Immigration Tips for International Business Travelers During the Pandemic
In the economic development world, site visits from company executives, who often arrive from every corner of the globe, are a typical day…but during the last year business travel has virtually stopped, or declined sharply, while the world faced the challenges of the pandemic. As vaccines continue to combat the pandemic, we are slowly seeing some site visits resume. While remote visits and virtual site tours have kept the company relocation and expansion processes moving forward, we are eager for the day when we can meet again — face-to-face — with company executives and site selection teams, as international companies consider the United States as a place to locate or expand their business.
Our economic development team is deeply engaged on numerous projects considering a variety of states, and we have teamed up with our immigration partners to compile a guide for companies as they resume business travel from overseas. We hope this guide is useful to you, and we stand ready to assist in your economic development (incentive, real estate, corporate, tax, immigration, environmental, etc.) needs.
General Inspections and Admission Recommendations
U.S. Customs & Border Protection inspectors are required to question all arriving persons to determine whether they are admissible. Inspection procedures can be lengthy and frustrating but are unavoidable, and the following tips may prove helpful:
- Before boarding a flight to the U.S. from Brazil, China, Iran, Ireland, The Schengen States, the United Kingdom, or South Africa, you must be in possession of a National Interest Exception to President Biden’s January 25, 2021 Proclamation, unless you spend fourteen days in a third country on your way to the U.S. or meet certain limited exceptions.
- Nonessential travel to the U.S. from Canada or Mexico via land border, ferry crossing, rail or through coastal ports of entry is currently suspended. Nonessential travel is defined as travel for tourism or recreational purposes.
- You must be in possession of required documents (discussed below) and must be able to articulate the purpose of your trip. When questioned, you should provide detailed, concise, and truthful information. You should limit your answer to the question posed and not volunteer additional information. You should never attempt to answer a question you do not understand, but instead ask the immigration officer to repeat or rephrase the question. If questioned about the length of your intended stay, you should provide the exact amount of time that you anticipate you will need to remain in the U.S. during the current trip.
- You must get tested for COVID-19 no more than three days before you travel by air into the U.S. and show your negative result to the airline before you board your flight, or be prepared to show documentation of recovery (proof of a recent negative viral test and a letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you are cleared to travel).
- Masks are required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.
- State, local, and territorial governments may have travel restrictions in place, including testing requirements, stay-at-home orders, and quarantine requirements upon arrival. For up-to-date information and travel guidance, consult the websites of the state or territorial and local health departments where you are, along your route, and at your destination. Prepare to be flexible during your trip, as restrictions and policies may change as you travel.
- The use of cell phones is typically restricted at ports of entry, and a legal right may not exist for someone applying for admission to make any phone call. If a problem arises, do not expect to be permitted to make a call from the inspections area. If you are entering for meetings or house-hunting prior to relocating on a temporary work assignment, you must plan to leave the country following the brief trip and apply for the work visa abroad.
- Each time you apply for and are granted admission, you should check your documentation to ensure that the visa classification and admission dates are correct. You should make every effort to have an error corrected at the time of admission.
- Many immigration officers at ports of entry may not have received extensive training and may be unfamiliar with the terms of your particular visa. If you encounter an issue or problem, you should attempt to speak with the supervisor on duty.
State, local, and territorial governments may have travel restrictions in place, including testing requirements, stay-at-home orders, and quarantine requirements upon arrival.
Business Visits to the U.S.
The vast majority of foreign nationals who enter the U.S. each year do so as non-immigrant visitors in the B visa category. Although some visitors qualify for “Visa Waiver,” all visitors who do not receive one of the more specialized non-immigrant visas must qualify under the requirements of this category. Because the category is not simply a catch-all for those not covered elsewhere, its particular requirements must be followed. It should be noted that the B visa or Visa Waiver programs are appropriate for visitors only. If you are entering the U.S. to work and engage in productive employment, you should not attempt to enter the U.S. as a visitor. Instead, you should obtain an appropriate employment-based visa first. Generally, a business visitor’s intended duration of stay in the U.S. must be brief and must involve such activities as attending meetings or seminars or conducting business on behalf of an overseas employer. The B-1 visa category is reserved for visitors entering on business.
As a business visitor with a B visa, you may be admitted for the period needed to transact your business, not to exceed one year.
If you are a business visitor from one of the following countries, you may qualify under the Visa Waiver program: 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, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. Although you are subject to all restrictions on your activities in the U.S. as an individual admitted under a B visa, you do not have to apply for or receive a visa before coming to the U.S. As a Visa Waiver visitor, you must hold a machine-readable passport, must possess a round-trip ticket prior to boarding issued by a carrier with which the U.S. has a special agreement, must be of qualifying nationality, and may not be admitted to or stay in the U.S. for longer than 90 days.
As a business visitor with a B visa, you may be admitted for the period needed to transact your business, not to exceed one year. It is rare for a business visitor to be admitted for more than six months, however. To be granted entry as a business visitor, you should be prepared to present documentation addressing the following:
- You are entering the U.S. for a stay of limited duration;
- You intend to depart the U.S. at the end of your stay;
- You continue to maintain a foreign residence that you have no intention of abandoning;
- You have made adequate financial arrangements to travel to, in, and from the U.S.; and
- You will engage solely in authorized business activities while in the U.S.
Stating an intent to work in the U.S. (or having any items in your possession that could lead an immigration officer to conclude that you are coming to work in the U.S.) can lead to a refusal of admission. It may be useful to obtain a letter from your foreign employer or U.S. host describing the purpose of the trip, the itinerary, and the financial arrangements, as well as the nature of your foreign employment and salary.
We hope this summary of business travel considerations is helpful to you as in-person meetings and site visits start to occur again. Please reach out to Stephanie Few on economic development matters or to Jennifer Cory on immigration matters if we can be of help to you.