For the purpose of the Visa Waiver Program, "business" generally refers to business activities other than the performance of skilled or unskilled labor. Examples of activities that are allowed include:
engaging in international commercial transactions, which do not involve gainful employment in the United States (such as a merchant who takes orders in the U.S. for goods manufactured abroad, or who travels to the U.S. to purchase American-made goods for export from the U.S.);
consulting with business associates; and
participating in scientific, educational, professional or business conventions, conferences, or seminars.
The performance of any skilled or unskilled labor - even if it is unpaid - is most always prohibited. This includes performing work in the U.S. as a trainer or consultant.
Activities allowed on the VWP parallel those activities allowed with a standard "B1" category business visa. Please see our B visa information page for more details.
Working visas are, as stated, not exactly trivial to get. (And if you're already at the airport it is too late.)
Aren't there enough horror stories? Isn't the craziness well known abroad?
In most of the world people who want to be tourists in the USA dread the extensive and humiliating application interview, questionnaire, and documentation process just to get a visa. The same is required to change planes at a US airport.
The process is byzantine and irrational. Read all the available documents and hire a lawyer if anything seems uncertain.
The border authorities routinely retain old documents, especially those submitted in error, and use them in a Kafkaesque process to deny all future permissions. Every thing you say or send to the government can be reinterpreted and used against you forever. It would be best to consult a lawyer every time you interact with CBP, though that would be expensive.
The Netherlands has had a visa waiver program with the US for a very long time. Since the author has entered the US a couple of times before to do very similar things, I don't blame him for just going.
I do blame the company for just paying him and expecting him to show up without checking whether that is legal.
OP said he's travelled all over the EU. Well, I assume he has an EU passport?
I have a Schengen visa. No, that doesn't work for London.
I begged and pleaded for hours at the gate. Nothing. The worst part is, I did the same route for years with no problem. Apparently rules changed recently.
Trust me, It really is awful being that person who gets discriminated based on where you are born.
I can't describe how stupid I felt at that moment...
Very much so. Here in Italy for instance, I've known several people who have spent years here illegally, performing useful work. Sure, Italy has a large underground economy in any case, but still...
That said, the first time I went to the US with a Tourist visa I couldn't believe how many questions they asked me. Most of them things like: "Are you a terrorist? Do you hate America?, and things like that". I think those questions as are stupid as they are an insult to one's intelligence. The boarder police also was doing their best to try to trick me and my friends into saying that we were there for work. There's something definitely wrong with all of this.
But this is really not what I experienced at all. I studied at a university in the US and I hold an Indian passport. I travelled in and out of the country multiple times, but not once was I asked questions like "Are you a terrorist?". I was only held by the officials once at immigration for 20 minutes. This was when I transferred from one university to another (You don't need to re-apply for a visa for this which is why it leads to some confusion cause you are not going to the university mentioned on the visa).
I never felt like anyone was trying to trick me, or insult me, or ever asked me questions like those above.
Do they treat students differently? And has anyone else ever experienced the issues mentioned by the parent poster?
Are you coming to the United States to engage in prostitution or unlawful commercialized vice or have you been engaged in prostitution or procuring
prostitutes within the past 10 years?
Have you ever been involved in, or do you seek to engage in, money laundering?
Do you seek to engage in espionage, sabotage, export control violations, or any other illegal activity while in the United States?
Do you seek to engage in terrorist activities while in the United States or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities?
Have you ever or do you intend to provide financial assistance or other support to terrorists or terrorist organizations?
Are you a member or representative of a terrorist organization?
Have you ever ordered, incited, committed, assisted, or otherwise participated in genocide?
Have you ever committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in torture?
Have you committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in extrajudicial killings, political killings, or other acts of violence?
Have you, while serving as a government official, been responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom?
However... the system does not work nearly as well as it should, and is based on creaky, broken rules.
Sometimes I've been asked a barrage of questions (company i'm working for, goods in my possession, amount of money in cash, amount of credit available to me, etc.), other times, not a single question. The whole process can seem very hit and miss depending on the customs officer you are getting and the mood they are in.
As much as I love the US, it does feel these days as though they are segregating themselves from the rest of the business world. I had to queue at O'Hare (Chicago) for over 2.5hrs after a 8.5hr flight to get to the customs desk on my recent visit - how is this acceptable in any first world country?
The rules are meant to be ignored.
Yeah, you can't stay for a year and work without getting the relevant documentation, and they'll probably look more closely if you come from, say, Kenya (you'd probably need a visa), rather than the US, but... still, I think things in the US are particularly fucked up.
For instance: for me to live in Italy legally, I have to be married to my wife - full stop. For my wife to go to the US, she has to spend hundreds of dollars, travel to various US embassies, submit to a medical examination, and spend lots of time waiting. And she has a doctorate in biochemistry, is eminently employable, and is the wife and mother of US citizens.
