The United States maintains one of the most complex and comprehensive frameworks for immigration. Over the last decade there have only been several attempts to introduce new immigration pathways for foreign nationals, including the International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP) and even the Dream Act, introduced during the Obama-era. Sure, there have also been some modifications to the existing framework, including increasing the Immigration Investor Program from $500,000 to $900,000 (woo-hoo).
The takeaway.....It's a long road towards a dedicated remote work or digital nomad visa category for the United States. Changes to the U.S. immigration system are pretty much nonexistent or move at glacial speed.
For anyone who has genuine interest in living and working remotely abroad, well, you don’t have to look far to find the headlines: Digital Nomad Visa. Remote Work Visa. Remote Work is here to stay. 40+ Countries Introduce the Digital Nomad Visa. And so on.
So....if there is no formal visa category for this, what about living and working remotely in the United States? Let’s dig a bit deeper into a potential short-term solution:
Can I live and work remotely in the United States?
Yes, you can live and work remotely in the United States. Is there a specific visa category that permits this, not really. Herein lies the ultimate gray zone that many digital nomads or remote workers with hearts set on the United States find themselves. So what is the solution?
What is the best visa for digital nomads and remote workers in the United States?
The B-1 visa is the best visa category for remote workers and digital nomads who wish to live and “work” in the United States (emphasis on “work”). And let me preface this by saying, not all immigration lawyers will agree, nor will they feel comfortable giving formal legal advice along these lines. There is a good reason for that, which we can address later.
For now, let me explain why the B-1 Business visa could be a solid (temporary) immigration solution.
B-1 Visa for Remote Workers and Digital Nomads?
The B-1 Business Visa is temporary. In fact, the official title is B-1 Temporary Business Visitor – so USCIS makes it pretty clear that there is nothing permanent about this visa category (hence the "temporary" and "visitor").
That said, there are a handful of business activities that you are permitted to carry-out in the United States, and this includes consulting with business associates. Still, let’s make one thing crystal clear: The B-1 business visa does not grant you the right to work in the United States. You DO NOT get legal work authorization.
But do you really need this to work remotely? Again, depends who you ask.
What are the eligibility requirements for remote workers and digital nomads in the United States?
If you are interested in using the B-1 visa as a pathway for working remotely in the United States, you must demonstrate the following:
- Business Purposes. The purpose of your trip is to enter the United States for business. This can be demonstrated through a variety of supporting documents, including a detailed letter of intent. Most importantly, you should demonstrate how this work is tied to your visit.
- Temporary Stay. It is necessary to demonstrate your intent to remain in the United States for a limited period of time. This should be specific, and include supporting documents such as round-trip flight tickets.
- Sufficient Funds. You will need to demonstrate that you have sufficient funds to cover the expenses of the business-oriented trip and your stay in the United States. This can include bank statements as supporting documents.
- Foreign Residence. Proof that you have a residence outside the United States is necessary to meet these elements of “dual-intent”. In addition, it is also smart to demonstrate that you have other binding ties that will ensure your return abroad at the end of the visit (i.e. gainful employment, family, etc.).
Please note that this is just a general list for eligibility requirements to obtain a B-1 business visa for the United States and by no means exhaustive.
🛫 Interested in learning more about entering the United States as a digital nomad or remote worker? Drop me a line and schedule a consultation!
The introduction of a new visa category for digital nomads and remote workers in the United States is….a long road ahead. But don't stop exploring!
Important Considerations and Limitations for the B-1 Visa
Once you have a B-1 visa, it is critical that you understand the limitations. It is also critical that you know how to fully explain your situation, if asked. And let’s imagine a scenario where you ARE ASKED…by an immigration official.
As an immigration lawyer for over a decade, I know that one of the most anxiety-driven moments for any foreign national crossing the border into the United States is, well, crossing the border. You simply never know what a customs official might ask. You have no idea how they woke-up that morning, or if they have been on the night shift. Customs officials, believe it or not, are also people with emotions…or not.
