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Yes you can! Activities permitted for business visitors and tourists in the U.S.

February 13, 2015
Beata Leja

Are you planning a visit to the U.S. and wondering whether you need a tourist or business visitor visa? Need to know what you can or can’t do while traveling in the U.S. on your visa? We have the answers.

Foreign nationals wishing to visit the United States may enter the country using a B-1 business visitor visa or a B-2 tourist visa, which permits entries to the U.S. for up to six months at a time. Additionally, Canadian citizens and citizens of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries may enter the U.S. without a visa for up to 90 days at a time. Individuals coming to the U.S. in such business visitor and/or tourist status are prohibited from engaging in a variety of activities, and clients frequently ask us about what they can and cannot do while in the U.S. in such status.

What’s prohibited? Generally, business visitors and tourists CANNOT:

  • Engage in gainful hands-on employment in the U.S., meaning they cannot:
    • Manage and/or operate a business in the U.S.; or
    • Be paid by a U.S. entity for activities performed in the U.S. for benefit of U.S. entity.
  • Enroll in a course of study at a U.S. institution.

What’s permitted? Generally, business visitors CAN:

  • Engage in certain business activities that are related to their employment abroad, but that do not amount to gainful hands-on employment in the U.S., such as:
    • Take orders for goods manufactured abroad;
    • Negotiate contracts;
    • Consult with clients and/or business associates;
    • Participate in litigation;
    • Undertake independent research;
    • Solicit sales or investments for business;
    • Discuss planned investments or purchases;
    • Make investments or purchases;
    • Attend and participate in business meetings;
    • Observe the conduct of business and/or attend training that does not involve hands-on activity;
    • Overseeing the installation of a product in the U.S. pursuant to an agreement;
    • Take other preliminary steps to start a business in the U.S. (ex. meeting with attorneys, purchasing/leasing office space, incorporating business, establishing bank accounts, etc.)
  • Participate in scientific, educational, professional, religious, or business conventions, conferences and/or seminars;
  • Serve as a personal/domestic servant accompanying a U.S. citizen who resided abroad and is temporarily returning to the U.S. on assignment;
  • Serve as a personal/domestic servant of a B, E, F, H, I, J, L, O, P, Q, R, or TN visa holder;
  • Engage in athletic competitions, where not receiving a salary but only tournament winnings; and
  • Participate in voluntary service programs conducted by recognized religious organizations or nonprofit organizations.

And generally, tourists CAN:

  • Visit family and/or friends in the U.S.;
  • Receive medical treatment in the U.S.;
  • Attend social events, such as weddings, conventions, conferences, etc.;
  • Join spouse/parent member of foreign military in the U.S. on temporary assignment;
  • Participate in activities as amateur (unpaid) entertainer/athlete (ex. talent shows, competitions, etc.);
  • Come to the U.S. to meet girlfriend/boyfriend’s family, get engaged, make arrangements for a wedding, as long as they intend to depart the U.S. shortly after;
  • Come to the U.S. to marry a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, as long as they intend to depart the U.S. shortly after the marriage and will not file for an adjustment of status (i.e. green card) while in the U.S.;
  • Come to the U.S. temporarily to join a cohabitating partner in another visa category (ex. F, H, L, O, TN) or even a U.S. citizen who works overseas but is traveling to the U.S. temporarily;
  • Visit universities, attend university interviews, and participate in exams necessary to attend U.S. universities (ex. GMAT, GRE, LSAT).

This list is not exhaustive, and there is considerable gray area in what is and isn’t permitted in business visitor and tourist status in the U.S. Furthermore, B-1 and B-2 visas and statuses are interchangeable and often issued jointly. This means that an individual may initially apply for a B-2 visa based on a planned trip to visit family in the U.S., but may later use the same visa to attend business meetings in the U.S. as a B-1 business visitor. Likewise, an individual may engage in any combination of activities that are permitted for such status on one trip, meaning that a business visitor may come to the U.S. to negotiate contracts with clients, but may visit Disneyland at the end of the same trip.

If you have questions regarding what you can and can’t do while in the U.S. pursuant to B-1/B-2, Visa Waiver Program, or a Canadian passport, please contact an attorney at Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C.

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