The COVID-19 pandemic drastically transformed the workplace for most professionals, expanding opportunities for remote work and blurring the lines between travelling for business and pleasure. Many foreign nationals coming to visit the United States temporarily on business visa (B-1) and tourist visa (B-2) visas may be under the false impression that remote work is a permissible and unrestricted activity with their status because the employment is for a foreign country and not getting paid here. In actuality, in many instances this can be considered unauthorized employment and could jeopardize securing immigration benefits in the future. Only green card holders, persons with employment authorization documents, or visas that permit temporary employment permit someone to work in the United States.
A tourist visa (B-2) permits tourism, visiting friends of family, visiting tourist sites, attending a wedding, participating in social events, receiving medical treatment, participating in amateur cultural activities, and participating in a course of study (such as an amateur cooking class for beginners). A business visa (B-1) allows for consulting with business associates, negotiating contracts, attending business meetings, attending conferences, settling an estate, or participating in short-term training. Neither visa allows for employment in the United States, even while working for a foreign company. B visa visitors can receive reimbursements and honorarium payments associated with incidental expenses.
In the modern world, actions that could be considered work may be viewed on a spectrum of permissibility. It is not out of the ordinary for a person to check their work email or receive a call from their place of employment while travelling for pleasure. While this does not constitute legal advice, most attorneys would consider this activity permissible due to its brief and incidental nature. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s clear that a B visitor working remotely for full-time while simultaneously engaging in tourism activities would be engaging in impermissible conduct. Clearly, with expanded remote work, there is now room for significant ambiguity and confusion within the law.
While many foreign countries have created digital nomad visas to encourage remote workers, United States has not created one. Some temporary employment visas that could potentially allow for remote employment in the United States include the O-1A, L-1, H-1B, TN, E-3, and E-2 visas; however, none of these visas were designed for the purpose of working remotely while travelling.