Laws and Restrictions on the B-1 Business Visitor Visa

If you need to visit the United States temporarily for business purposes - but not to work for a U.S. employer - the B-1 business visa is likely the best option for entry.

A B-1 visa is among the numerous types of visas available to foreign nationals who wish to visit the United States. The B-1 is meant for business visitors (and closely related to the B-2 tourist visa). Before applying, however, it is important to make sure this is the right category for your intended activity and length of stay.

For example, the B-1 visa is not intended for people who will actually be taking on paid work in the United States, nor for those who wish to remain for longer than the maximum period of six months. It is appropriate for activities such as doing a consulting project for your employer who is a foreign company that does work in the U.S., or for engaging in commercial transactions, negotiating contracts, doing research, attending conferences, and so forth.

We will take a closer look at the laws governing this visa in this article.

Immigration and Nationality Act

The primary federal law governing immigration is called the Immigration and Nationality Act, or I.N.A. In its section of definitions, at I.N.A. Section 101, it briefly defines a business or pleasure visitor as "an alien (other than one coming for the purpose of study or of performing skilled or unskilled labor or as a representative of foreign press, radio, film, or other foreign information media coming to engage in such vocation) having a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning and who is visiting the United States temporarily for business or temporarily for pleasure." (See I.N.A. 101(a)(15)(B).)

Code of Federal Regulations

In Section 41.31 of Title 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.), you'll find further explanation of the B-1 visa. It emphasizes the importance of the applicant's showing that he or she intends to leave the United States at the end of the temporary stay, and allows the U.S. consulate to ask the person to post a monetary bond that would be forfeited if the person failed to return as planned. It also requires the person to show permission to return to another country (presumably his or her home country) at the end of the U.S. stay, and to show financial capacity to make the U.S. trip (without having to find a job in the U.S.).

In addition, the C.F.R. describes acceptable business activities as "conventions, conferences, consultations and other legitimate activities of a commercial or professional nature," and unacceptable activitites as including "local employment or labor for hire." (See 22 C.F.R. 41.31).

Also see 8 C.F.R. Section 214.2(b), which specifies that B visa holders can extend their stay up to six months, for a maximum stay of one year.

Foreign Affairs Manual

Another important source of information on the B-1 visa is the Foreign Affairs Manual, published by the U.S. State Department. If offers insights into how consular officers will decide on these visas. For example, it describes what is meant by a residence abroad; how to show close ties to the home country; the importance of the applicant showing specific and realistic plans for the entire trip; and gives more detail on what business activities are acceptable. (See 9 FAM Section 41.31.)

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