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I would like to stay on a dude ranch in the USA for 3-4 weeks. A lot of the ranches offer bed/food for work, where you help take care of the ranch in exchange for a bed and a meal.

However it is unclear to me wether or not this is legal when travelling on a tourist visa (from the EU). I have read that other countries offer visas especially for this purpose, but couldn't find any info about a US visa that allows this.

Is this legal on a tourist visa or are there any other visas available that allow this?

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    @Relaxed if the guest were paying for the accommodations then I expect the work would be allowed as a part of the tourist/entertainment experience for which the guest is paying. But work in exchange for room and board is another matter of course. JaneDoe1337: what other countries or "visas for this purpose" have you read about? – phoog Jul 12 '16 at 12:12
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    Hey Jane - I would say to you, almost anyone would say you would get away with this, no problem at all. The simple fact is no, it's by the letter of the law not allowed under a normal visa. But don't forget, it's totally OK to conduct business - for example, go to meetings or conferences with an everyday short visit visa. The fact that you happen to be helping on a farm is totally irrelevant; if your friends you are staying with - you're friendly with them right? - happen to give you breakfast and stuff, it's nobody's business. It's inconceivable you'd have any trouble over this - go! – Fattie Jul 12 '16 at 12:45
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    "A lot of the ranches offer work for bed/food" - have you found specific ranches that offer this exchange? I would be surprised to find actual working ranches that are willing to train and feed any random tourist to work for such a short period of time, particularly considering some of the risks involved. There are certainly tourist experiences, but you would have to pay for those. – David K Jul 12 '16 at 13:23
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    If you are doing work, then you are owed minimum wage. You can not legally work for free or for less than minimum wage. – emory Jul 12 '16 at 16:11
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    It's also worth considering that the ranch entering into such an arrangement is likely violating a number of laws: immigration laws, labor laws, tax laws, etc... And this is over a period of several weeks, not a casual babysitting gig. This isn't a moral judgement--I don't really care--, but you might consider whether a business operating this way will otherwise do right by you. Do they care about workplace safety? How many hours will you be required to work? Will your food and lodging be ok? – Zach Lipton Jul 12 '16 at 16:31
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Any kind of work effectively connected with U.S. i.e. performing some labor and getting any kind of compensation (not necessarily monetary) is not allowed on tourist visa.

What you describe fits into one of the categories for the J visa. Those can be arranged through some agencies (e.g. au pair, work-travel, camp counselling and similar). Main purpose/focus is classified as cultural exchange, not as performing work for compensation. You will get a work permit (as a part of visa) for some limited time (e.g. 2 months).

For longer term unqualified labor (especially ranch), there is H-2 program, which has to be initiated by an employer, and is relatively long and complicated process.

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Do not try this on a tourist visa, immigration will send you back if they find out.

This article (in German) describes a similar case: a 20 year old girl wanted to visit her relatives(!) in the US for a few months between school and university to improve her English skills. Prior to the trip, on facebook, she had told her relatives that during her stay, she would be able to fetch their kid and the kid of the neighbors from school and babysit them, on occasion. The immigration officer wondered why anyone would want to stay in Cleveland/Ohio for several months as a tourist, started questioning the girl, read her facebook journal, and decided to send her back because babysitting qualified as incompatible with the tourist visa. The article states that the facebook posts did not mention any monetary compensation.

Although the article is a bit sensational (poor little girlie treated rough by unfriendly and stubborn immigration officers), the main facts seem to be true, and if babysitting for your relatives and their neighbors qualifies as work, then working as a farmhand surely does.

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