A few months ago a friend reached out to me for some guidance crossing the border. His long-time girlfriend had to attend an 8-month training in the US for work. Her company took care of her work-authorization, but my friend was on his own. Lucky for him, his employer was going to allow him to work remotely. “I will need a visitor visa that will allow me entry” he told me via e-mail, based on what someone at his girlfriend’s company told him.
Part 1: Preparation
Since my friend is Canadian, he didn’t actually need a visa. “The person from her company was almost correct,” I told him via e-mail.
You will apply for admission in the non-immigrant B-2 visitor category, but won’t need a visa. The person from her company is probably more accustomed to dealing with people from many different countries who require a visa to travel to the U.S., but less familiar with the special rules that apply to Canadians. For most non-immigrant categories, including B-2 visitor, Canadians do not require a visa to apply for admission to the U.S. You already know this because you have visited the U.S. many times without a visa, but the official citation is at 8 CFR § 212.1(a).
- a residence in Canada that you do not intend to abandon,
- a specifically limited duration of time in the U.S., and
- only legitimate activities in the United States.
Part 2: Execution
“We’ll be traveling tomorrow, and wondering if you can give me some pointers on what to say / how to approach the border crossing?” I responded with the following pointers:
- Above all: tell the truth. If you lie and get caught you will need an I-212 waiver and an I-192 waiver (filing fees USD $985 and USD $585, respectively).
- Hopefully, you have signed a lease and put the deposit down for when you return. If you get asked where your residence is, that’s where you reside. If you have to say you live with your parents, be prepared to give up their contact info for confirmation.
- Read through all of the documents that you have so that you can ensure that your answers are consistent with the evidence.
- Lastly, give yourself lots of time at the airport just in case you get called in for lengthy questioning. You don’t want to miss your flight.
Later, he confirmed that he was permitted to board his flight, and graciously provided a summary of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s inspection procedures at Vancouver International Airport.
First, he went to the Automated Passport Control kiosk where he answered some basic questions on a touch screen, scanned his passport, and got a receipt for his answers. Next, he took his receipt to an inspecting CBP officer and was asked why he had so much luggage and how long he was planning to stay in the U.S. Once the inspecting officer learned how long my friend was planning to stay in the U.S. he wanted to know what my friend would be doing for so long. My friend explained, and was told to “go talk to that guy in the booth.”
I walked over to guy in the booth, kiosk guy said something vague like ‘problem in the system’ (kiosk guy was a bit more aggressive). Booth guy is chill, asks basically the same questions, maybe one or two more. Types up what I told him for a few minutes. Then motions me to come with him to secondary.
After a 5-10 minute wait in secondary his name was called, and he was treated to the secondary inspection experience.
At this point I’m not sure if this is just a detail thing, or I’m going to get strip searched (I can see the rooms with two-way mirrors behind the agents …. shit). When it’s my turn, I re-answer what I told the previous agents to this secondary agent. He asks how I’ll support myself while i’m in the US, I tell him i’ll be working remotely while my girlfriend receives job training. He asks what I do, and I explain my occupation as a software developer. He asks for more info about them, and I say I have a letter from my employer that explains what I do and how I can work remotely.
After the secondary inspection officer read the letter from my friend’s employer, he did some typing and then stamped my friend’s passport “B-2.”
Part 3: Conclusion
Preparation is key when taking an extended trip to the U.S. as a visitor. Engaging only in “legitimate activities” while in the United States includes declining unauthorized employment. According to Matter of Hira, working (remotely) from within the United States in visitor status may be allowed when
- there is a clear intent on the part of the alien to continue the foreign residence and not abandon the existing domicile;
- the principal place of business and the actual place of accrual of profits, at least predominantly, remains in the foreign country;
If my friend had not been prepared with a letter from his employer, and other documentation of how he would support himself in the U.S. his application for admission would have likely been denied. By preparing thorough documentation of his compliance with U.S. immigration law my friend was able to complete a stressful secondary inspection and obtain admission to the United States.