B1 Visitors at Trade Shows or Conventions

The U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently addressed a common question on its website regarding the scope of permissible activities for a B1 visitor for business attending a trade show or conference [PDF version].

The questioner stated that he or she had a B1 visa and asked whether it would be permissible to sell his or her products or goods at a trade show or conference while in the United States in B1 status. The CBP responded as follows:

As a B-1 visa holder, you can temporarily bring goods or products into the United States to solicit orders but you cannot sell them or make money in the United States. If you visit the U.S. for a business venture, conference, meeting, trade show, exhibition, sales, etc., you will receive no salary, or income from a U.S. based company, source or entity.

The CBP's brief guidance is consistent with the guidance provided by the Department of State (DOS) to consular officers for purpose of adjudicating applications for B1 visas. The Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) at 9 FAM 402.2-5(A) notes that the B1 visa is for “business activities other than the performance of skilled or unskilled labor.” The FAM lists several activities that may be appropriate for B1 classification, including “participat[ing] in … professional or business conventions [or] conferences.” 9 FAM 402.2-5(B). While participating in business conferences or conventions is permissible in B1 status, provided that the visitor is not engaging in employment, the DOS instructs consular officers to “give particular attention to applicants traveling to the United States to attend conferences, conventions, or meetings on specific dates” in the context of “overcome[ing] the presumption that they are intending immigrants.” 9 FAM 402.2-2(F).

The FAM's B1 guidance derives primarily from the precedent decision in Matter of Hira, 11 I&N Dec. 824 (BIA 1966; A.G. 1966) [PDF version] [see article]. In that case, the B1 visitor worked for a tailor in Hong Kong. In the United States, he took orders and measurements from individual prospective customers who had seen the company's literature, but did not solicit customers. Furthermore, his expenses for his temporary stay were paid by his parents in India. The Board, subsequently affirmed by the Attorney General, concluded that this constituted permissible business activities for B1 purposes.

The CBP's guidance appears to generally follow Matter of Hira. A B1 business visitor cannot sell products in the United States, for that would veer into performing labor. A business visitor may bring products into the United States to solicit orders provided that he or she does not actually sell them. The individual may not receive a salary or income from a U.S.-based company.

In any B1 case, it is important to err on the side of caution. The fact that a particular proposed visit to a trade show or conference may be found to be permissible does not mean that another will. Prospective business visitors should be forthright about their plans for visiting the United States. If it is determined that a proposed visit is outside the scope of B1 status, they may seek an alternative visa that is more amenable to the proposed purpose of their visit. When in the United States, a B1 visa holder is well advised to consult with an experienced immigration attorney in the event that he or she is unsure whether a particular activity is permissible under the rules governing B1 status.

We discuss travel visas generally, including B1 visas, in a growing section on site [see category].