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Crossing the border for business reasons

Posted on May 9, 2012
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International travel has become more difficult, even across the U.S.-Canada border.

The majority of the million-plus people seeking entry into the United States and Canada daily are either business visitors or tourists. To enter the U.S. as a business visitor requires either a B-1 visa or the categorization as “B-1.” To enter Canada, either a visitor visa or categorization as a “business visitor” is required.

Both countries face the challenge of facilitating legitimate travellers’ entry swiftly and seamlessly while blocking those without proper permission, as well as potential terrorists or security threats. Officials often err on the side of intense scrutiny, and sometimes deny entry to the wrong people, for the wrong reasons.

Here’s an example: an engineer from a Canadian company seeks to enter the U.S. to meet with prospective clients to eventually sell services. When asked by U.S. authorities about the purpose of the trip, the engineer might correctly state: “I’m going to ‘work’ in the United States.” This could result in denial of entry. However, if the answer had been: “I’m meeting with a potential client in the U.S. to sell my company’s services,” chances are he’d be admitted.

“Work” is undoubtedly a four-letter word.

Immigration authorities confuse travelling “on business” and “for work.” A business traveller is working, not entering the U.S. as a vacationer. The U.S. State Department’s Foreign Affairs manual publishes guidance notes for its officers on immigration. The 32-page note on temporary visitors uses many euphemisms to describe what is otherwise known as this dirty word, work, including: “Legitimate activities relating to business,” “Attend a meeting of the board of directors” or “perform other functions.”

The Foreign Affairs manual cites a Board of Immigration Appeals decision involving a tailor measuring customers in the U.S. for suits to be manufactured and shipped from outside the U.S. The decision states this was “an appropriate business visitor activity because the principal place of business and the actual place of accrual of profits, if any, was in the foreign country.” The decision is unquestionably correct; however, if the tailor were actually asked if he was “working” he would undoubtedly and accurately have answered, “yes.”

This avoidance and misapplication of the word “work” gives rise to a number of problems when entering the United States.

By contrast, Canada’s business visitor classification facilitates the entry of people who intend to carry on business or trade activities. The Canadian immigration authorities don’t treat “work” as a nasty word. In fact, Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Guidelines prefaces the term business visitor as “work without a work permit.”

While the basic regulations for business visitors entering Canada and the U.S. are similar, the notions associated with the regulations and their clarity are quite different.

Visa issue and length of stay

A source of confusion for Canadians entering the United States, and Americans entering Canada, is that visas aren’t required by either country for pleasure trips or for most work statuses.

It is frequently asked how long a Canadian or U.S. stay can be, for either a business visitor or a tourist. Canadian regulations are clear: unless Canadian border patrol officials limit the stay, a person may remain in Canada for six months from the date of entry.

Entry into the United States is not as simple. It’s a common misperception that a person entering the U.S. who is not limited by an entry document may stay for up to six months. However, most Canadians can stay in the U.S. for more than six months without a visa. While others are generally limited to a six-month U.S. stay, Canadian citizens may enter the U.S. for up to one year.

The overriding principle in entering both Canada and the U.S. is that one must not intend to change country of residence. One must truly be visiting, not seeking to stay forever.

Other factors lead Canadians to think they may stay in the U.S. for only six months: there are tax consequences of staying away too long and potential for losing Canadian medical coverage. This often motivates people to limit stays outside Canada to 180 days.

Cranky borders

Business travellers’ perception is that the Canadian and U.S. borders have tightened up exceedingly, travelling has become increasingly more difficult, questions are more wide-ranging and detailed, and people are subjected to “secondary” inspection more frequently. We have no statistics on this, but based on frequent reports, it seems true.

An example was a Canadian engaged to an American citizen who was on her way to see him for a week. She had shipped goods to the U.S., anticipating obtaining a U.S. work permit a few weeks later. Not only was she denied entry to the U.S. to visit her fiancé, she was judged to be “fraudulently misrepresenting a material fact” and was barred from the United States for life.

Why the crankiness? Immigration officers seem to be torn between security and facilitation. No immigration officer wants to admit a terrorist, and they are erring more frequently by saying no than in the past. Secondly, immigration offices are often understaffed. Officers are overworked and frequently have insufficient guidance, particularly on the U.S. side.

Immigration officers have a “keepers of the gate” mentality on both sides of the border, including when it comes to employment: “Why can’t an American do this job?” they might ask. (Or, on the other side, a Canadian?) This question is inappropriate in the context of the North American free-trade agreement, which exempts labor market considerations. Especially when the economy is weak, there’s a reluctance to admit people perceived, rightly or wrongly, as negatively affecting the economy.

Business travellers should state the truth, and state it succinctly. When taking a trip to the U.S., one is not going to “work.” Business meetings, client visits, negotiating contracts, furthering international sales are allowable phrases. When working, one must always be working for the foreign employer.

For more news and updates, assistance with your visa needs or for a Free Assessment of your profile for Immigration or Work Visa’s just visit www.y-axis.com

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