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I will be attending a computer science conference that is taking place in the United States in November and I have been accepted as a student volunteer. The conference will run for 6 days and I will not receive any financial compensation (other than having my registration fee waived).

Am I allowed to enter the US under the VWP scheme? The London US embassy website has both a "Conference" and a "Voluntary work" section, but I'm not 100% sure if either of them applies to me, because:

  • Although I am attending the conference, I am also doing voluntary work, hence the "Conference" case may not apply to me and
  • Although I will be a student volunteer and despite the fact that the conference organiser is ACM (which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit), having my admission fee waived may be considered remuneration.
  • I'm sure this is fine. – Tomas By Oct 13 '18 at 10:32
  • Don’t overthink this. You’re fine in my opinion. – user 56513 Oct 13 '18 at 12:16
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This is allowed in WB status. In other words, apply for entry under the VWP, and in the passport kiosk, select Business as the purpose of your trip.

Bring any and all documentation (preferably legalised invitation letters) helping describe the exact nature of your activities, and present it if asked.

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It is a grayish area that will depend on the interpretation of the Customs and Border Patrol Agent you meet.

One way you could be definite would be to apply for a visa and explain specifically to the consular officer. If approved you know you are kosher. It is a risk however because a visa refusal will all but mean you can never use VWP again.

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As long as you are not getting paid and no one else is earning revenue because of your work, you will be fine.

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    If you have any references to back this up, that would be great. Suppose someone else turns up with an unreferenced one line answer "No, you will surely get into trouble", which one is the correct answer then? Please edit the answer. – user40521 Nov 10 '18 at 10:23
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At conferences, many times the volunteers aren’t paid monetarily but are given conference registration waivers or hotel rooms that the organizers receive as kickbacks from the hotel itself. This, there’s no need for the volunteers to provide W9s or otherwise declare that they’ve worked.

The exact legality of this (especially tax wise) is uncertain but its common enough practice. In any case, you aren’t taking a “job” away from any American.

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