With both the US and UK seeking ever closer ties post-Brexit, and discussion of a possible free trade agreement, one of the biggest questions for our clients is: how do our employees facilitate this increase in trade when there are such restrictive immigration regulations?

One of the areas of greatest confusion across individuals and businesses is, while entering on ESTA or a B-1 Business Visa, what constitutes “permissible activities”?

Under ESTA / B-1 Business visa you may not accept employment or remuneration from a US source and may not perform productive work even if it is unpaid. However, you may, when entering under an ESTA / B-1 (business visitor) visa, carry out certain restricted business activities, which are not considered for immigration purposes to amount to “gainful employment”. This does not mean that you may work provided it is not paid – generally you may not engage in any productive work – paid or otherwise. The only reimbursement you may be permitted to receive will be an expense allowance or expenses incidental to your temporary stay (the latter will apply in specific circumstances)[1].

The Department of State further clarifies this by outlining that the ESTA or B-1 Business visa can be used for a variety of business activities including:

  • Business-related research activities;
  • Consulting with business associates;
  • Traveling for a scientific, educational, professional or business convention or conference;
  • Negotiating a contract or;
  • Settling the affairs of an estate[2].

However, despite the above, an approved ESTA / B-1 Business Visa does not guarantee admission into the United States – it simply gets you to a port of entry.  Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the authority to deny any approved traveller’s entry into the United States and denials at the border could be due to any number of reasons, including: providing misleading information on an application, entering for an extended period of time, entering too frequently or, any other reason deemed as a possible immigration or safety and security risk to the United States. If you are denied admission at the border, you will not be granted rights of appeal[3].

At Davies Legal, we are regularly approached by businesses and individuals where applicants have secured an ESTA / B-1 Business visa to undertake work above and beyond what is permissible and / or enter the US too frequently or for too long of a duration, without consulting a lawyer. These actions will often be to the detriment of the business and their employees, where punishments can involve a ban of three years or even more. Consequently, our advice is always to seek the appropriate employment authorised visa, including, but not limited to, B in lieu of H1-B, E-1, E-2, E-3, L-1 and O-1

At Davies Legal, we represent clients in connection with all types of immigrant and non-immigrant visa applications. We offer competitive fixed fee billing and an assurance that your case will be handled only by your designated, fully licensed US immigration attorney. Call now for a free no obligation quote.


[1] https://davieslegal.com/us-visas/non-immigrant-visa/b-1-business-visitor-b-2-tourism-visitor-visa/

[2] https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/business.html

[3] https://www.official-esta.com/what-is-esta

Published: 11th February 2020