My employer (in Sweden) wants me to prepare for a possible trip to the US in May. They believe that we will be able to get a National Interest Exception for entering the US despite current restrictions. We have received supporting documents for this application from our US partners (one from a company designated Essential Business and one from a local government), which certainly look impressive. The plan is for us to travel with exceptions and ESTAs.
Since my employer has a less than perfect history of handling US travel, and since mistakes with US border crossings can easily result in permanent negative consequences for future travel, I am a little worried about this. I am worried about the application in itself, but also about possible stricter scrutiny of activities allowed under the Visa Waiver Program. Now, I believe that our activities are allowed under the VWP, specifically because they are short-term and no remuneration from a US source (B-1 in lieu of H-1B), but I have also heard some people comment that this sort of use of the VWP is a gray area (although not specifically in reference to our activities). Normally when I arrive at the US border a CBP officer asks me about the purpose of my travel, to which I respond with a short description (1 or 2 sentences) of my planned activities, and then they wave me through. I imagine that due to the drop in international travel, the CBP may have considerably more time to examine each VWP traveler more thoroughly, and maybe having a National Interest Exception would invite even more scrutiny?
So my question are:
- Will a rejection of an application for a National Interest Exception for Travel lead to permanent negative consequences for future travel to the US?
- Are we likely to face significantly stricter scrutiny of whether our activities are permissible under the VWP, either due to the exception or due to the special COVID situation in general?