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I am currently waiting for a work Visa P-1. But I want to visit friends and holiday in US before I start work. Can I enter on ESTA/VWP and holiday for 3 months whilst waiting for visa process, return home to Australia to collect the visa, and then start work in the US?

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    You would probably have to overcome suspicion that you're trying to work before your authorization begins. – phoog Jun 14 '16 at 0:53
  • I don't know how P1 visas work but generally the embassy will have your passport for the duration of the visa processing – blackbird Jun 14 '16 at 1:19
  • How do I overcome suspicion that I'm going to work tho? I have sufficient funds to support a holiday and will have a return plane flight booked to return to Australia within 3 months. – Erin Jun 14 '16 at 7:18
  • @blackbird57 Not necessarily true for the embassy keeping your passport. A long time ago I was in the US on B1/B2 and was waiting for my L1/L2 to be processed. When the L1/L2 application was complete all I had to do was leave the US and present myself at a US embassy in order to have my passport stamped. I retained my passport all through that process. – Peter M Jun 18 '16 at 18:21
  • Erin .. I would guess that if you just act like a tourist and stick to a tourist profile then there shouldn't be an issue. After all you will be a tourist and will be entering the US legally on that basis – Peter M Jun 18 '16 at 18:26
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It certainly is possible. However you might undergo additional scrutiny at immigration in the US and need to overcome suspicion that you're trying to work before your authorization begins.

How likely and severe that scrutiny is, will be up to the officer you happen to meet, his mood and your performance. If you have already used your ESTA before, some airports allow you to enter via automatic terminals, which would then likely spare you an interview.

If interviewed you should follow the basic rules to be upfront about everything on the one hand but on the other hand not to sponsor too much information. I guess if you have a tourist itinerary with return flight booked, accomodation and other plans, that should go down well with the officer. Also if you can somehow show that the gig you need the P1 visa for is not a thing yet at the time of your visit, there would be even less reason for concern.

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