And beyond looking it up, we started going through the procedure several years ago, but ended up deciding to stay in Italy for the time being, so it's something I know first hand.
Here in Italy, the land of bureaucracy, it required one and only one office visit with my wife to get my "permesso di soggiorno" once we were married.
Getting one of those without being married is a huge hassle, and exposes one to the full brunt of Italian bureaucracy, but the US should be "better than that".
FWIW, a similar story can be constructed for Canada - in order to be landed immigrants, we had to go through selection by a province (submission of over an inch of paperwork, interview, months of waiting), selection by Canada (similar pile of paperwork, waiting), pay hundreds of dollars for medical exams and single-handedly support the local "passport photo" and fingerprint establishments. There were checks done by the police and both provincial and federal levels of both countries involved.
I suspect this process isn't unique to any one country. Oh and the whole process cost a few thousand dollars in government fees.
I asked because my wife entered the United States on the same IR1 visa, quite a few years before you met your wife. There are fairly frequent comments here on HN by other persons advising HN participants who are thinking out loud about how to stay in the United States, and sometimes those comments include advising people to get into a sham marriage. (The link you have shared, which I have repeated here, will be helpful to onlookers who don't know the law on that subject.) That people would even consider getting into a sham marriage to stay in the United States longer, or to enter it for the first time, illustrates the overall worldwide desirability of the United States, and thus the background for the statutory and regulatory changes that have happened in issuing IR1 visas since my wife got hers. It's still my impression, as a former immigration lawyer, that the IR1 is rather a fast track to United States permanent residence and eventual citizenship compared to many other tracks that would-be immigrants pursue.
I can well understand any American desiring to stay and thrive in the country where he met the love of his life. I married overseas, and lived in my wife's country of origin for more than a year after our marriage before she ever saw any part of the United States. I feel much fondness for the country where I met my wife, which, like Italy, has thoroughly undergone the demographic transition and is on a trend eventually to decrease significantly in population. The United States, meanwhile, continues to increase in population and to enjoy net immigration in comparison to almost all other countries in the world. So while it is regrettable in individual cases that previous patterns of fraud have made IR1 visas much more burdensome to obtain than they once were, that is not surprising on policy grounds. A lot of people around the world still think that all the requirements you mention as unduly troublesome are not too much to put up with to gain the right to permanent residence and a fast track to citizenship in the United States.
Best wishes for always have a country or two in which you can enjoy life together and prosper in your chosen careers. Thanks for the link.
That said, I guess generally,
> So while it is regrettable in individual cases that previous patterns of fraud have made IR1 visas much more burdensome to obtain than they once were, that is not surprising on policy grounds.
I am not in favor of that sort of legislation - "some people cause problems, so we'll make it hard for everyone in order to prevent, rather than punish transgressors". It's a very prevalent way of dealing with problems here in Italy, and IMO it is a drag on society. I prefer rules that are liberal, and certain (well, as much as possible) punishment for those who break them. Compared to other places (like Italy), the US is pretty good that way, by and large, even if imperfect, which makes the immigration system all the more galling.
Most Schengen countries are more or less straightforward per se, though I'm not sure how his case would pan out (here in Norway, according to the immigration authority's webpage, "researchers and lecturers" are exempt from the work permit requirement, though I'm not sure how broad that category is).
Last time I checked, the waiver only applied if you were coming to/from a whitelist of countries, which included the US. In the past, I've had to explicitly avoid Heathrow because of its visa requirements (and I was just on transit)...
I think they also have a blacklist of countries for which you need a visa regardless of where you're coming/going from/to. The list includes Colombia, for example.
Tl;dr: there is a whitelist for transit visa waivers, so citizens of some countries need to apply for a transit visa in advance. However, you can apply from a waiver if you normally need a transit visa but you are going to/from the US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. You can also get a waiver if you are resident in the US, Canada or EU/EEA, irrespective of your citizenship.
People come to the US all the time to speak at conferences and don't have any problem, right?
Political dissidents and crackers may have an issue there, if that's their stated purpose.
You can be invited to give a paper at an international conference and be allowed in no-problem. But is there is a workshop session where somebody is being paid to give the talk you can attend it without a student visa. And you can't get a student visa unless you are attending a school - workshop talks at conference don't apply.
Everyone from overseas who goes to a paid-for session at a conference is breaking the law.
I can believe it'd make a difference in getting a visa from a non-visa-waiver country, though; having a talk on the schedule, and a letter of invitation from the organizers, can make the application go more smoothly.
The company maintains offices in New York and Boston, with significant expansion at the Boston office. The powers that be decided it would be a good idea to have another experienced dev in Boston to help get the newer guys up to speed. They consulted with immigration attorneys and made sure all their ducks were in a row for a three month rotation through the US.
