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B-1 is the classification given by United States immigration law to temporary visitors for limited business purposes. No visa petition is necessary as aliens admitted under this category are not considered to be gainfully employed within the U.S.

Nationals of countries that are covered by the visa waiver program (*VWP – see list below) will generally be admitted without a visa for up to 90 days: they must apply for travel authorization prior to travel through the online ESTA system at http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/id_visa/esta/   Canadian nationals may enter the U.S. upon presenting documentation to verify Canadian citizenship and stating their permissible business purpose for the visit. Nationals of other countries must obtain a visa from their local U.S. Consulate before traveling to the U.S.

The B-1 is a nonimmigrant visa and the visit to the U.S. must be temporary. Admission under the B-1 category cannot exceed one year and most B-1 entries are for six months or less. U.S. immigration officers at the port of entry will generally write the period of authorized stay on an arrival/departure card (Form I-94).

The B-1 category is the most widely used for business entry to the U.S. and the permissible B-1 activities vary widely. U.S. immigration regulations have a list of acceptable B-1 activities which do not amount to gainful employment within the U.S. Examples of these activities include the following:

  • Engaging in commercial transactions not involving gainful employment within the U.S., negotiating contracts, taking orders for goods or services, limited consulting with business associates, litigation, participating in conventions or seminars.
  • Activities related to board membership by directors who are members of the board of U.S. companies and receive no more than an annual fee.
  • Technical, scientific, statistical, market research and analysis whether working independently or for a non-U.S. employer.

In addition, alien investors or their employees may enter the U.S. as B-1 visitors to establish, organize, and staff their enterprise, but not remain to oversee or manage it.

Although permitted B-1 activities do not extend to local employment or labor for hire, one needs to be mindful not to overstep the boundaries of the visa. Visits of short duration and limited purposes, activities in furtherance of international commerce, benefits or profits accruing to a non-U.S. entity, and a non-U.S. employer directing the activities – these are all factors that tend to bring the activity within the B-1 boundaries.

Two activities which resemble local employment may nevertheless be allowed under the B-1 classification.

  • Professionals who receive no salary or other remuneration from a U.S. source and remain controlled by the non-U.S. employer may provide their professional services to U.S. clients and effectively work in the U.S. “Professionals” include engineers, computer specialists, accountants, and a long list of other occupations which generally require the attainment of a bachelor’s degree.

This category is intended to enable international firms to provide professional services within the U.S. and a principal or manager of a business may not work in the U.S. as a B-1 professional. Other visa categories such as the E or L may be more appropriate for such entrepreneurs and managers.

  • Non-U.S. citizens may install, maintain and repair non-U.S. manufactured equipment purchased from a business located outside of the U.S. These services must be provided for in the original contract of sale.

This useful option, when properly used, permits non-U.S. businesses to send their own service personnel to U.S. sites. In appropriate circumstances, businesses that sell equipment to U.S. end users may enjoy all the competitive advantages traditionally reserved for U.S. manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

*  Citizens or nationals of the following countries are currently eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP:

Andorra Iceland Norway
Australia Ireland Portugal
Austria Italy San Marino
Belgium Japan Singapore
Brunei Republic of Korea Slovakia
Czech Republic Latvia Slovenia
Denmark Liechtenstein Spain
Estonia Lithuania Sweden
Finland Luxembourg Switzerland
France Malta United Kingdom
Germany Monaco
Greece The Netherlands
Hungary New Zealand