Working in the United States: ESTA or visa?

Did you know you may not need a visa to work in the USA? Instead, an ESTA may well suffice for your intended business trip.

Many people mistakenly believe that doing business in the USA is only possible with a visa or a special work permit. However, an ESTA may well suffice for your business trip. The work you are allowed to perform while travelling on an ESTA has certain conditions attached to it. In some cases, you might still be required to apply for a US visa.

What is an ESTA?

The ESTA is a digital travel authorisation for the USA, intended for people from certain visa-exempt countries. In 1986, the American Visa Waiver Program was established by the US government. This is a cooperation programme with some of the closest allies of the United States. Travellers with the nationality of one of these countries may travel to the United States without a visa.However, the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 led to the American authorities wanting to carry out stricter background checks, including on travellers from Visa Waiver countries. On 12 January 2009, the ESTA was therefore introduced. By having incoming travellers submit an ESTA application before departure, the American border control authorities can pre-emptively screen all travellers who want to travel to the USA. If there is a suspicion that a traveller may pose a threat to the American public or wishes to travel to the United States with other undesirable intentions, his or her ESTA application will be rejected. Most travellers are not affected by this and receive approval for their application within one to two days.

Business trip possible with ESTA

The ESTA is often mistakenly assumed to only be valid for tourist trips. This is a major misconception, as the ESTA is also perfectly suitable for business travel to the United States. With an ESTA, you may attend business meetings such as conferences, congresses, symposiums and trade fairs, and you may conduct negotiations or interviews with (potential) business partners. If you’re planning to relocate to the USA, an ESTA can be used to travel to the USA for some on-location research. An ESTA is valid for two years. During this time, you can make multiple trips to the USA, each time staying for a maximum of 90 days.There is no specific “business ESTA” or “tourist ESTA”. The ESTA is fit for both travel purposes. This means that a business trip may also be combined with a holiday or a visit to friends or family in the USA.

When is a US visa required?

The ESTA does not suffice for all business-related travel to the USA. In these cases, a US visa or specific work permit is required. This applies in the following situations:
  • The traveller enters into an employment contract with an American employer
  • The traveller is going to attend an education in the USA
  • The traveller is going to start a business in the USA
  • The traveller is going to invest in an American company
  • The traveller is carrying out journalistic work in the United States
  • The traveller has been to Iraq, North Korea, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen after 1 March 2011
An ESTA therefore allows you to work in the USA, but only if the employer paying you is located outside the United States. Joining a US company or starting a new business is only possible with a US visa or work permit.

Application procedure for an ESTA or a visa

The reason why qualifying for an ESTA is so important is that it can easily be applied for online with a digital application form. This means that no visit to the embassy is required. After filling in the form and paying the fees, the application is processed by the US immigration service. Applying for a US visa, on the other hand, is much more complicated. Travellers first need to fill in the DS-160 form online and then make an appointment at the US embassy for an interview. A visa application therefore always requires a personal visit to the consulate. This comes with extra costs, and visa applications can take weeks to be approved. If you qualify for an ESTA, it is always better to apply for one instead of a visa, whether it be for business or for tourist trips.For further details of e-Visa follow this link

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