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I am looking at delivering a series of workshops in the USA. The clients who will be attending are USA based - they book via a website that is UK based and I am paid by a UK company.

What visa do I need to go and deliver the workshops? Would my ESTA cover me, as I am conducting business but being paid by a UK company? My stay in the USA will be no longer than a month. The organisation of the workshop is by the UK-based company.

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    Is by any chance the workshop a training session for systems provided by your employer?
    – jcaron
    Jan 20 at 16:36

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If the workshop is training for the use of products sold by the UK employer to the US businesses, then this should be allowable activities under a B-1 visa or the VWP (though even in this can official language remains quite cautious).

If that is not the case, while some will probably argue that this is a grey area or even say exactly the opposite, my impression is that no, you are not allowed to do this on a B-1 visa or under the VWP: you are actually working in the US, and even though the funds transit through a UK business, you are effectively paid by US businesses specifically for the service provided.

When you see all the conditions for a paid speaker to be admitted under B-1 (must be invited and paid by a higher education institution, there is a limit on duration — 9 days — and on the number of engagements per 6 months…), you understand that no, you can’t just waltz in, provide a service and be paid for it, under B-1 status (otherwise it would just be too easy to just setup a foreign company to bypass all those rules). Check all the rules for the other cases listed, you’ll see that whenever there is a payment involved, there must be a significant part done abroad, not just billing…

Whatever you do in the US under B-1 status should be business, not work. Basically, it should be accessory to the main activity of the company, which must remain abroad. A common example is that a tailor coming to the US to take measures for a suit which will then be manufactured abroad (by the same company which employs the tailor) is fine, because this is business, the activity in the US is just accessory to the main activity.

But what you are doing here is a service by itself (again, unless it’s training related to a product already sold by the company which employs you, conditionally), and it’s not a permitted activity.

I’m at a loss as to the correct type of visa for this, though. I’m not sure there is one.

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  • "You understand that no, you can’t just waltz in, provide a service and be paid for it, under B-1 status" it would be good to have more than just appeals to logic for this part IMO. From the linked document it is not clear if the payment from a US company to the B1 visitor can be equated to the payment from a US company to a UK-based company that employs the B1 visitor.
    – mintay
    Jan 23 at 1:35
  • The rule is that you cannot perform skilled or unskilled labour in the US under B-1 unless it is a permissible activity, and training, teaching or lecturing are definitely skilled labour, and they are allowed activities only in the limited cases quoted (training related to products sold by the company, or at secondary education institutions within the limits given…). See 9 FAM 402.2-5(A) (U) in fam.state.gov/fam/09fam/09fam040202.html
    – jcaron
    Jan 23 at 2:22
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I was in a similar situation last year, with the only exception that my company was Canada-based. I had a B1/B2 visa. The border agent did not tell me if I was admitted on B1 or B2 status, and I did not ask, but I assume it was B1 (business). So if you need a visa to go to the US, it is likely to be B1.

UPD: If you do not need a visa to go to the US in general, ESTA seems to be applicable for B1 purposes, but I have no personal experience with ESTA.

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    Are you saying they need a B1 visa instead of ESTA?
    – Midavalo
    Jan 21 at 1:09
  • @Midavalo The OP asks which visa they need without stating their citizenship. If they need a visa in general to go to the US, it is likely to be B1 for this particular case. If they do not need a visa, ESTA seems to be applicable for B1 purposes, but I have no personal experience with ESTA.
    – mintay
    Jan 22 at 12:28
  • They clearly say "would my ESTA cover me" suggesting that they have or can get ESTA
    – Midavalo
    Jan 22 at 14:30
  • @Midavalo As far as I understand, we can only speculate until the OP states their citizenship (there have been questions on this site where the initial assumptions of OPs were wrong). That's why I tried to give a more generic answer, if they need a visa, it is likely B1. If they are allowed to apply for an ESTA, it seems to cover B1, so should be fine too, but I have no personal experience with it.
    – mintay
    Jan 22 at 20:55

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