Anyway, let’s have a quick glance at some of the most frequently asked questions about the B-1 Business Visa, the black-letter law behind it and common language answers.
Can I work in the United States on a B-1 visa?
The short answer to this question is, no. However, the official language states that the B-1 visa permits you to participate in business activities of a commercial or professional nature in the United States. Still, as emphasized above, the B-1 visa does not grant you legal work authorization.
In other words, you cannot tell an immigration officer you are coming into the United States to live and work remotely as a digital nomad. Why? Because “live” implies something more than temporary, and remember, this is a temporary visa. Be nomadic.
Can I work for a U.S. employer on a B-1 visa?
Absolutely NO. The B-1 visa does not grant you work authorization, and you cannot obtain a salary from a U.S employer.
You might, however, be able to perform certain independent work for U.S. employers and businesses as long as this is structured properly. You can also conduct business negotiations, and perform a healthy-range of business activities while in the United States.
How long can I remain in the U.S. as a digital nomad or remote worker?
If you have B-1 visa, this question will be answered when you cross the border. In other words, when you pass through customs the officer will likely ask you specific questions about the purpose of your stay and grant you a period of time based on this.
There are a lot of factors that go into this, but with a B-1 visa you are generally eligible to “request” up to 1-year of a stay. Other durations are typically granted for 3 or 6 months.
How long is a B-1 visa good for?
The validity period of the B-1 visa will depend on your nationality. Every single country maintains a reciprocity schedule with the United States. This is a formal bilateral arrangement that grants visas for different validity periods based on your nationality.
For example, an Indian national will be eligible to receive a multiple entry B-1 visa for 120 months (10-years) – this is the best case scenario for the B-1. On the other hand, a Nigerian national would be eligible for a 24-month (2-year) validity period. You also should consider the number of entires that you are eligible for.
Can I open a bank account in the USA as a digital nomad or remote worker?
Yes. Typically, you will need to be present in the United States in order to open a U.S. bank account – and you will also need certain tax-identification documents, including either an ITIN or EIN for a U.S. entity.
Does the B-1 visa give me residency?
You do not become a temporary or permanent resident in the United States for purposes of immigration. However, if you do remain in the United States for longer than 183 days, you might want to better understand what your tax-liability is for purposes of residency.
Does the B-1 visa lead to residency?
No. If you are interested in becoming a resident and obtaining work authorization in the United States, you will need to change or adjust your status and/or apply for a new visa category. Simply maintaining a B-1 visa does not necessarily translate to being beneficial or helpful for obtaining residency.
Can I purchase a home or a car in the United States on the B-1 visa?
Yes. In fact you can make a range of asset and securities-based purchases or investments. Please note that there are other considerations, such as obtaining a mortgage and lines of credit that are financial in nature, and do not extend to the immigration aspects of this.
B-1 Visa or the ESTA?
This will depend on your goals. Neither permit you to live or work remotely in the United States as a resident – in other words, both are temporary. However, the B-1 visa does have certain advantages if you are looking to remain in the United States for a longer period of time. Simply put, the ESTA is a visa-waiver that is super easy to apply for, however, you can only remain in the United States for 90-days (3 months) within a 180-day period.
By comparison, the B-1 visa will permit you to remain in the United States for the duration granted by the immigration officers (i.e. 6 months or 1-year, etc.) without any restrictions other than the total validity period of the visa and number of entries (i.e. single v. multiple).
⚠️ DISCLAIMER: This article is not meant to be “legal advice”. While there is no formal digital nomad visa category for the United States, this article is meant to illustrate that living and working in the United States as a digital nomad or remote worker is still feasible. You will not obtain work authorization or residency through the B-1 business visa category, however, there is still a significant range of authorized activity that you can enjoy as a digital nomad and remote worker in the United States. It all depends on your circumstances.
David is an immigration attorney and regularly advises clients on global mobility issues. He is also the Founder of Relocate.world, an independent marketplace for global migration.
👉 Schedule a consultation with David today!