My unfortunate co-worker showed up at the border and presented his UK passport, with a place of birth located somewhere in central Africa. The border guard decided that he planned to overstay his visa and denied him entry. He was then given the choice of arrest or deportation.
This is really not a good way to endear the US to foreign business interests.
For a while, in 2000-2002, they were kind of snarky when they had seen that I'd come in multiple times on a "Temporary Visa", though perhaps that was just to remind me that my trip to the US was, indeed, temporary. Eventually, after 5 or 6 minutes of grilling, the would grant me a multiple-entry TN Visa.
Since 2008/2009, though, the process has been streamlined to a single letter with a single diploma, (literally) five-seven minutes waiting in their waiting area at the airport, and one minute at the counter, $50 Payment, and I'm good for another 3 years. If I want to, I can even apply by mail.
So - properly accredited Canadians (2 Year Diploma+, letter from an employer properly formatted) who want to work in the United States as Computer Systems Analysts, have a system that's as streamlined as you can get it, without having completely open borders.
After explaining my story, what I was going to do where, how long I was to stay, which loophole I exploited (volunteers for religious non-profits get a B1 visa), who was going to pay (my parents) and what their occupations were, and that the non-profit was not paying me in any way I was free to go. Easy if you ask me: that could've been quite a struggle to get myself out of that one.
The treaty allows Americans like myself to start a business in Holland easily and get around the notoriously-bureaucratic Dutch immigration department.
I always assumed it worked the other way around, but apparently the 'friendship' is unidirectional...
FWIW the Dutch American Friendship Treaty is awesome. I've met numerous people from piercers to coders who use it to live and work in the NL.
Generally, every question that the CBP agent will ask revolves around money: who pays your salary, in what currency, are you attempting to get in to the USA to find a job, will someone be giving you money for whatever reason (e.g. honorarium for giving a talk at a conference), etc. Additionally, trying to explain the concept of telecommuting to an agent is usually a lost cause.
Canadians do have a slightly easier time getting in & out of the United States, but only marginally.
See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_trade and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protectionism
Most economists will trumpet the increase in societal or collective well-being but will not give you a straight answer about who accrues the gains, who accrues the losses, and what amends -- if any -- should be made towards the economic losers to encourage them to support the proposed schemes. When asked about these matters, most economists claim that these are outside their science. They are then surprised that their science is less than relevant and that people refuse to go along with their plans.
EDIT: If you disagree with my assessment please explain your reasons instead of downvoting.
EDIT: Added the second paragraph for clarification.
Once you have enough people taking advantage of such a structure, the equation no longer works. Taxpayers resent immigrants taking advantage of the safety net without at least giving the trapeze a shot.
I don't want to introduce any bias giving my thoughts about it, but I recommend you to read it your self: http://www.populationenvironmentresearch.org/papers/Colemanm...
How do conferences like OSCON deal with paying the speakers they fly in from other countries?
You're expected to sort your own issues out with regard to getting there and giving the talk - it's not their problem. Hence why I say: just say you're attending a conference.
* disclaimer: I've given tutorials at OSCon several times
Then the US entity would pay his company in Netherlands, and he would get paid in Netherlands from the Dutch company.
The situation is the same as if you're a manager from a foreign company having a business meeting in US.
Someone requesting a visa to teach a course for a few weeks is perfectly reasonable, especially if they are coming from a country with reduced requirements (visa wavier countries) like the EU.
It's so abused that there was literally an effort (to amend our Constitution) to deny citizenship to children born here from parents who were in the country illegally.
Skilled/unskilled migration/employment is a touchy topic here because many citizens feel like corporations and immigrants conspire to avoid the US employment laws.
I'm not saying it's right; that's just how things are here.
I used to work in London and did so via a student work exchange program. The visa/permit was limited to 6 months and I had to leave at the end, which I did. You may not agree with the laws of the country that you are heading to but you really cant fault them for enforcement. Given that a staggering amount of business is done with the US by foreign visitors it can't be /that/ much of a hassle.
I used to go 3 months at a time, sometimes one month, rent an apartment, work in the company's offices downtown. I straight up said I was there to see a girl and "telecommute" in the office with my colleagues back home. Never had a problem.
Consider yourself lucky, I can assure you that telecommuting is a violation of the VWP terms (you are producing work while staying in the US)
Possibly true. But until this trend has a noticeable effect on their economies, countries don't have an incentive to change their policies.
And after you are in, US customs do not have any way to see what you've actually done.
Or did you simply mean that rich, educated people should be given international mobility while poor, uneducated people should be content to rot where they were born?
Make sure everything is in order before you get on the plane to the States.
it was introduced 4 months AFTER my greencard was approved..... I'm planning on departing the USA for good on Dec 2015 because of it.
Renouncing citizenship, to first order, sounds like leaving Canada.
The HEART act is also very ironic, since it is basically taxation without representation, one of the founding reasons of America.