

This route is however subject to an annual cap – 65,000 per fiscal year, with an additional allocation of H1B status to 20,000 foreign nationals per fiscal year with a US master’s degree or higher.

Applications for cap-subject petitions are accepted during the H1-B visa window at the start of April, and closes as soon as the cap has been reached. A lottery system is then used to select those applications that will be processed. Successful applicants’ H1-B status will begin October 1st that year.

Exemptions do apply and it is recommended to take advice to ensure you are pursuing the appropriate route.

More about the H-1B visa >

E visa

E visas are available to individuals looking to do business in the USA on a temporary basis.

The E-2 visa is aimed at entrepreneurs and investors, to either start up a US based company or to invest in an existing US enterprise. Certain visa conditions apply, including making a ‘substantial’ level of investment and creation of a minimum of 2 full time roles for US resident workers.

The E-1 visa is for nationals of Treaty trader countries who are carrying out significant amount of trade with the US. The trade activity will be assessed to ensure it meets the visa criteria.

O visas

The O visa is open to individuals who can demonstrate world-class ability and status within their professional field of either science, education, business, or athletics or the arts.

To be eligible, you must demonstrate you have work lined up in the US in your field of extraordinary ability. Prospective employment in the US is not permitted.

More about O visas >

I visa

The I visa specifically permits media professionals to come to the US for the purpose of generating content and material.

If working on a media project in the US, you will need to apply for permission to do so. This includes journalists, bloggers, broadcasters, news photographers, production crew and other media professionals working on a contracted/freelance or employed basis for US or foreign companies – media agencies, publishing houses, production studios.

VWP or B visas do not permit media-related activity. ‘Chancing it’ at the border could result in you being refused entry, which will impact future US visa applications.

As well as looking at the applicant eligibility, the nature of the content to be produced will also be assessed and must meet strict criteria to qualify under the I visa route. Content that is newsworthy and instructional for example will be eligible, whereas reality television productions would not.

While the above is a brief summary of some of the US travel visa options available, it is recommended to take advice on your specific circumstances and needs to ensure you proceed with the correct route.

Do you have a query about a US visa? Book a fixed fee telephone consultation with a US immigration attorney >>

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.