As of January 2024, there is no official remote work visa for the United States. However, this doesn’t mean people and stakeholders are not talking about it. In fact, for anyone in the professional immigration space, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid, and simply a matter of time before a remote work visa is introduced to the USA. But how long?
Can I Work Remotely in the United States?
Yes. No. Maybe. Depends who you ask! Overall, there is not a straightforward answer to this question....yet.
Legally, a foreign national cannot live and work remotely in the United States without work authorization. Work authorization (also known as an Employer Authorization Document – “EAD”) is typically attached to a visa, or your legal status within the United States. Therefore, in order to be legally authorized to work in the United States, you will need to have a visa or legal status that permits this. As mentioned, there is currently no formal “remote work visa” category that can be neatly applied to remote workers or digital nomads.
That said, you still might have options to live and work remotely in the United States. Let’s have a look at some of the most accessible visa options available to remote workers and digital nomads:
What are my options to live and work remotely in the United States?
B1/B2 Visa for Remote Workers
In 2022, I published an article aimed to inform digital nomads and remote workers about the alternative possibilities of living and working in the United States. In brief, the article explains how the B-1/B-2: Temporary Business Visitor visa might be the closest immigration pathway for remote workers in the United States. In a best case scenario, the B-1 visa will be granted for 10-years and can be extended for up to 1-year with multiple-entry.
Still, there are many considerations and potential risks associated with applying this visa directly for the purpose of remote work. For example, issuance of a B-1/B-2 visa requires proof of sufficient funds to cover the expenses of your stay and clear evidence demonstrating that you will depart the United States. Furthermore, consular processing of this visa can be challenging depending on your nationality and where you are submitting the application. This is a serious matter, as the denial of a B1/B2 application will also revoke any visa-waiver privileges (i.e. the ESTA).
Lastly, the B-1/B-2 visa does not grant you work authorization – so even if the visa is granted, it is a fine-line when it comes to working remotely in the United States. In other words, you still need to interview with a US Consular Officer to get the visa stamp and pass through U.S. customs at the border. Being prepared for both the consular interview and this entry is critical for those seeking to live and work remotely in the United States.
For additional tips and valuable insight check-out this article on pursuing the B1/B2 visa as a solution for remote workers and feel free to schedule a consultation.
Using the Visa-Waiver Program or ESTA for Remote Workers
Can I live and work remotely in the United States on an ESTA or visa-waiver? If you are fortunate enough to have access to a visa-waiver program (VWP) or ESTA you might be thinking: “Well, I can just come to the United States for a few months and work remotely.”
As you probably know, the ESTA permits you to enter the United States without a visa for a duration up to 180 days. It is a fairly straightforward and quick process, only available for certain countries, and is typically for the purposes of short-term tourism or business activities. And the ESTA certainly does not grant work authorization. So once again, legally it is impermissible for you to live and work in the United States on an ESTA.
That said, we live in the year 2024. Anyone traveling to the United States on an ESTA is likely carrying with them a “mobile telecommunications device.” This modern day technology connects people to something called the world-wide-web or “internet”. It is also highly probable that on these devices you can access work-related channels – i.e. email or a new modern app called Slack that most custom officials have never heard of. Catch my drift?
If it sounds like I am being sarcastic, you’ve figured me out, however, this is not to be taken lightly. While the U.S. government does not have a big-brother surveillance system, nor will it anytime soon for purposes of immigration regulatory compliance, there is a close cousin: U.S. Customs. In reality, a U.S. Customs Officer reserves the right to confiscate your personal property upon arrival in the United States – including your mobile phone or laptop. Furthermore, they have an unrestricted right to dig-deeper into your personal and professional communications, including WhatsApp messages!
These are the national security measures we are talking about, however, as a licensed U.S. immigration lawyer, it is my responsibility to advise you that IF a customs official does find proof or evidence of you working in the United States, and you have previously denied this, it will undoubtedly present issues.
Also, keep in mind that the ESTA permits you to remain in the United States for a duration of 180-days in a calendar year. Therefore, you cannot simply cross the border and return, as you will need to wait until this time period resets and the ESTA is valid again for re-entry.
