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I need to attend a conference in the USA for which I have a valid ESTA. However, I plan to go back to the USA soon after under a B1 visa (more than a 90 days stay) which I cannot get in time before going to the conference.
My question is: can I apply now for the B1 and enter the USA for the short conference trip with the ESTA or will the fact that I have a B1 application ongoing impact entering with an ESTA?

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2 Answers 2

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Presuming you are intending to apply for the B1 visa through a consulate visit, and that consulate visit is going to occur after you return from your trip to the US on ESTA/VWP, then there is no harm in doing what you are suggesting. You have not "applied" for the visa until your consulate interview, so at the time you enter the US using your ESTA/VWP you will not have actually applied for a visa. The fact you will have started that process is not relevant.

However there is a second issue you may want to consider. In general, US consulates will not issue a B1/B2 visa to someone from a VWP-eligible country without a specific reason that you need to have a visa, rather than simply entering under the Visa Waiver Program. In your case it appears to that your reason is that you want to stay in the US for more than 90 days, and whilst this is a valid reason for obtaining a B1 visa, it's also one that will likely result in a lot of scrutiny at your interview. You should be prepared to justify why you need a B1 visa, and why you NEED to stay in the US for more than 90 days on a single trip for the purposes of "temporary business".

If you are unable to convince the consulate staff that you have a valid need to be issued a B1 visa then they will likely deny your request. At that point your existing ESTA will become invalid, and you will likely not be approved for a future one (on the grounds that you've had a visa application denial), so you will not be able to travel to the US at all, at least for some period of time.

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Should be fine. The things to avoid are:

  • applying for multiple visas of the same kind (you can have e.g. B1 and J1 applications underway at the same time but not B1 and B1)
  • trying to get a US visa issued from within the states (just doesn't happen, a different procedure is needed)
  • re-entering on a non-immigrant visa (e.g. B1) shortly after leaving (they generally prefer you to be out for about twice as long as you stayed, e.g if you were there for a week, try to be out for a good two weeks before re-entering)
  • trying to do something you're not meant to do on that visa (e.g. going to study or train or work on a B1 visa, which doesn't permit these activities). Be very careful with this one.
  • overstaying

Immigration staff are pretty sensible, if a little serious, and slight mistakes are often forgiven if everything's legit. Take a book to read if you end up in secondary examination - the wait there can be long and no devices are allowed (and there are often no clocks), but they'll work things out fine more often than not. Enjoy your trips!

One final thing - when you apply for the B1 visa - at many consulates (including in VWP countries) you can actually take your passport home with you, and they'll email you when they're ready to issue the visa, which can often be done by posting them your passport. Give it about 2-3 weeks for them to issue and mail back. This might be useful if you apply for the B1 before doing the ESTA trip. But as always it's good to start things as soon as possible, I often get my visa appointments 6+ months before the travel!

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