What Digital Nomads Need to Know about U.S. Work Visas

What Digital Nomads Need to Know about U.S. Work VisasTL;DR – It will likely take many years for United States immigration law to catch up to practices that accommodate digital nomads and flexible work. Until then, it may be best to skip the U.S. in favor of countries with digital nomad visas, such as the ones listed here.

When it comes to working remotely, some countries’ visa and immigration laws are more difficult to navigate than others. The United States is one example where remote work can be complicated. It poses serious immigration risks if you don’t read up on the laws beforehand. If you’re a non-U.S. citizen thinking about working remotely in the U.S., here’s everything you need to know about the country’s work and tourist visa requirements before planning your stay.

Can I Work Remotely in the U.S. Without a Work Visa? 

The short answer is no, you can’t legally work in the United States without some type of work visa. Generally speaking, anyone who doesn’t have a valid work visa issued by the U.S. government isn’t authorized to work while physically present in the U.S. For a variety of reasons we’ll explore in more detail below, it’s best not to work remotely in the U.S. without a work visa, even if you believe you can fly under the government’s radar during your stay.

According to U.S. immigration law, any individual who conducts work or earns an income in the U.S. must obtain official work authorization from the government. Working while physically present in the U.S., even for an employer located abroad, is still considered work by the U.S. government. This is true even if you receive your income payments in a foreign bank account. 

What Happens if I Work Temporarily in the U.S. on a Tourist Visa? 

If you’re entering the U.S. on a tourist visa, like a B-1/B-2 visa or through the Visa Waiver Program (for nationals of certain countries), it’s important to understand the requirements of your temporary visa status. For example, the B-1/B-2 visa is intended for short-term travels only and allows you to enter the country for tourism or certain business purposes. Although you may be able to attend business-related events while on this visa, like meetings or conferences, the B-1/B-2 does not grant U.S. work authorization.

Violating the conditions of your temporary visa could have serious immigration implications, including having your visa status revoked and having to leave the country. This could also lead to problems down the road if you try to enter the United States again, meaning the U.S. government could deny you entry into the country or refuse to grant future visa requests. 

In practice, there is always some gray area when it comes to the application of immigration law, but assuming you’ve come to the U.S. on a tourist visa, it’s possible to encounter immigration issues if the U.S. government learns you’ve been earning income during your trip. There have been many cases of people being denied tourist visas if they tell the interviewing visa officer that they plan to work remotely during their trip to the U.S. It is always up to the discretion of U.S. government officials on how to handle individual cases, but the general consensus seems to be that working while on a tourist visa is risky and should be avoided if possible. Although each situation is different, it might be better to play it safe when it comes to U.S. immigration law!

Does the U.S. Offer a Digital Nomad Visa?

No, the U.S. government currently does not offer a visa specifically for digital nomads. As of now, only “traditional” work visas that address a relationship between an immigrant worker and a U.S. employer are available to apply for.

These visa restrictions can seem rigid in today’s world, but it will likely take many years for U.S. immigration law to catch up to practices that accommodate digital nomads and flexible work. 

Hiring Remote Workers 

The arbitrary boundaries between where a person works and where the business is located have come down, but the practical and legal boundaries still exist. We recommend using an international hiring platform like one of these to keep your U.S. based business, and employees, out of legal trouble while finding the best possible talent from around the world.

Elizabeth Hagearty writes about immigration news and policies for Boundless, an immigration technology company based in Seattle.

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