The Consular Interview and Entering the United States as a Remote Worker
Two of the most anxious moments for foreign nationals with a desire to enter the United States in any visa category is the consular interview and official customs border-crossing.
This is no surprise, as these are likely the last steps before you are “free” to explore the New World. Furthermore, there is something physical about these experiences that can be intimidating.
Having practiced U.S. immigration law for over a decade, I’ve experienced almost all the stories you can imagine – and not all have a happy outcome (although most do). And I also find it ironic to be emphasizing this very physical moment of meeting with a consular officer or entering the United States with a purpose to perform remote work – yet the truth remains, there is no formal U.S. remote work visa, and therefore one of the most critical moments is both obtaining the physical visa stamp in your passport and/or “physical entry” into the United States.
While there is a decent amount of uncertainty in these formal procedures, there is definitely a way to minimize risk, boost your confidence and increase your chances of a smooth entry into the United States. Here is some underlying advice for how to approach these potential encounters:
U.S. Immigration Tips for Remote Workers
1. Tell the Truth
The most important piece of advice I can give remote workers entering the United States is this: TELL THE TRUTH. Failure to do so can have lasting consequences that can negatively impact your ability to obtain a future visa for the United States. You will no doubt regret this later.
2. Less is More
The second most important piece of advice I can give is this: Less is more. There is no need to spill your entire life story or itinerary to a U.S. consular officer or customs official. What they are looking for in a response is very black and white. In other words, only answer what has been asked, succinctly.
3. Are you working in the United States?
The quick answer is, no. But this depends on your situation and you must be tactful.
In fact, when an officer asks this question, he is likely referring to any potential work within the United States and trying to gauge whether you are being paid a salary by a U.S. company to perform services. In other words, any response that might trigger a need for further proof of work authorization.
Of course, if you are actually planning to meet with clients, colleagues, attend business meetings or anything that you believe is associated with work, you can mention this. Again, there is nothing illegal about visiting the U.S. for business purposes, but you should understand that being paid in the United States for work performed in the United States by a U.S. entity might require proper work authorization.
For remote workers and digital nomads, this might seem to be the most challenging question to answer. Even if you have good intentions, a slip of tongue or misrepresentation of what you really mean could be trouble. In fact, this is the “gray zone” that the U.S. immigration framework currently finds itself in for remote workers, and there is no reason to get into this kind of conversation with an immigration officer, unless prompted.
When will there be a remote work visa for the United States?
The United States remote work visa should be available by the year 2030.
Okay, seriously speaking there is no real evidence to that claim. In fact, the U.S. immigration system historically moves at glacial speed. We have outdated immigration policies that have been going stale since the 1990s. Overall, it is a complex, layered immigration framework that boasts as many opportunities as it does challenges.
However, legislative changes to introduce a new remote work visa category into the U.S.immigration system will notoriously require heavy lifting and the alignment of countless moving parts: From grassroots lobbying and party-politics to pen-to-paper drafting of legislation. Just to give an example, only recently did USCIS start acknowledging “serviced offices” as a potential way to meet the requirement of maintaining a “physical office presence” for purposes of non-immigrant visa categories like the L-1 or E-2 visa.
Still, we cannot ignore the relentless waves and trends that are taking place globally. In the United States, global mobility stakeholders, including immigration lawyers, are finally understanding the implications of remote work. Pressures for change are undoubtedly coming in from all directions, but mostly from clients who are seeking a solution to live and work remotely in the United States. Altogether, conversations about immigration compliance for remote workers are beginning to surface in higher frequencies and carry more weight in a formal context.
For someone who has lived and worked remotely since the start of my career as an immigration lawyer nearly a decade ago, I find this evolution to be both significant and necessary. I also see more opportunities for global talent to live and work in the United States emerging.
To wrap this up, as an immigration lawyer in the year 2024, I firmly believe that if your employment and source of earning rests outside the United States, and your remuneration is anchored to that foreign entity, you have options to live and work remotely in the United States. Yet, until we have a neat U.S. immigration solution, I would advise you to be as informed as possible to ensure compliance with the current realities.
David Cantor is a licensed immigration lawyer and global mobility advocate. He has extensive experience with remote work visas and is currently fostering U.S. immigration solutions for global talent at The Build Fellowship.
👉Contact David to learn more about your immigration options today.