I just got denied a B1/B2 Visa as my reason for going to the US was to open my business. I still have a valid ESTA. Can I still fly with my ESTA? Can the homeland security immigration at the airport know about my visa refusal?
Your problem now is that even though you had (not have, had) an approved ESTA, you now would be required to answer Question 7 with a YES, instead of a NO.
- Have you ever been denied a U.S. visa you applied for with your current or previous passport, or have you ever been refused admission to the United States or withdrawn your application for admission at a U.S. port of entry?
Note that this question refers only to visas and not ESTA applications. Even if you have had a previous ESTA application denied, you should answer ‘no’ to this question provided you have not been denied a visa, been refused entry or withdrawn a visa application in the past.
If you have withdrawn a visa application, you will likely be considered suspicious due to the assumption that your withdrawal was likely out of fear of being denied.
As soon as your answer to any of the 7 qualification questions changes from No to Yes, your existing ESTA is considered void, and you have to reapply for a new ESTA. Because you applied for a B1/B2 visa and were denied, your answer to Question 7 is now YES.
It is not guaranteed that answering YES to question 7 will automatically deny you a new ESTA, but the probability is considered very likely.
The US Customs and Border Protection is part of the US Department of Homeland Security and it (the CBP) runs the ESTA system. The US Department of State runs the Visa program. The Departments of State and Homeland Security have a memorandum of understanding to feed to and share information from IDENT, a single shared database. Therefore yes, if you were to attempt to enter an airport and pass through Customs to enter the US, the CBP Agents will know about your visa refusal. Guaranteed.
I suppose that it is possible that there is some set of business activities that are both describable as "opening my business" and permissible under a B-1 visa, but it seems like you would have to describe them in great detail to establish to the visa officer's satisfaction that they truly are permissible.
It's also likely that your visa application was refused because B-1 is simply not the appropriate classification for your visit. In that case, your visit is also not permissible under the VWP. In that case, it does not matter whether your ESTA is valid nor whether you can get a new one. In fact, this failed visa application may have saved you from a refusal of entry, because if you hadn't applied for the visa and instead had traveled with ESTA, and then described the purpose of your visit when asked by the immigration officer, you probably would have been sent back to your point of origin.
Your best course of action now is probably to hire a US immigration lawyer, preferably one who has experience with business visitors and investors. If your visit is in fact permissible in B-1 status, the lawyer can submit an application that makes this clear to the visa officer. If your planned activities are not permissible in B-1 status, the lawyer can tell you which visa category you should be applying for.
Why on Earth did you apply for a B1/B2 visa? Unless you're staying for over 3 months, there was NO reason to do that.
No, you've now messed up your immigration record and cannot use ESTA ever again. You'll have to get visas for the rest of your life, though on the bright side of things B visas are usually valid for unlimited entries within 10 years (with a 6-month duration of stay each time - can be extended)