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I am to travel to the US (from the UK) for a meeting relating to some work I have been doing. If the meeting does not go well I shall have to return to the UK soon after the meeting and fix the thing I have been working on. If it all goes well I shall take an extended holiday after the meeting, possibly up to 6 weeks, possibly all in the US, possibly travelling further afield. I have a brother in the US who I am likely to spend some of the time with. I shall have a return ticket, but I will not use the return segment if I extend the trip.

When I arrive in the US I expect to be asked "How long are you staying in the US" at passport control. It would be easy to say the duration of the meeting. I could explain my situation and the uncertainty involved in the length of my trip, but it seems like it would wave some red flags; extended stay, uncertainty, longer away from work than is usual especially in the US. I am worried to go into all this detail will cause problems. However lying to the immigration officials could cause worse problems if that dishonesty is identified.

Is honesty the best policy in this situation, or should I tell them the easy story which may well turn out to be true, but may not? I am interested in minimising the chance of trouble, especially any trouble that will interfere with my ability to travel to the US.

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    Do you have a work visa? If you don't, note that B1/B2 or the VWP do not allow "work" at all and you'll likely be refused entry if you ever utter that word at immigration. – TooTea Oct 3 at 14:23
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    @TooTea: I don't think it is that kind of "work", but OP could specify. I read it much about as an "acceptance" meeting. If client is happy for the work done in UK: nice holidays, else: go back and fix things. So I see it as "business" not "work", but Dave could explain better. – Giacomo Catenazzi Oct 3 at 14:51
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    @GiacomoCatenazzi the problem is that "visit for work" usually means "my employer is sending me for a business visit," but it can also be taken to mean "visit to do some work." People who have been visiting in the first sense have been improperly refused admission because the immigration officer took the phrase in the second sense. It's safer to avoid the word "work." – phoog Oct 3 at 15:03
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    To answer the question, I mean I am being sent for a meeting. I always describe the purpose of my trip as "an academic meeting" and that seems to do the job with just a visa waiver. – Dave Oct 3 at 15:15
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    @Harper To have a healthy long-term relationship with US immigration. – Dave Oct 4 at 8:11
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The best way to approach this is to plan the trip that you would take if the meeting goes well. It doesn't need to be a very specific plan, just "I'm going to this meeting and then I'm going to travel around for six weeks" plus whatever details you can provide. You can then mention "but I might have to cut the trip short if the meeting goes poorly," but as you can see it doesn't even look that bad if you leave that part out.

That sounds a lot better than the way you presented it in the question, and saying you're planning to visit for two months and then actually staying for a week is far less problematic (as in, not at all) than saying you're planning to visit for a week and then staying for two months.

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    +1 It would probably be wise to have the return leg booked for the extended stay, backing up the statement of staying for some travel after the meeting. If the meeting doesn't go well rebook for an earlier flight – Midavalo Oct 3 at 16:02
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    Yes, planning to stay for six weeks with a return ticket a couple of days ahead might raise questions. – npst Oct 3 at 17:16
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    @GeorgeM It's a moot point since there's no exit control in the US. – OldBunny2800 Oct 4 at 17:44
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    There may be no exit control, but he may well be asked why he cut his visit short next time he tries to enter. Do you not think they have computers, and take notes of what you say? – user61942 Oct 4 at 17:51
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    There is utterly no reason to mention that you "might" come home early. Nobody cares, and it is a bizarre/irrelevant thing to say. Of course, obviously, every trip "might" end early. It's just a bizarre thing to mention. – Fattie Oct 5 at 19:32
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I was in this exact situation when solo backpacking.

I don't see any problem with honesty. The problem is, you're agonising about explaining in excessive detail about how you'll make your decisions, rather than simply answering the question.

Actual answer:

"I've got a business meeting, and then 6 weeks vacation from work, for tourism and to visit a few friends in New York and the East Coast [or wherever], returning home by about <date>. I might cut it short if my employer requires it, or the meeting doesn't go as expected. Either way I expect to be back home to return to work, by about <date> at the latest."

This is a simple straightforward way to explain everything they care about. If they have other questions, they will ask. Especially, it explains why you are visiting, your plans, that they are flexible, and shows that you are not planning to stay in the US and have strong ties (work, home) to the UK.

Incidentally, that last point is a crucial US immigration criterion, they need good confidence that you have strong ties back home, or aren't planning to stay, to allow someone in, by law. So it's worth including it.

They also get very few minutes for most visitors, to form that opinion, so keeping focused and to the point, on what they need to know, and evidence that backs it up available if needed (can you quickly name the company and contacts you're meeting? Do you have emails or a hotel?) will help too.

If they have further questions, you can afford to be a bit vague on some of the finer detail. "Im definitely visiting X in New York, this is their address. But beyond that, I won't know exactly until I get works reaction to the meeting. A lot hinges on how that goes, as to what I can fit in, and whether I will have to cut it short".

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    Nicely put. The ties to the home country are so strong that they might require the trip to be shortened. – phoog Oct 4 at 3:48
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    Great except replace "work meeting" with "business meeting" or just "meeting". You never want to say the word "work" in the context of things you'll be doing during your stay. – R.. Oct 5 at 19:05
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    Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever use the word "WORK" when talking to any US official. It's incredible such a basic mistake could be offered in an answer on this site. – Fattie Oct 5 at 19:34
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    @Fattie, I used to work for an American pharmaceutical company in the UK, a drug company if you will. We sometimes had to fly to their headquarters in the USA and we were reminded time and again that at US Immigration never to say the word "drugs" and always to say the word "pharmaceuticals". I'm sure you can imagine why! – Rich Oct 6 at 7:11
  • Wording edited for the above. Thanks! – Stilez Oct 6 at 7:36
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A personal anecdote here. I had a very similar situation. I was staying for 3 days. If something was going well, 10 more days. I asked for 13 days. Provided all proof accordingly. Returned after 3 days.

