The B-1 visa or combined B-1/B-2 visa is for nonimmigrants who seek to enter the U.S. temporarily for business reasons and tourism. To get the visa or gain entry to the U.S. on this visa, you need to show you will participate in only permitted activities.
WHICH ACTIVITIES ARE ALLOWED ON THE B-1 VISA?
Examples of temporary business-related activities you may conduct are described below. This list is not exhaustive, but is specified in the Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual and other official guidance as appropriate reasons for a B-1 visa issuance.
Visitors Traveling to the U.S. to Participate in Business Activities of a Commercial Nature
You may use the B-1 visitor visa to:
Consult with business associates and attend business meetings. Except – You may not work for or receive income from a U.S. based company. Working for a foreign company while you are in the U.S. on a visitor visa can also cause problems.
Engage in commercial transactions/sales, such as providing exhibitions, taking orders, negotiating, and signing contracts for products that are made outside the U.S. Except – The activities must not involve gainful employment or performance of work in the U.S. and must not result in compensation.
Seek business investment, including to survey potential sites for a business and/or to lease a premises in the U.S. Except – You may not remain in the U.S. to actively manage the business or perform work for the business.
Attend a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention, conference, meeting, trade show or event on specific dates. Except – You may not work for or receive income from a U.S. based company.
Litigate, including to participate in a lawsuit, take a claim to a court of law, or settle an estate. Except – You may not work or receive income from a U.S. based company, although you may receive monetary awards based on a court order.
Serve as an exposition or trade show (non-government) employee of a foreign exhibitor at an international fair. Except – You may not work for or receive income from a U.S. based company.
Install, service or repair commercial or industrial equipment or machinery sold and manufactured by a non-U.S. company to a U.S. buyer, when required by the purchase contract. Except – Installation cannot include construction work, except for training or supervision of U.S. workers to do construction, and you may not receive compensation from a U.S. source.
Complete short-term training. Except – The training program should not be designed primarily to provide employment. You may not receive payment or income from a U.S. based company, other than an expense allowance or expense reimbursement related to your temporary stay.
Do independent research. Except – You may not receive any salary or income from a U.S. based source or provide benefit to a U.S. institution.
Visitors Traveling to the U.S. to Pursue Employment Incidental to their Professional Activities
You may also use the B-1 visa in the following situations:
Ministers of Religion and Missionaries
Ministers of religion may receive B-1 visas to participate in an evangelical tour, so long as they do not accept appointment with any one church and will be supported by contributions at each evangelical meeting. B-1 visas are also granted to ministers of religion temporarily exchanging pulpits with U.S. counterparts, provided they are reimbursed by the foreign church and will receive no pay from the host church in the U.S.
B-1 visas are issued to members of religious denominations, whether ordained or not, entering the U.S. solely to temporarily perform missionary work for a denomination, as long as they do not sell articles or solicit or accept donations and will receive no pay from U.S. sources other than an allowance or reimbursement for incidental expenses. “Missionary work” includes religious instruction, aid to the elderly or needy, and proselytizing, but not ordinary administrative work or ordinary labor for hire.
Participants in Voluntary Service Programs
You may use the B-1 to participate in a voluntary service program benefiting U.S. local communities. A “voluntary service program” is a project run by a recognized religious or nonprofit charitable organization to assist the poor or the needy or to further a religious or charitable cause. You must be a committed member of the organization.
Activities may include attending meetings, speaking at a conference, or assisting with an event. But you may not use the B-1 to circumvent the R-1 (nonimmigrant religious worker) visa process and live in the U.S. or work for a religious or non-profit charitable organization.
No pay must be received from a U.S. source, other than an allowance or reimbursement for incidental expenses.
Members of Board of Directors of U.S. Corporation
Foreign national directors of a U.S. corporation may travel to the U.S. on a B-1 visa to attend Board of Directors meetings or perform other duties related to board membership.
Professional athletes, such as golfers and auto racers, may use the B-1 visa to participate in a tournament or sporting event and receive prize money, but cannot receive salary or any other payment.
The B-1 visa is also issued to athletes or team members who seek to enter the U.S. as members of a foreign-based team to compete with another sports team, provided the foreign athlete and the foreign sports team have their principal place of business or activity in a foreign country; the income of the foreign-based team and the salary of its players are mainly earned in a foreign country; and the foreign-based team is a member of an international sports league or the sporting activities involved have an international dimension.
Amateur hockey players who seek to enter the U.S. for brief try-outs to join a professional team during the regular professional season or playoffs may also receive a B-1 visa. There must be an agreement with a National Hockey League (NHL)-parent team to provide only for incidental expenses such as round-trip fare, hotel room, meals, and transportation. They cannot use the B-1 to stay and play on the U.S. team.
