Avoid costly border mistakes over U.S. visa issues

In the latest Ask the TCS column, a Canadian businessman says he was recently refused entry to the U.S. to attend routine sales meetings. Find out why and how you can avoid this costly border mistake.

The Toronto-based company writes:

This past summer I prepared for a business trip to California. We were scheduled for a day of sales meetings with our client but that all changed when I got to the airport. I sat through an hour of questions about my business, my clients and my credentials and then I was sent to a room to be fingerprinted and photographed. When the immigration officer asked me for my work authorisation, I showed him the contract I had with my client. But I was still refused entry.

We had to cancel our flights, hotels and let the client know we could not make it. Our company has an aggressive growth model that includes the U.S. But how can we avoid getting stopped at the border like this?


Business with the Border Blues

Dear BBB:

Thanks for your letter. I was sorry to hear about the difficulties you had at the Canada/U.S. border this past summer. Unfortunately, getting turned away at the border is more common than one might think. However, the good news is that there are ways to lower the risks associated with being turned away at the border.

It’s important to remember that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) is charged with denying entry to individuals who fail to meet the legal burden of proof to sufficiently establish the purpose of the visit, both verbally and by presenting relevant documents.

For Canadian company representatives entering the U.S. for meetings, negotiations, independent research, and preliminary start-up activity, the B-1 business visitor visa is the appropriate solution.

B-1 business visitor visa status is only available to non-U.S. nationals who:

  1. Have a residence outside the U.S. that they do not intend to abandon;
  2. Seek to enter the U.S. for a limited period: and
  3. Are coming for the sole purpose of engaging in legitimate activities relating to business.

The non-U.S. residence can be rented or owned. Canadians tend to find it easier to satisfy CBP concerns that they do not intend to abandon their residence in Canada. However, Canadians who repeatedly visit the U.S., spending large amounts of time there, are more likely to be denied entry.

The maximum permitted stay is six months. The period of stay requested by the Canadian visitor must be consistent with the stated purpose of the trip. Be sure to show that you have specific and realistic plans for the entire period of the visit.

To that end, the CBP may request for proof of the arrangements the business visitor has made to cover the expense of the visit. Such proof is often in the form of a letter from the employer in Canada confirming how the company is covering travel expenses, the visitor’s ongoing employment/wages in Canada during the visit, the purpose and intended duration of the trip, and otherwise generally providing sufficient details and contact information about the Canadian company to establish its bona fides.

The U.S. State Department identifies the following activities are authorized for the B-1:

  1. Engage in commercial transactions that do not involve employment in the U.S., such as taking orders for goods made abroad;
  2. Negotiating contracts;
  3. Consulting with business associates;
  4. Litigation:
  5. Participating in scientific, educational, professional, or business conventions, conferences or seminars; or
  6. Undertaking independent research.

The B-1 is also the proper visa classification for a foreign national seeking investment in the U.S. and also for the purpose of merely and exclusively observing the conduct of business.

NAFTA has made getting a B-1 visa fast and easy. Canadian Citizens can obtain one at a U.S/Canadian port of entry. I would advise you to consult an immigration lawyer to be sure that you show up at the border with the appropriate paper work.

For more information, visit Travel.State.Gov website.

I hope this information is useful. As long as you can demonstrate that your intention conforms to the stated purpose of your business program, the CBP would more than likely admit you.

Best of luck and don’t hesitate to call us in the future.

Rick Rasmussen
Trade Commissioner
Canadian Consulate General in Palo Alto, California

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