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How a 3 week business trip to the US got reduced to 3 hours (noop.nl)
162 points by blumentopf on June 4, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 104 comments

This was somewhat surprising to me, but appears that he was accurately quoted the law. If you go through the flowchart on the State Department's website for the Visa Waiver Program, which would be my #1 suggestion for someone coming from the Netherlands,

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.); negotiating contracts; 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.)

I continue to be astonished that anyone still comes to the USA without either a specific rule allowing his activity (e.g. tourism, negotiating contracts) or a consultation with a US immigration lawyer.

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.

Dude, seriously? We are talking about the land of the free, and you continue to be astonished that people from first world countries just go to the US to do business and then leave again?

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.

You didnt read the fine print. free for american citizens. i dont know any country that treats non-citizens well, but there are many who treat them better.

Is this any different from other countries? I'm just surprised you expect to go to any first-world country and work without a permit. For a very broad definition of work. London requires a visa for even changing planes. The paperwork for having your parents visit is even more onerous, I'm told. If you have a small child you're required to hire a nanny before they'll let your parents visit. So yeah all immigration authorities are moronic.

OP said he's travelled all over the EU. Well, I assume he has an EU passport?

I hold an Indian passport and I recently got thrown out of a plane to Spain via Heathrow right before it took off. They said, I didn't have a transit visa. I was changing planes in the same terminal and the total time I was to spend in Heathrow was 2 hours.

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 feel for you. I am Italian and my wife is Thai. Just to change planes in London on the way to Mexico, she should have applied for a Visa or... "go and hope the immigration officer in London let her trough". This is actually stated, with other words, in the law. Same for the US. We could not buy a KLM ticket to Mexico from Italy because the stopover was in Los Angeles. I still wonder why they made this rule... probably terrorism. Anyway, closed countries inevitably collapse, remember the Soviet Union?

Yeah the whole transit visa thing in the UK is pretty stupid. Especially when you go through terminal 5 at Heathrow. You can get out without passing an immigration officer. So why do you need a visa? Idiots.

That was supposed to be "can't get out [of the terminal] without passing an immigration officer". Sorry. :)

The UK isn't part of Schengen, that's a continental Europe thing rather than covering all EU members:


Bangkok, Buenos Aires or Sydney are not Schengen neither but they don't require a visa for airport transit. That's just politicians covering their assess in case some terrorist blows up a plane on transit flight.

Yeah... I learned that the hard way, too.

I can't describe how stupid I felt at that moment...

Hi, I am an indian passport holder. I have a spain national visa (issued for students)valid for 5 months and I am going back home to india but my flight is through london heathrow so do I need the airport transit visa too? I have read that I dont require it (http://www.immihelp.com/visas/nonustransit.html) but your case is exactly mine so can you please help me out here

Your best bet would be to go to the nearest airport and talk at the ticketing counter. They have a chart on who is allowed to board and who is not. In my case, my spain visa was category C which apparently requires transit visa. HTH.

> Is this any different from other countries?

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...

I don't know why you're being downvoted, but I can confirm what you said, being an italian citizen myself.

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.

I understand that the US Immigration guys can be fairly hard to deal with.

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?

Those are questions you are expected to answer in DS-160 form for nonimmigrant visa.

Some examples:

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?

Those questions appeared in a questionaire given to everyone inside the airplaine. A friend of mine told me that it wasn't the first time he saw that questionaire. It became kind of a joke after it.

Plenty of people get treated decently, it's not like everyone in Homeland Security are evil jack-booted thugs. I suppose most of them are pretty good people doing their jobs with the rules they have to enforce.

However... the system does not work nearly as well as it should, and is based on creaky, broken rules.

I think the key here is "illegally". He could have marked, "Tourist" on his visa application and he would have been let in, but he didn't.

I've marked business on my visa waiver customs form and the border officer has written WT (Waiver Tourist) on my passport around 50% of the time.

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?