Investor Seeking Investment in United States (UPDATE, 12/28/2017)
You may be issued a B visa if you are seeking investment in the United States, including an investment that would qualify you for an E-2 nonimmigrant investor visa or EB-5 immigrant visa. You may use the B-1 visa to observe and monitor potential qualifying investments, as long as you otherwise qualify for the visa, e.g. do not plan to enter the U.S. to pursue permanent resident status. Like all B-1/B-2 visitors, you may not perform productive labor or actively participate in managing the business while you are in the U.S. in B status.
You may travel to the U.S. on a B-1 visa to perform services for a foreign-based employer as a jockey, sulky driver, trainer, or groomer.
Certain Other Business Activities That Are Allowed on B-1
You may receive a B-1 visa to pursue certain other business activities. Examples are:
Commercial or Industrial Workers (UPDATE, 05/13/2019)
You may use a B-1 visa to install, service, or repair commercial or industrial equipment or machinery purchased from a company outside the United States or to train U.S. workers to perform such services.
The contract of sale must specifically require the seller to provide these services or training and the visa applicant must have unique knowledge that is essential to the seller’s contractual obligation to perform the services or training. The visa applicant must receive no compensation from a U.S. source.
You are not allowed to perform building or construction work, whether on-site or in-plant. The exception is for supervising or training other workers engaged in building or construction work. But you may perform such building or construction work.
Foreign Airline Employees (UPDATE, 05-16-2016)
Foreign airline employees may use the B-1 visa if they:
- seek to enter the United States to work for a foreign airline that is engaged in international transportation of passengers and freight;
- work in an executive, supervisory, or highly technical capacity; and
- otherwise meet the requirements for E visa classification but are unable to get E-1 classification solely because there is no treaty between the United States and the country of their nationality, or because they are not nationals of the airline’s country of nationality.
Foreign airlines employees who travel to the U.S. to join an aircraft for an onward international flight may also be documented as B-1 visitors. In this situation, they are not transiting the United States and are not admissible as crewmen. Work on purely domestic flights within the United States is not allowed in B-1 status.
Clerkship (UPDATE, 08-30-2019)
Normally, applicants who seek to obtain hands-on clerkship experience do not qualify for B-1 visa classification. The exceptions that allow B-1 classification are:
- Medical Clerkship: Students at a foreign medical school who seek to enter the U.S. to take an “elective clerkship” at a U.S. medical school’s hospital without remuneration from the hospital. The medical clerkship is only for medical students pursuing their normal third or fourth year internship in a U.S. medical school as part of a foreign medical school degree. (An “elective clerkship” provides practical experience and instructions in the disciplines of medicine and is supervised by faculty physicians at a U.S. medical school’s hospital as an approved part of the foreign medical school education. It does not apply to graduate medical training, which is restricted by INA 212(e) and normally requires a J-visa.)
- Business or Other Professional or Vocational Activities: Persons who seek to only observe the conduct of business or other professional or vocational activity, they pay for their own expenses. Persons who wish to get practical experience through on-the-job training or clerkships must instead get an H, L or J visa.
Participants in International Competitions
A professional entertainer may use the B-1 to come to the U.S. to participate in a competition for which there is no remuneration other than a prize (monetary or otherwise) and reimbursement of incidental expenses.
B-2 IS DIFFERENT FROM B-1
The B-1 is under the same B-visa classification as the B-2 visa (for tourism and temporary visits), but is less restrictive. You may participate in tourist activities on a B-1 visa or a combined B-1/B-2 visa, but may not engage in temporary business activities while on a B-2 visa only.
B-1 DOES NOT AUTHORIZE EMPLOYMENT IN THE U.S.
The B-1 visa allows you to engage in business activities other than perform skilled or unskilled labor. A B-1 issuance does not permit you to obtain and engage in employment while in the U.S.
A U.S. customs officer lawfully admits you to the U.S. to participate in legitimate B-1/B-2 visitor activities, and the U.S. consular officer issues the visa for legitimate B-1/B-2 purposes. Therefore, U.S. immigration problems may occur if you perform activities that are not entirely consistent with the terms and conditions of the visa.
Remote Work or Working for a Foreign Employer
Whether remote work for a foreign employer on U.S. soil is allowed on a visitor visa does not have a clear-cut answer. During a business trip or vacation, for example, you might need to check in with your boss or team overseas. This is a grey area where it’s better to err on the side of caution.
Even if you are a freelancer, independent contractor or employee of a foreign employer, and the income source is outside the United States, you might still face U.S. immigration issues if you perform work during your B-1/B-2 visit. This is especially problematic if some clients or customers are in the U.S. or you get paid while you’re physically in the U.S.
