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I'm a citizen from a VWP (Visa Waiver Program) country, currently studying at university (in my home country) and working remotely as a contractor for a US company and I've been invited to the US by my company for a company retreat and some business meetings.

I have a valid ESTA (expiring in late 2017) issued for tourism purposes that I've used to enter the US 3 times (September 2015, August and December 2016) for trips between 7 and 14 days. On these three trips I visited a friend but also my company but at the border I've always stated it was for tourism since it was the main activity.

This time I'm going to visit for business (I may also visit my friend but it's not the main reason) and I'm not sure what I should tell the border agents to avoid problems.

  • I'm not going to do any paid work while in the US, it's mostly for team-bonding since we're a remote team + any meeting that may fit the schedule
  • The company is going to pay for expenses there (accommodation, food, etc.) for the entire team except for the flight ticket that I'll pay myself and get reimbursed later

I think this situation fits into what I'm allowed to do under the VWP (link) but I tend to be nervous while passing immigration and would prefer to avoid getting sent back.

What should I tell the border agent? Would a letter written from my boss help?

I'm mostly concerned about the fact that I'm quite young and the previous visits that I made.

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    Use an Automated Passport Control kiosk the next time you visit the US. This will usually bypass most of the questions you might be asked if you stand in line with all the visa holders. – Michael Hampton Jan 25 '17 at 17:25
  • @MichaelHampton I did that the second time I visited, the last one, in San Francisco, I thought it would be available so I didn't compile the paper Custom Declaration Form but there were no kiosks so I had to go to the border agent without it and got the agent wasn't happy and got asked several more questions than usual (what do I do study in my home country, why I had friends in the US, why I visited the US multiple times, ...) while the other times it was mostly "Where are you going?" -> "Los Angeles" -> "Ok, have a nice trip".I don't know if it's standard procedure or for the multiple trips – anon Jan 25 '17 at 17:50
  • You might get a lot of questions if you go to a kiosk and then have a problem with it. Or just completely randomly. – Michael Hampton Jan 25 '17 at 17:55
  • If that happens again, there's usually a table somewhere with extra declaration forms. You can fill one out there if you didn't do so on board and discover that you need to (insert long rant here about why do they even have Mobile Passport Control if it's not going to bloody work when you get to the airport). – Zach Lipton Jan 27 '17 at 18:38
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What should I tell the border agent?

Only what the border agent asks you and answer truthfully. So there is no "story" to prepare yourself for.

The company is going to pay for expenses there (accommodation, food, ...

This does not count as engaging in any activity or performing a service that would constitute local employment for hire within the United States. From USCIS:

In some cases, however, you may receive reimbursement from a U.S. source for reasonable incidental expenses incurred while in the United States.

Note that is reimbursement and by the sound of it you will not be being reimbursed anyway.

These are some of the allowed activities under a B-1 visa (activities allowed under VWP activities are essentially the same as under B-1/B-2):

You may be eligible for a B-1 visa if you will be participating in business activities of a commercial or professional nature in the United States, including, but not limited to:

  • Consulting with business associates
  • Traveling for a scientific, educational, professional or business convention, or a conference on specific dates
  • Settling an estate
  • Negotiating a contract
  • Participating in short-term training

(Also from USCIS.)

Be sure to carry with you evidence of your residence and commitments outside the United States for presentation to the immigration officer.

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    Assuming the CBP officer asks anything. I would expect you to just go through an APC kiosk and hear very little from the officer beyond "Welcome back to the United States". – Michael Hampton Jan 25 '17 at 17:25
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    As well as telling the truth, you sometimes need to know the way to phrase it so the border agents understand. I've heard of people who, going to the US for meetings, were denied because they said they were going to 'consult', with people, making the border agent think they were doing consultancy work. – DJClayworth Jan 27 '17 at 18:47
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    I was told it by an immigration professional, but without specific examples. The professional was tasked with telling me what to say and not say at immigration, and that was one of the things. – DJClayworth Jan 27 '17 at 19:54
  • What did the immigration professional suggested to say? Meeting? – anon Jan 28 '17 at 5:30
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    "US companies can, more or less, spend money on whatever they like." That's not really a helpful thing to say. In particular, US companies cannot spend their money to pay foreign visitors to work in the US and a large fraction of the question is about what does and does not count as paying foreign visitors to work in the US. – David Richerby Jan 28 '17 at 13:25

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