I work for a small company in Sweden specialized in niched environmental consultancy involving a lot of field work. We have previously done sporadic projects in the US and have traveled under the Visa Waiver Program. My understanding is that we are allowed to perform professional services under this program granted that we are employed by a Swedish company and not a US one, but please correct me if this is wrong.
Recently, the company has started a small subsidiary in the US in order to make it easier to get contracts there. The subsidiary has been awarded a contract for reoccurring consultancy work (a couple of weeks work, 4 times a year during 2 years, I think) with the plan to subcontract the work to the parent company. Hence my colleagues (I will not be involved in this project) would be employed by a Swedish company, subcontracted during short periods by a US company to perform professional services in the US. Because of the reoccurring nature of this project the company was advised (by contacts in the US, I think) that it would be better for my colleagues to apply for a B1 visa.
A colleague of mine registered online for the B1 visa and got an appointment at the US Embassy in Stockholm. She went to the interview, provided a number of documents and answered a number of questions. She was asked repeatedly by different officials why she had applied for a B1 visa and not for an ESTA and she answered that she had been advised to do so by her employer. After the interview the officer who had conducted the interview discussed with his colleague and then handed her a yellow 214 B refusal letter. He said that her Visa was denied (but not why) and it could not be appealed, but she could reapply. Surprised by the outcome, she tried to emphasize that she would be employed by a Swedish company and not a US one. He answered that her doing work for the US subsidiary made her not applicable for the B1 visa. She then asked what type of visa would be suitable instead, and he replied that he could not tell her that.
After having left the interview she read the refusal letter which stated that she does not have enough ties that will compel her to return to her home country after her travel to the US. This seems like a very different reason for refusal compared to the one given to her verbally, and frankly quite difficult to understand. She is 39 years old and has a common law husband and steady well-payed employment in Sweden. She started working for the company quite recently (approximately 6 months ago) and before that she lived for two years in neighboring Denmark doing a postdoc at a university, but that was only 200 km away from her home in Sweden and she would go home over the weekends to be with her husband. The interviewing officer did not indicate by his questions that he was specifically interested in her proving her ties to Sweden. Additionally, since she has now been refused a visa she has to answer yes to that question on any subsequent ESTA application which means she is very unlikely to be able to get an ESTA in the future.
- Was she refused the visa because of lack of ties or because she would be doing work for the US subsidiary?
- Why did she get such conflicting feedback?
- Should she have applied for another type of visa? Which type?
- If she reapplies, what could improve her chances? She and her husband has now gotten married formally; will this help?
- Should all my colleagues really be on some other type of visa, or was this a problem particular to her?
- Do you have any other advice for this situation?
My colleague and our boss are of course trying to find answers to these questions through other channels, including seeking advise from lawyers, but it seems difficult to get useful answers. I understand that I may not be able to get definite answers here, but I would appreciate any input I can get.
On request I have scanned and uploaded her refusal letter below. The black boxes were added by me for anonymization purposes.
Both current answers give the advise to try to apply for an ESTA. I didn't mention this above, but she has already tried that after the B1 refusal and was denied that too (presumably because she had to give the information about the refusal in the ESTA application). Is there any hope in reapplying for a B1 visa and provide additional information? If so, when asked why she need a B1 visa in the next interview, should she simply state that she can't get an ESTA because the last visa application was refused because she didn't need a visa because she could instead get an ESTA which she now can't get because the last visa application was refused? (I'm working very hard here to resist the urge to invoke an overused literary reference to describe the situation.)