U.S. tax law states that income from services performed for a foreign employer by someone present in the United States is deemed to be U.S. income — unless ALL THREE of the following conditions are met:
- You perform personal services as an employee of or under a contract with a nonresident alien individual, foreign partnership, or foreign corporation not engaged in a trade or business in the United States; or you work for an office or place of business maintained in a foreign country or possession of the United States by a U.S. corporation, U.S. partnership, or U.S. citizen or resident.
- You perform these services while you are a nonresident alien temporarily present in the United States for a period or periods of not more than a total of 90 days during the tax year.
- Your pay for these services is not more than $3,000.
Chapter 3 of IRS Publication 519, US Tax Guide for Aliens, states that if you do not meet all three conditions, your income from personal services performed in the United States is U.S. source income and is taxable in the U.S.
The B-1/B-2 visa does not permit you to have U.S. income. Although some lawyers argue tax law is independent from immigration law, a U.S. immigration officer might find that you violated your visitor status simply because you worked on U.S. soil.
The B-1 visa and status allow you to negotiate contracts, attend business meeting and make deals to perform the work outside the United States, but not to actually do the work during your visit. The B-2 visa and status permits you to engage in tourism and recreational visits only, with very limited exceptions in special circumstances.
Exception: Personal/domestic employees of U.S. citizens living abroad, U.S. citizens on temporary assignment in the U.S., foreign nationals in nonimmigrant status, and lawful permanent residents may receive the B-1 visa to enter the U.S. and perform work as a personal/domestic employee in the employer’s household. Specific requirements must be met for them to actually get the B-1 visa for this purpose. In addition, they need to apply for and receive an employment authorization card after entering the U.S. on a B-1 visa.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR THE B-1 VISA?
Temporary visitors must meet the following eligibility requirements:
1. Maintain a residence in a foreign country, which you do not intend to abandon
Under U.S. immigration law, the term “residence” is defined as the place of general abode, i.e. your principal, actual dwelling place in fact, without regard to intent. You must show strong ties to your country, including family connections, property ownership, investments, and steady employment.
2. Intend to stay in the U.S. for a specific, limited period
The period of stay must be limited and not indefinite in nature. The expected length of stay must match the stated purpose of the trip. You must show with reasonable certainty that you will leave the U.S. upon completing your visit, prior to expiration of the authorized stay.
3. Seek entry solely to engage in legitimate activities permitted by the visa
You must be coming to the U.S. only to complete activities that are allowed by your visa classification. U.S. consular officers will deny the visa and U.S. customs officers will deny your entry if they have reason to believe or know that, while in the U.S. as a visitor, you will engage in unlawful or criminal activities.
You must have the funds and make arrangements to cover the cost of the trip and your stay in the U.S. Otherwise, the U.S. consular officer or customs officer could find that you will work in the U.S. without authorization to defray expenses. Even if you have a valid visa, the customs officer may question you extensively about your travel plans to determine whether to admit you to the U.S. You may even be issued an expedited removal order at the U.S. port of entry if the customs officer determines you have previously violated your B-visa status or intend to do so.
4. Have no immigration violations or criminal offenses that make you inadmissible, or otherwise qualify for an inadmissibility waiver
You will not receive the visa or be admitted if you are barred from entering the U.S. due to immigration violations or criminal offenses that make you inadmissible under U.S. immigration law. These include the 3/10 year bar due to accrual of unlawful presence of more than 180 days during a prior stay; conviction for a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (e.g. theft or fraud) that does not qualify for the petty offense or youthful offender exception; and willful misrepresentation of material facts to gain entry into the U.S.
When you are inadmissible, but are otherwise visa eligible, you may file a 212(d)(3) nonimmigrant waiver to be excused from almost all inadmissibility grounds. A separate I-212 waiver (Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States After Deportation or Removal) is needed if you are barred due to a prior removal order or illegal (or attempted illegal) reentry into the U.S.
WORK WITH AN IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY
Failure to overcome the presumption of immigrant intent and show strong ties abroad is one of the top reasons for a visa refusal or denial. Inadmissibility grounds can also prevent a visa grant or your entry into the U.S.
Consult an experienced immigration attorney to assess your visa eligibility, advise you on the forms and documents to submit, and assist you with the application process to get the B-1 or combined B-1/B-2 visa.
For more information, read our related articles, B-1 Visitor Visa: Traveling to the U.S. for Work as a Personal/Domestic Employee and B-2 Visitor Visa: Traveling to the U.S. for Tourism or a Temporary Visit.
Keep in mind that entering the U.S. too frequently for extended visits on a B-1 or combined B-1/B-2 visitor visa may lead to problems at the U.S. port of entry. See Birth Tourism, Frequent/Extended Trips, Immigration Status Change: 3 Things That Often Prevent Entry to the U.S. (even though they are not strictly prohibited).
This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.
Photo by: Laura Hoffman