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Frequently asked questions about Visa Waiver status (ESTA)

By February 23, 2023Immigration, PERM
A group of people with their hands raised to ask questions

Q) Can I network with business associates, sign contracts, and set up the business while on Visa Waiver status?

  1. A) Possibly. There are two notations on your I-94 you can receive when being admitted to the US on Visa Waiver status – “WB,” which means Business visitor status, and “WT,” which is tourist visitor status. The notation will differ based on what purpose you mention to the CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officer at entry. Permissible activities for individuals admitted under “WB” could be understood as analogous to individuals on B-1 business visitor status, who can sign contracts, network with business associates, explore business opportunities, although they cannot work as an employee of a US enterprise or otherwise engage in “employment.”  However, if an individual is admitted under “WT” tourist visitor category, this can be understood as analogous to someone in B-2 visitor status, in which case engaging in such business related activities may be risky. Please see this post to learn more.

Q) What are the requirements to be admitted on Visa Waiver status?

  1. A) The documentary requirements differ slightly based on your method of travel. If you are arriving in the US via land or sea, you are required to present, among other things, a machine-readable passport from a visa waiver eligible country, a round-trip ticket that is scheduled to bring you back to a destination that is not Mexico/Canada (contiguous territory) or an adjacent island to the United States, and proof of a valid ESTA authorization. If you are driving to the United States through a land border, you should be prepared to present a machine-readable passport, proof of financial solvency, and a permanent home abroad where you intend to return.

Q) Can I extend or change status from Visa Waiver to a different status?

  1. A) Unfortunately, individuals in the US on a visa waiver cannot apply to extend their status beyond the 90 days or change status from within the US to a different visa category. Individuals in visa waiver status also cannot apply to adjust status to a green card, with one exception – if the individual is a beneficiary of a family-based green card immigrant petition as an immediate relative of a US citizen (spouse or minor child of a US citizen). In this case, the adjustment-of-status must be filed within the 90-day period.

Q) If my 90 days on Visa Waiver status is running out, can I take a short trip in Canada or Mexico and re-enter on another 90 days?

  1. A) There are a couple of risks to doing this. First, there is a risk that your trip in Canada or Mexico will be construed as a part of your initial 90 days such that, for example if you leave the US on Day 80 and try to be re-admitted on Day 87, you will only be admitted for three more days. Second, an official at the border would be able to see that you have very recently had another stay on Visa Waiver status and may not allow you to be admitted a second time, because they may suspect you are simply trying to elongate your stay in the United States and that it is not a bona fide temporary visit. Third, there is a requirement, if you are flying into the United States, to show a return ticket to a destination that is not a contiguous country or territory (e.g., Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands) unless you are a resident of such countries. In brief, it is recommended to avoid these situations and space out your travels and allow plenty of time abroad between each visit on ESTA. Entering on a B1/B2 visa is also an option, in which case an applicant will be allowed to stay in the US up to six months per trip in most cases.

Related posts:  What is the Visa Waiver program

Related Posts: Can I set up my E-2 visa while on ESTA?

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