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A few years back I traveled to the States with a valid ESTA to attend one of those coding workshops in the Bay area.

I disclosed this with the immigration officer at border control and I was let it without any problem.

The workshop lasted less than 90 days but according to ESTA regulations, I could have only attended it if the teaching lessons were less than 18/hours a week. Technically this was a full-time workshop, but we only got 1-2 hours a day of actual lessons and the rest of the time was spend with the other students to work on projects together.

The problem is that now, many years later, I found out that the same workshop is issuing M1 visas for its foreign students. Apparently, they are now requiring M1 or F1 visas to attend the workshop and at the time they didn't discourage me to attend the workshop with my ESTA.

Ever since then I traveled to the States many other times and I got issues other ESTAs without problems. So now, what are my risks? I'm actually now married to a US citizen and we plan on moving back to the States in a few years. What would be the potential implications on my situation to my green card application?

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    This is a non issue. Don’t do it again but there is absolutely no need to bring it up to anyone now. Enjoy your new workshop on the new visa. – Hanky Panky Feb 13 at 11:33
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    I agree, not a real issue. It seems the organizer was also confused. Now it is clear that you need a different visa. But I would also had difficulty to assess homework/teamwork hours. Note: possibly there were some changes in the rules (in the document on how to interpret rules). I would not worry about it – Giacomo Catenazzi Feb 13 at 11:36
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    I wouldn't worry about it. Unless you're under criminal investigation, CBP is not going to review years old workshop schedules. If you have been in and out many times, you've proven you not an overstay risk. – Johns-305 Feb 13 at 12:35
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    Flagged to move to expatriates site because you say your intention is to move there, while you have been traveling there regularly already. That said, if I were you I would delete this question as it’s a non-issue, until someone actively wants to get at you and finds your stackexchange profile. – Sebastiaan van den Broek Feb 13 at 17:25
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    @xyious it is certainly possible to visit the US while having an intention to immigrate at a later time. The chance of visa refusal or refusal of entry is greater, so one has to be a little careful in explaining the purpose of the trip, but people do it all the time. – phoog Feb 14 at 7:37
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So now, what are my risks?

None. Are you going to walk up to an immigration officer and say some years ago I broke immigration rules that US Immigration does not know about? They will think you are probably going insane. Your violation was not willful and clearly you are remorseful.

What would be the potential implications on my situation to my green card application?

Virtually one. Unless once again you go and rat out yourself. Why would you do that?

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    And that violation was not of the type for which they actively recheck their records on subsequent applications, for example an overstay. – Hanky Panky Feb 13 at 15:04
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    Something you shouldn't tell the authorities about is basically the definition of a legal problem ... – DonQuiKong Feb 14 at 9:33
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    @DonQuiKong it's only a problem if the authorities find out, though, isn't it? – phoog Feb 14 at 18:26
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    retrospectively broke some rule which has since been changed? – George M Feb 14 at 19:33
  • "Virtually one": should that say "virtually none"? – phoog Feb 28 at 7:12
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It sounds like you have only attended the workshop once, so you can tell the CBP officer (if asked) in full honesty that you have no way to compare the current workshop contents with the previous contents. The workshop may have the same title, sure, but coding is still an evolving field. There's more to teach today then there was 5 years ago. So you can't be entirely surprised if the workshop now takes a bit longer.

As Johns-305 points out, you are probably already seen as a low-risk traveller due to your past travel history. As long as there are no new issues they discover in the first few questions, they'll be focussing their attention on higher-risk travellers. And that means they won't spend an extraordinary amount of time on you.

Remember, you're probably seen as a low risk. That's because of two things; not only will they expect there's only a small chance that you suddenly break the rules, but besides probability the other contributor to risk is impact. If you were to break the rules this time, the assumption will be that it would be a minor infraction, not something bad like an indefinite overstay. To summarize bluntly: you're not a political problem.

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This may seem like it is legal advice, and I am not a lawyer, but I wouldn’t go volunteering that I had violated the law, without some assurance that I had in fact violated the laws. Such as a judge telling me in open court that I had done so.

To the best of your knowledge at the time it was legal, don’t go second guessing yourself. I don’t see any advantage to you to blurting this out, and if accused of it, would respond that I believe I had complied with the law.

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    Right. Part of the problem here is that OP himself does not actually know whether he has broken the law. OP does not know whether the workshop/social time counts as class hours, nor whether the 18 hr/wk even applies to a short term workshop; the 18 h/wk is intended to apply to full semesters. OP has false guilt and/or imposter syndrome. – Harper Feb 14 at 17:04
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I am married to an American

Immigration hears: My pretense for entering the country is a ruse, actually I plan to violate my ESTA and live here indefinitely with my partner, which is what partners do, because I have zero respect for your immigration laws.

My spouse is American, and I am applying for the correct green card to live in the US with her. Obviously, I don't want to do anything that would put that in jeopardy, and I would appreciate your guidance here.

Immigration hears: I respect the immigration laws of your country, and I am playing a "long game" with the endgame being citizenship. That is more important to me than this trip. I won't to do anything that would endanger the end goals.


As for the symposium, it sounds to me like they deliberately structured it to be "immigration law compliant". They confined teaching activities to just a few hours a day. They made the bulk of it open free-form social and/or homework on their computers, so that time could be productive for you without overrunning the allowable hours/week.

Immigration has admitted thousands of people to similar coursework, so they know more about it than what you told them.

Now, the course managers are finding the constricted teaching hours to be an impediment to their coursework goals, so they are aiming to teach more than 18 hr/wk (3 h/d x 6 days is where that weird number comes from. As such, they are telling you to get a different visa.

Don't worry about the past. In particular, be wary of false guilt or "imposter syndrome".

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    It is not obvious to me what you intend to convey in the first section of the answer, above the horizontal line. – phoog Feb 14 at 18:24
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    "I plan to abscond my ESTA" That's not correct usage of the word "abscond". Besides not being the correct syntax, absconding is the opposite of staying. – Acccumulation Feb 14 at 21:45
  • @Acccumulation fair enough, edited. But I understand the British are fond of the term, "the limited rights provided by the visa" is what you are absconding. – Harper Feb 14 at 22:54
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    I'm British and I've never come across that phrasing. – Ganesh Sittampalam Feb 16 at 16:09
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The rules are:

I could have only attended it if the teaching lessons were less than 18/hours a week.

And:

Technically this was a full-time workshop, but we only got 1-2 hours a day of actual lessons and the rest of the time was spend with the other students to work on projects together.

Not a layer, but I would think that you were compliant with the rules.

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