For the US, the situation is even easier. No one will literally ask why you are returning early, as the US doesn't have exit emigration checks and if you have a ticket and meet the entry requirements for your transit point and destination, the airline doesn't care why you're leaving.

  • It's exceedingly rare to be asked questions at exit immigration, and even more so now that they have automated passport scans and facial photos in some countries. But of course they are tracking everyone who comes and goes through legal ports of entry. – Spehro Pefhany Oct 5 at 0:54
  • Did you have a plane return ticket booked for 3 days after or 13 days after? I think this is the trickiest part of it all. – kiradotee Oct 5 at 14:51
  • 13 days, rescheduleable ticket. – Anish Sheela Oct 6 at 2:53
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Don't.

You have a return ticket. Talk about a trip corresponding to that ticket, and don't confuse the issue.

Under the Visa Waiver scheme, you can stay for up to 90 days. There is no requirement to notify authorities if you choose to stay longer, so there are no legal issues with failing to tell immigration. However telling immigration that you aren't sure when you're leaving the country is a big red flag for them.

A personal experience. I live in the UK, and at one time I did some liaison work with Ford in Detroit. One time I was booked to have a week in Detroit, with the possibility of stretching it to 2 weeks if it turned out there was more work needed. We duly booked a return ticket which could be changed, and everything was good.

I got to immigration in Detroit, and as usual the immigration officer asked me why I was entering the country ("business meetings with Ford") and how long I was going to be there. I said, "Probably a week, but it could be longer."

"WHY DON'T YOU KNOW?!?!" (Exact words, at parade-ground volume.)

A brief pause from me - I wasn't expecting that! My reply: "Because the business meetings may take longer."

A long pause from him, clearly thinking about how much of a pain he wanted to be, then he stamped my passport and let me through. I should mention that I'm white, had a crew-cut at the time, and was travelling reasonably well-dressed. Had I been black, Hispanic, Muslim, Sikh, or simply less well-kempt, I would not have liked my chances at avoiding a longer chat with immigration.

The bottom line is that they aren't your friends. They don't want to chat. They just want to screen out anything obviously unusual - and if you look unusual in any way then you can expect extra attention. Try not to be unusual.

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    @Rui F Ribeiro Yes, but often realistic. – David supports Monica Oct 4 at 16:32
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    Myself as a pretty normal white caucasian, have been select to "random" inspections from the TSA. If you did not downgrade the talk to that, I would have voted to the answer. – Rui F Ribeiro Oct 4 at 17:12
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    Yes, Rui is obviously a white guy.. – user61942 Oct 4 at 17:34
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    @RuiFRibeiro just because you have, at one point, been selected proves exactly nothing. I have been selected, too, but I think that my likelihood for subjective reasons (based on inspector's assessment) are much lower than for someone from different ethnic groups, particularly ones mentioned by OP. I am also bit puzzled by demands to quieting it down: to me mention was reasonable: border patrol folks are known for their bias, similar to police force in general. – StaxMan Oct 4 at 17:44
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    @RuiFRibeiro No downgrading going on. I clearly had one strike against me there, in the TSA guy's eyes; more strikes against me would equally clearly have been an issue. And it is simply a fact that all the groups I mentioned are subject to more frequent stops in the US (and much of Europe) than white people, amply documented. – Graham Oct 4 at 23:53
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If you do not want to say too much details, tell them the longer time that you are going to stay (6 weeks).

No worries if you return in two days. That is much better than say "two days" and stay 6 weeks.

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    Exactly. That is your plan, what you hope to do. People have to leave early for all sorts of reasons. If you say you are coming for three months, but you have to leave after two weeks because a relative suddenly dies, you weren't dishonest. – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Oct 3 at 17:19
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You shouldn't really think of this question as being honest or not. There is uncertainty, yes, as in all of life, but it's mostly you thinking ahead. You're letting yourself be distracted from the main point that interests immigration: are you trying to sneak into the county permanently? Here you can and should be loud and clear: no. Don't obfuscate the issue for them with dithering and contingencies.

That said, it would serve you best to have some reasonable plan to account for the longest possible stay. "I want to visit so-and-so in such and such a place, here is their name and address, and so on. And I always dreamed of seeing the Grand Canyon/New Orleans/whatever, so I'll probably try to push on there if time allows." And then it'd probably be useful to slip in something like "I have to be back at work by -- to attend/teach/report" - whatever you can scare up. Says clearly and truthfully that you don't have any intention to extend your stay, that you have work to return to.

Everyone is happy if you return sooner than planned, because some unfortunate thing happened and you have to go back (to work) to deal with it. Apart from you :-), but that's not the question.

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1. DO NOT SAY YOU ARE "WORKING"

You are coming for some meetings, and then some vacation for 6 weeks. That's all there is to it.

Say nothing else.

Regarding the fact that you "might" come home earlier - so what? You "might" do anything.

protected by JonathanReez Supports Monica Oct 4 at 23:36

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