2.5 hrs, you are lucky. The last time I came in from Amsterdam to Chicago apparently 6 or 7 other planes landed as well, and they only had 6 booths open to handle the traffic. I was in line for 6 hours, luckily my layover in Chicago was 10 hours for my flight to Denver, but it was insane... people did come by with water bottles ... FOR SALE.

Lying on your visa application is a punishable offense. It is written right there on the form.

Crossing the street against the light is a punishable offense. Giving a friend an MP3 is a punishable offense.

The rules are meant to be ignored.

In this case the punishment is potentially much more severe and there is no statute of limitations. The rules badly require changing, but ignoring them is unwise.

Jaywalking is not an offense where I live. You can't be even fined for that.

I thought WildUtah was complaining about stupid laws, not 'undocumented features' like lax enforcement.

I think that coming to Italy to do a course would absolutely not be a problem. They might hassle you for some taxes or something, but I can't see them simply turning you around at the airport.

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.

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.

[citation needed]

Look it up; I'm not exaggerating just to make some kind of political point, those are the facts.


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".

This thread gives the impression that the US is rather different and intrusive. "To go to the US" is as easy as flying there from a Visa Waver country. "To live in the US" is a different thing.

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.

Thanks for the citation.


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.

Just to be clear, we didn't stop the process because it was that expensive of difficult, just that we decided to stay in Italy for the immediate future. We may well restart it in the next few years. It's a pain in the neck, not an insurmountable obstacle.

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.

The UK has a visa waiver for transit passengers (they're not that idiotic, they want Heathrow to keep being the big hub that it is; you do get to talk to an officer, but you generally don't need to apply in advance). Generally UK immigration is bad (like having to turn up and give your fingerprints every time you apply for a visa, so no application by post; in my case, that means a flight of 1,100 km and back every 6 months). Here's a blog post according to which being on a dissertation defense committee also requires a work permit (according to possibly overzealous HR): http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/2010/10/world-class...

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).

The UK has a visa waiver for transit passengers

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.

It's all here: http://www.ukvisas.gov.uk/en/howtoapply/infs/inf20transit.

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.

I traveled for years doing business everywhere in the world and I always did it on a tourist visa: US, Australia, Europe, China, Turkey, South America even Russia (notoriously bureaucratic for these things)... anywhere. And all the people I met did the same. Business travel wouldn't probably even be possible. You've got to catch a plane and go, fast. If we start treating business people like immigrants on a boat we are doomed.

I wonder if he could have reworded his description to something that falls under "participating in scientific, educational, professional or business conventions, conferences, or seminars."

People come to the US all the time to speak at conferences and don't have any problem, right?

Not a problem at all. I've been to the US (from the Netherlands) over a dozen times to participate in a scientific conference and have had no problem at all. Maybe some grumpiness, but that's about it.

It depends what the conference is about. Some people in the security industry have had problems, as have political dissidents.

The cases that spring immediately to mind in security tend to have more to do with the fact that conference visitors are conducting business in the US than out of any particular concern with the subject matter. People come to, say, Black Hat, and in addition to speaking also have their names attached to training courses.

One of the questions on a visa application is something like: "Do you plan to attempt to overthrow the Government of the United States by force or subversion?".

Political dissidents and crackers may have an issue there, if that's their stated purpose.

I always enjoyed Peter Medawar's response: "No, and if I do it by accident, I'll be very sorry"

Sure, but that's a different issue entirely.

Even more difficult to go to the USA to hear a talk.

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.

It's probably a good idea to back a bold assertion like this with a citation of some sort.

I've never heard customs actually ask this level of detail; don't people just say they're attending an academic conference? Do they ask exactly how you'll be participating in the conference?

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.

Well you can always lie to immigration and do anything you like. The real problen is if you do come from a visa-waiver country - it is almost impossible to get a visa, because everybody uses the waiver that if you try and get a business visa to attend a conference they think you must be upto something

Something similar happened to a co-worker of mine.

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.

I learned years ago doing conference talks that even if you're giving a tutorial, when asked at the border what you are doing there you simply say: "Attending a conference". NEVER give more details (except what the conference is about, which they will ask).

