There are several types of Business Visitor classifications in the U.S. This article focuses on the B-1 visa, as well as visa waiver programs. There are also visas for entrepreneurs and investors.

What is the B-1 classification?

The B-1 is a nonimmigrant classification for temporary business visitors to the U.S. As opposed to workers in the U.S., B-1 visitors may enter the U.S. for the purpose of engaging in business but not for the purpose of being employed. Commercial or professional activities that are not employment are permitted under B-1 visitor status.

Examples of permissible commercial or professional activities include (but are not limited to):

  • Consulting with business associates;
  • Attending conventions or conferences;
  • Attending short-term training (as long as the visitor is not receiving any salary from a U.S. source or engaging in any productive employment);
  • Negotiating contracts;
  • Participating in business meetings;
  • Taking orders for foreign goods, or other commercial transactions that do not involve gainful U.S. employment;
  • Litigation; or
  • Independent research or professional artistic activities (e.g., recording music or creating artwork) that do not involve income from a U.S. source.

The range of acceptable business activities that fall under the B-1 classification is fact-specific and often depends on whether the activities constitute employment while in the U.S. Factors that influence whether activities constitute employment include whether the foreign national will be paid by a U.S. company or perform labor for hire in the U.S.

What are the general requirements for the B-1 classification?

Generally, the legal requirements that must be met to obtain a B-1 visa include:

  • The foreign national’s entry to the U.S. is for a limited and defined duration;
  • The foreign national intends to depart the U.S. at the expiration of his/her stay;
  • The foreign national has adequate financial resources for travel to and from the U.S. and for the stay in the U.S., without being employed in the U.S.; and
  • The foreign national will engage solely in legitimate activities relating to business, and has specific and realistic plans for his/her U.S. activities.

What is the process to obtain B-1 classification?

Foreign nationals outside the U.S. can obtain B-1 classification by applying for a B-1 Temporary Business Visitor visa through the U.S. Department of State (DOS) at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy. For more information regarding the consular application process, check out BAL’s explainer video, which describes the process for applying for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy.

After DOS issues the B-1 visa, the foreign national may seek admission to the U.S. in B-1 status. Chinese nationals who receive a 10-year B-1 visa must enroll in the Electronic Visa Update System (EVUS).

Foreign nationals inside the U.S. can apply for B-1 status by filing a Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Foreign nationals who already hold B-1 status in the U.S. can apply to extend their status by filing a Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) with USCIS.

What limits are there on the B-1 classification?

Foreign nationals may be admitted to the U.S. in B-1 status for a period of up to six months, and they may apply to extend their B-1 status in the U.S. in periods of up to six months. Due to the temporary nature of the classification, extensions are not generally permitted beyond one year.

B-1 classification is not for employment in the U.S. This means that foreign nationals in B-1 status generally cannot receive a salary or income from a U.S.-based company while in the U.S. Foreign nationals who will be in the U.S. to engage in commercial transactions, such as meeting with buyers and accepting orders, must produce the resulting goods or services outside the U.S.

Foreign nationals in B-1 status are not permitted to enroll in a course of study in the U.S.

What is the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens and nationals of countries participating in the program to travel to the U.S. for periods of up to 90 days without being required to obtain a visa. If entering the U.S. using the VWP, a foreign national will automatically be granted a stay of 90 days. In most cases, foreign nationals using the VWP are not eligible to apply for extensions of stay and must depart the U.S. within the 90-day period.

Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011, must obtain a B-1/B-2 visa prior to traveling to the U.S. Additionally, individuals who have traveled to Cuba on or after January 12, 2021, or are nationals of Cuba are not eligible for VWP and must obtain a B-1/B-2 visa to enter the U.S. Dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria must also obtain a B-1/B-2 visa.

What are the general requirements for the Visa Waiver Program?

To qualify for the VWP, a foreign national must meet the following requirements:

  • The purpose of travel must be permitted under the B-1 Temporary Business Visitor classification or the B-2 Tourism classification;
  • The foreign national must be a citizen or national of a VWP Designated Country (a list of currently designated countries is available on the U.S. Department of State’s website);
  • The foreign national must typically have a valid, machine-readable electronic passport with a digital chip and a digital photograph printed on the passport data page. The passport must remain valid for at least six months beyond the intended departure date from the U.S.; and
  • The foreign national must have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding transportation to the U.S.

What is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)?

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is a web-based system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risk.

All travelers under the VWP must submit a pre-clearance application online or through the ESTA mobile app. Each approved ESTA application is generally valid for a period of two years, such that a Visa Waiver Program visitor may travel to the U.S. repeatedly within the two-year period without being required to apply for another ESTA. Individuals must obtain a new ESTA approval if they receive a new passport or if their information changes.

ESTA is not a visa but rather a requirement for entry to the U.S. under the VWP. However, like a visa, an ESTA approval is not a guarantee of admission to the U.S. An ESTA approval authorizes an individual to board a carrier for travel to the U.S. under the VWP.

BAL can help!

Looking for expert immigration assistance for your personal or your employee’s upcoming business visits to the U.S.?  Contact us now for help with the application process, including support on how to prepare an invitation letter for business purposes.