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I have a valid B1/B2 visa and travel to the US for some months, the idea is to stay 3 months in the US and then 3 months back in Europe, then US again, and so on, I have a gf in the US. I am employed and paid by a European NGO. As I do research/science, I was wondering if I could just run under the mentioned "independent research". Research could be directly related to where I go. I am not sure if being paid from a non-US source is a reason to deny entry. I am not going to do any research at an institution, just stay "home" and do my research there (online). I am aware of running into being taxed at some point (what probably implies -working- then) but for now..

I would tell the officer that I do vacation and also do research on this and that. Both is true.

Does this work ?

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    You would be working in the U.S.
    – xngtng
    Feb 1 at 19:06
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    Illegal working in the US doesn't require you to be paid for it to be illegal.
    – littleadv
    Feb 1 at 19:35
  • Can you clarify what you mean by "switching countries every 3 months" ?
    – Doc
    Feb 1 at 20:52
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    There are probably ways to make this work, but you should consult a lawyer. Feb 2 at 14:11
  • @Doc 3months in US, 3 months in Europe cuz in a long distance relationship
    – Jochen
    Feb 2 at 18:29

1 Answer 1

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Edited 2-2-2022 (amended first sentence and first bullet point, added last 6 paragraphs)

This may not end well. Your plan has several problems:

  • While a B1/B2 visa allows some business activities, it does not permit employment or work beyond limited circumstances. This State Department webpage says "independent research" is permitted while on B1 status, but does not define "independent research. Because of your planned lengthy sojourns in the US, you are vulnerable to being seen as living in the US, and thus not a bona fide visitor.

  • When you tell the CBP officer you're going to stay for three months, you'll be asked how you'll pay for your long trip and support yourself. If you say you'll work remotely for a European NGO while you're in the US, you'll be confirming that you plan to work for money. Because this violates the terms of both the B1 and B2 visas, entry to the US might be denied.

  • That you have a US girlfriend is a red flag for the immigration officer, who will see that you have an emotional connection to the US, and will thereby be less likely to leave at the end of your entry period. Again, there's a risk of entry refusal.

  • You plan to stay for three months and, and after a three-month interval, return to seek entry to the US again. These long periods of time in the US will immediately suggest that you're trying to live in the US without an immigrant visa. That you have a US girlfriend supports this idea, and, as before, you risk having your re-entry denied. As a traveler to the US, it's considered a good idea to spend at least as much time out of the US as you plan to spend in the US.

Remember that 8 U.S.C.§1184(b) of the US Immigration and Nationality Act is a presumption of immigrant intent. This requires CBP officers at the border to presume that people traveling to the US with non-immigrant visas seeking admission actually intend to immigrate and stay in the US. The CBP Officer will know this. It's up to the applicant to dispel the presumption in order to secure entry.

Remember too that the CBP Officer will have, on their computer screen, a record of what you've previously written and said about traveling to the US. You should make only true statements when you're at the booth talking to the officer, and your statements should be consistent with things you've previously written and said.

In comments, @Doc cited Matter of Hira to support the idea that the OP here is indeed entitled to conduct online research while in the US on a B1 visa. @jcm cites a State Dept webpage that lists "independent research" as permissible.

Hira was a 1966 US Attorney General’s decision affirming a ruling of the Board of Immigration Appeals. It held that a B1 visa holder in the US, who took physical measurements of US customers on behalf of his tailor employer in Hong Kong but did not solicit customers in the US nor receive pay in the US, was eligible for B1 classification.

Hira lists the factors that support that finding, citing Gordon and Rosenfeld, Immigration Law and Procedures, presumably a then-current general legal reference on US immigration law. Those factors are a clear intent on the part of the alien to continue and not abandon the foreign domicile, and that the principal place of business and eventual accrual of profits remains predominantly in a foreign country. The underlying business may be continuing, but the visa-holder’s entries into the US must be temporary in nature.

Like the OP here, Hira accomplished tasks in the US and was paid by a non-US employer. Unlike Hira, however, 1) the OP’s long-duration stays in the US suggest that to feed and clothe and house himself the OP is likely to be paid while he’s in the US; 2) while Hira remained an overseas resident, the OP’s desire to work only remotely from various locations keeps the him vulnerable to a CBP or Board of Immigration Appeals finding that he does not maintain a foreign domicile; 3) the OP’s work of online research seems more skilled than unskilled labor; and 4) because of the OP’s remote (even nomadic) existence, the principal place of business and eventual accrual of profits cannot be said to “remain overseas.” These differences from Hira point to the OP's work being unacceptable during entry on a B1 visa.

The Hira decision admits that “Considerable difficulty has been experienced in the past in arriving at a clear and workable definition of 'business' within the contemplation of the statute.” The Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual agrees: “It can be difficult to distinguish between appropriate B-1 business activities, and activities that constitute skilled or unskilled labor in the United States that are not appropriate for B status.” In short, the statute is not clear and this is a grey area of immigration law.

All in all, I think the assertion that the OP’s facts result in the OP being able to work under his B1 visa overstates the case for B1 eligibility. I believe the OP is vulnerable to a finding that his working in the US violates B1 visa terms.

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    I'm not going to say this answer is incorrect, but I will suggest you go and Google for 'Matter of Hira', as it largely disagrees with your first point. Without a better description of "Independent research" it's hard to say for sure, but 'Hira' would most likely imply that it would be allowed.
    – Doc
    Feb 2 at 16:26
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    Yes, there are a number of factors at play here. 'Hira' implies that in a general sense, a trip to the US to do 'independent research' is fully acceptable. Everything else about the OP's situation (3 months in/3 months out, Girlfriend, etc) says that this is most likely not allowed - at least not beyond the first (or at a real stretch, second) time.
    – Doc
    Feb 2 at 23:38
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    @jcm the examples I've seen concerning "independent research" suggest that it is intended to cover people visiting the US in order to gather information that is only available in the US. Similarly, Hira concerned someone who was doing the same thing, albeit for commercial ("business") purposes rather than academic. While this "only available in the US" element is not explicit, it wouldn't have needed to be in the days before the internet. Whether OP's activity is allowed in B-1 status, it certainly isn't in B-2 status, and it's difficult to imagine that an immigration inspector would...
    – phoog
    Feb 3 at 9:04
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    ... admit someone in B-1 status whose purpose in coming to the US is to perform online research that could have been done at home. @Doc same comment: Hira establishes what is allowed for a business visitor. But if the visitor's business activity isn't actually tied to the US, is it a business visit? How does the business visitor justify the status as a business visitor? The more reasonable conclusion is that this is a pleasure visit, which means B-2 status, so Hira doesn't apply, and the visitor is limited to activities that would be acceptable as incidental to a pleasure visit.
    – phoog
    Feb 3 at 9:10
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    I just noticed that I'd overlooked the sentence "research could be directly related to where I go." In that case, justifying admission as a B-1 visitor for the purpose of independent research seems quite likely.
    – phoog
    Feb 3 at 9:40

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