In February I applied for a B1/B2 visa to attend a bootcamp style coding school in the US. I am a UK citizen and I was applying in the London embassy. I had a letter from my employer stating that I was taking a sabbatical. My visa was denied - I was handed a standard 214b refusal letter - and also told that they did not believe that I would be "engaging in productive work in the US". They also mentioned being concerned about my finances.

In April I received a scholarship and took out a large loan to finance the trip. I also took with me a more detailed letter from my employer outlining why this course in particular was needed for my professional development at work. Given the change in circumstances, I again applied for a B1/B2 visa (same embassy). This time I was approved, but during the interview the visa office said "this is a particularly complicated case" and also "you sit within a grey area of the law".

I am concerned now that I may face these same issues at the border. Is this likely? Is getting an approved visa harder than getting accepted at the border? What actions should I take to ensure that I am able to pass through successfully? What should I do if I am denied?

It seems to me that bootcamps and short coding courses/schools are not very welcome by US immigration officials as they don't fall neatly into either a student visa (it's not an officially recognised institution) or a business/tourist visa.

  • " they did not believe that I would be engaging in productive work in the US". Is the "not" a mistake there? – DJClayworth Apr 12 '19 at 18:53
  • A short course of study, which does not count toward an academic degree, should be fine on a B1/B2 visa. – Michael Hampton Apr 13 '19 at 1:18
  • No it was not a mistake. In the first interview she asked "what will you do with the software you build whist you are in the US?" In that moment I panicked that it could be construed as intellectual property, or constituting work in some way and so I answered "nothing necessarily - it is about what I learn whilst building things". I realise now that this was a mistake. I think that if you are travelling for a short course there is an onus on the applicant to prove that the trip will be beneficial for their career and employment. – c00d33r Apr 13 '19 at 6:29
  • Some more context which people may find helpful in future: In the second interview she asked me "is there a course like this you could do in the UK?" Here I answered "no - almost all bootcamps are designed for beginners whereas this course is aimed at more experienced developers. The syllabus is very flexible which will allow me to tailor the study to specifically what I need to learn to take on a more senior technical position at my work". – c00d33r Apr 13 '19 at 6:29

Since you received a visa specifically for this trip, it is likely that you will be admitted at the border without trouble, although of course there are no guarantees. Denying entry at the border is much more work for them than simply denying a visa; as a result, border officers tend to accept the visa officer's judgment unless something has changed since you got the visa. The corollary is that one way to reduce uncertainty at the border is by applying for a visa for your trip, which is exactly what you've done.

(A couple other thoughts I had about your question: (1) why did you decide to obtain a visa instead of traveling on VWP/ESTA? Is the trip over 90 days? (2) if they were concerned about your finances overall, I don't know whether taking out a large loan would help, although I suppose it might; (3) I agree with you that the bootcamp is unwelcome by officials due to not fitting neatly into student, business or tourist visas; B1/B2 isn't for full time studies; I wonder why the bootcamp can't get officially recognized, and I wonder what the bootcamp recommends as far as visas. But these thoughts aren't particularly important now that you've successfully received the visa.)

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  • 1) A 90 day ESTA would have meant that I would need to have arrived and left the US on the start and end dates of the course. This wouldn't have given me time to orientate myself or recover from jet-lag. I also love to travel and so wanted to have some time afterwards to explore the US with my partner (he is also from the UK). I think the vagueness of my plan afterwards and the length of time I intended to stay were all red flags the first time. – c00d33r Apr 13 '19 at 6:35
  • 2) Yes I think obtaining a scholarship here (which covered living expenses) was more important. She certainly seemed happy with my answer as to how I planned to finance the trip. Is there a particular reason why you think a loan wouldn't help? I was also concerned that a loan might worry them (e.g. that there would be pressure to repay) - but this is why I took out such a large loan - so that I could cover the repayments for a long period of time without needed to find work. – c00d33r Apr 13 '19 at 6:40
  • 3) It is my understanding that most bootcamps in the US are not officially recognised as academic institutions (having looked at the websites and visa advice for a fair few of them). This particular course is particularly strange from a legal point of view - it is not a bootcamp exactly and has no syllabus. It can be best described as similar to a writer's retreat, but for programmers. As such, I think they, in particular, would struggle to get officially recognised. They recommended that I apply for a B1/B2. – c00d33r Apr 13 '19 at 6:46
  • All makes sense. I agree that vague plans are taken as a red flag. Best wishes for your trip! – krubo Apr 13 '19 at 19:39

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