Saturday, March 14, 2009

Visas for travel to the US

Why a post about Visas on an agile software blog, you ask? Well, if you have a distributed team with members around the globe, and you believe in the agile principle that the most effective method of conveying information is face-to-face communication, then you might need to have some people hop a plane. Here is a summary of the types of US Visas that you might pursue for offshore team members.

  • B-1: for conferences, meetings, business events
These can typically be used for visits of 2-4 weeks, and they must not involve US employment. In the past many companies got away with much longer visits on B-1, but the government has cracked down on that abuse recently.
  • H-1B: for temporary employment in the US
Only about 65,000 H-1B visas are granted each year, and most of those are claimed by large companies. Visa holder must be compensated at US market rates.
  • L-1: for intra-company transfer to a US-based branch.
For L-1 The US & foreign company must share common ownership, and applicant must already be employed by the foreign affiliate. Larger companies can obtain blanket L status.
  • H-3: for training at a US company that is not available in the applicant's home country*
* Many restrictions apply ;-)
  • J-1: “exchange” visitors in pre-approved areas of study.*
* Again, many restrictions apply with the J-1 program.

For all types of visas, applicants that don't have strong ties to their home country (such as a spouse, children, and property) may be denied. There is a Visa waiver program for visits of 90 days or less from 27 countries (mostly European, also Japan, Singapore, NZ).

Allow lots of time for visa applications to be approved, too. Plan on several months for applicants from places like India and China.

Are you thinking about pushing your luck on a B-1 Visa? Tread carefully. Attempting to obtain a visa by the willful misrepresentation of a material fact, or fraud, may result in the permanent refusal of a visa or denial of entry into the United States.

On the bright side, it's very easy for US citizens to obtain visas to almost any country - unless your offshore team is in Cuba, that is.

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