US visas for business immigration
By Davidson Morris, Solicitors
The US remains a popular destination for business immigration.
Any foreign individual (ie non-citizen of the US, Canada and Bermuda) seeking to enter the US for business or work-related purposes must first apply for a visa.
This is provided the individual is not covered by the US ‘Visa Waiver Program’.
What is the Visa Waiver Program?
The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of specified countries to visit the US for up to 90 days without a visitor visa, provided they meet certain requirements.
Eligible countries include:
United Kingdom, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Taiwan.
In addition to having status as a national of one of the specified countries, applicants must also not otherwise be ineligible for a US visa, for example due to a criminal record.
Applicants must also hold a valid e-passport.
The Visa Waiver Program cannot be used if the purpose of travel is for study, self-employment, foreign journalism or settlement.
Where non-US citizens are not eligible under the VWP, they must apply for an appropriate US visa.
Which US visa?
US visas are issued by the US Embassy or Consulate. They entitle holders to travel to the US.
Importantly, a visa does not guarantee entry to the US. Holders remain subject to immigration control checks, exercised by immigration officials at the port of entry who will confirm or refuse admission to the country.
Each visa category carries specific eligibility criteria and application requirements.
The purpose of the intended travel and other facts will determine what type of visa category is required.
As part of the visa application process, applicants will need to establish that they meet all requirements under the specific category of visa.
Individual eligibility and capacity to meet each visa requirements will be scrutinised as part of the visa application process.
It is important therefore to select the most appropriate visa for each individual circumstances to avoid application delays, lost fees costs and potential application refusal.
Some of the more common US visa types for business purposes include:
The B1 visa allows holders to carry out business-related activity within the US during a time-limited visit.
The E-1 treaty trader visa allows foreign nationals of a ‘treaty nation’ to enter the US to engage in international trade in the US for a US organisation where more than 50 per cent of the business is trade between the US and your home country.
The E2 visa permits individuals from 80 specified treaty countries to invest in or set up a business in the US. Applicants are required to intend to make significant investment, equating to at least 50% ownership, in a US business.
- Short-term employee transfer – L1 visa
L 1 visas are available to employees of an international company with offices in both the United States and abroad. The visa allows such foreign workers to relocate to the organisation’s US office to deliver expansion, such as opening a new office.
The most popular route to work in the US, the H1B visa allows US companies to employ workers in occupations that require specialist skills and expertise in specific fields. Importantly it must be the employer that applies for the H1B visa.
The B2 visa allows foreign nationals temporary entry to the US for tourism and pleasure related activity.
Each category has restrictions, exceptions and nuances. For example, the visa category will determine length of visit, if and how dependants may be brought with the main visa holder, as well as other factors, conditions and restrictions relating to the visit.
Tips for US business visa applications
Visa applications should be made as far in advance as possible.
Consider the specific circumstances of the visit and the individual applicant.
- Get the application right
US visa application processes are stringent.
Avoid errors, omissions and oversights as these can result in delays, lost fees and even refusals. Applications must be completed fully and accurately and be accompanied by valid and relevant supporting documentation.
- Prepare for the interview
The interview will go into detail about travel plans, reason for visit, length of stay as well as a broad range of background matters, such as dependants, travel history, personal finances, residential status in home country.
We recommend seeking specialist advice to help avoid any surprises or issues with US visa applications.
Immigration law firm DavidsonMorris has a specialist US immigration team helping businesses and individuals with US visa applications.