I can report that some elements of the US Immigration/Visa system have gotten much smoother in the last 15 years. In particular, coming from Canada to work at Netscape in 1996, I was turned back the first time, and the third time, because the inspector did not like my paperwork (The first time, kind of made sense - it wasn't particularly well prepared. The third time, though, had been prepared by a law firm. The inspector indicated that my Diploma wasn't clearly from a University Level organization. They were the only inspector in 12 years to ever make that comment and refuse entry on that basis)

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.

I did a 6 month internship in the US (with a Visa) and arrived at Philadelphia airport without the letter from my internship place detailing what I was going to do: the US Embassy in The Netherlands had it, I only had one copy of said letter.

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.

I'm bit shocked that the Dutch American Friendship Treaty (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DAFT_(treaty)) doesn't apply in reverse...

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...

This guy just showed up at the border without doing his research first. Try doing the same in the NL and you will also have problems. You can't legally work in the NL without a Tewerkstellingsvergunning if you are not from the EEA. The Dutch American Friendship Treaty simply allows you to easily acquire a TWK without too much hassle.

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.

The thing's called DAFT? :) Love it!

As someone who travels to the United States from Canada on a very regular basis, this does not surprise me at all. The first mistake he made was to say that he was "self-employed". That one little phrase, from my experience, sets off a very large red flag and almost always ends with being secondary'ed and very likely a complete entry denial.

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.

Any economics experts around? What would hypothetically happen if all countries lifted all immigration laws and allowed people to come and go wherever they liked?

Pretty much all economists will agree that it would be a good thing. Unfortunately, laws are dictated by politics, not economics.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_trade and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protectionism

Ah, free trade. Pretty much all economists agree that the economic pie will get larger, but they are silent about how the pie will be split. Therein lies the problem.

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.

I suppose that's because it would be easier for people to move around to where the bigger slices are as well.

Can you elaborate into how that could be a problem?

The problem that exists where I live - Finland - is that a society that develops itself to a point where they are a first-world country where even the most unfortunate resident can enjoy a secure (if not good) life provided by the state can easily be taken advantage of by someone from a second world country.

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.

Most economists will trumpet the increase in societal or collective well-being but will never 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. Then they are surprised that people refuse to go along with their plans for maximizing societal well-being.

Free trade will make us all better off in the long run - but in the long run we are all dead.

Rambling anecdote, bear with me: In the 1920's my grandmother and her sister were sent from Scotland to study in Berlin. The requirement to have a passports was very new then. My great grandfather thought they were a ridiculous idea and sent his teenage daughters off on their own to travel across Europe without them. Much to his surprise and horror, they were arrested and jailed for a week in Germany until the whole thing was eventually sorted out. Before WW1 there were no real passport or immigration controls in Europe, the free exchange of people and ideas around Europe was probably pretty key to the industrial revolution. Just think, if Britain had turned away Brunel's family, his engineering innovations would have happened elsewhere, if at all.

Also, the United States had practically free immigration before 1920. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eyJIbSgdSE

I asked myself the same question the other day and found a document presented at the General Population Conference in 2001. It's titled "Why Borders Can Not Be Open".

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...

Seems like the solution is to be paid to prepare the course (in your own country), and then come to the US and give the course for free.

How do conferences like OSCON deal with paying the speakers they fly in from other countries?

They give them a USD cheque after they've given the tutorial.

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

He could get a visitor visa, which can be used for tourism and business. Even if you're from a Third World country, it's not that hard to get it.

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.

I'm not an expert by any means, I'm not even an amateur, but to my untrained eye it seems like allowing "self-employed independent trainer" would be a fairly large potential loophole for abuse in a visa program?

Not really, it would very much depend on the length of stay.

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.

Consider the fact that the only real enforcement of immigration laws happens at the borders here. Once you're in the country, people have (and still) overstay their visas for years at a time. It's very common and one of the most abused rules here.

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 went to the US many times in 2009-2010 on VWP. I was working as a software dev with one of the largest companies in the world and wanted to hang out in the US to see a girl I liked.

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.

Even "telecommuting", assuming it's normal "work" and not just meetings or chat, is not technically allowed under a normal VWP. But.. it happens a lot anyway.

Does that mean that going for a vacation and writing part of a book during it is probably not allowed under visa waiver? Fail...

A lot of immigration proceedings depends solely on the mood of the officer.

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)

Some countries still think they are the centre of the world and that people would do anything to get there (like applying for a bloody business visa for a conference). It's not like that anymore, wake up. The world is full of opportunities in more open countries and business people are like web users: id the usability is low, they simply go elsewhere.

> The world is full of opportunities in more open countries and business people are like web users: id the usability is low, they simply go elsewhere.

Possibly true. But until this trend has a noticeable effect on their economies, countries don't have an incentive to change their policies.

They have the incentive but they probably fail to recognize this as a threat. Usually until it's too late. We have seen this over and over in history and it may even be positive as it provides a chance for power shifts.

Though experiment: let's say he lied to the customs, what are the odds of him getting caught?

None. Considering his stay was indeed to be 3 weeks, if he lied (saying that he was entering as a tourist), he would get in and be given a 3-6 month stay period.

And after you are in, US customs do not have any way to see what you've actually done.

It's going to be hard to get a good answer on that because anyone who knows significant numbers of foreign people who work as "consultants" in the US on the sly and could provide a data point aren't silly enough to spill the beans (hopefully!)

Whats the worst that will happen? They're already sending him home.

It could be worse. If he is caught lying (not that it is easy, see my comment above), he can be denied entrance to the US for 5-10 years.

Being denied entry is enough to be excluded from the Visa Weaver program. He needs to get at a minimum a 6 month multiple entry tourist visa in order to enter the U.S. now. They will still take him for extra questioning each time he enters. It will take hours each time.

How does the US correlate the two files if you change your name in your home country?

When you apply for a visa, they take your fingerprints.

someone remind me, why employment is at all restricted between first world countries?

Why do you think a brilliant European should be allowed to work in America but not a brilliant African?

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?

I think he meant that infrastructure between first world countries is more or less integrated, and citizens are easily tracked and observable, so it should be theoretically easy and safe to have their mutual borders more or less open. Or something like that.

I think you're reading too much into the parent.

He didn't mention the poor, he mentioned people from the first world -- he may know the answer for people from a poor country, even if he does not agree with it.

Yeouch, a lesson to any non-American who gets a paying gig in the USA!

Make sure everything is in order before you get on the plane to the States.

As someone that goes to the states often, and have been looking for telecommuting work, that puts a big fly in the oitment.

for those of you thinking of applying for a greencard to work in the USA please google "Heart Taxation Act" first.

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.

This seems vaguely similar to what people leaving Canada for tax purposes - they're assumed to logically sell all of their goods that year so as to pay tax on the gain/loss. The US taxes citizens all the time, which has an advantage in this case. Doesn't cost $$, merely requires extra forms and filings.

Renouncing citizenship, to first order, sounds like leaving Canada.

Can someone explain how this is enforceable if a citizen renounces citizenship while they are abroad? Would that be similar to renouncing citizenship while you owe taxes (I'm not really sure what would happen in that case either)?

That's enough time to get citizenship. The argument is probably "If you are going to stay, get involved, make a commitment. If you don't think its worth that, then by all means leave."

The US is the only country in the world that does this. Tax it's citizens even if they don't live there for years and own no property in it's borders, or people who have lived there. It's the big wrench in me wanting to get a green card in the USA unfortunately.

The HEART act is also very ironic, since it is basically taxation without representation, one of the founding reasons of America.

Unless you live in a country with lower tax rates than the US, the annual cost of such taxation is paper, toner and postage. The advantage is that you can enter/leave without having to resolve your holdings with the IRS (at least as a citizen, no idea whether this applies to green card holders).

The domain name is quite apt for this post. (The trip turned out to be a no-op. http://www.jargon.net/jargonfile/n/no-op.html)

So unfortunate we don't see that non-american minds want to positively contribute to American society.

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