When to use ESTA or a B1 visa when travelling to the US on business

Recently I have had several people asking me when or if they should apply for a B1 business visa as opposed to using the ESTA visa waiver when travelling to the US on business.

Basically the ESTA visa waiver permits all the same business activities as the B1 business visa, except the maximum period allowed in the US under the ESTA visa waiver is 90 days whereas the B1 visa will allow trips of up to 6 months at a time.  Furthermore, you can apply to extend the B1 visa from within the US should your business needs require it, whereas you can not extend the ESTA visa waiver and must leave the US before the 90 day period is complete (the actual permitted time period is dictated by the Border Control Officer on entry so you will need to check the date stamped in your passport to ensure there is no risk of overstaying).  

If you are certain that your trip is going to be for 90 days or less, then save your self some time and money and use the ESTA visa waiver, which costs a mere $14 and takes about 10 minutes to complete online. The B1 visa application will involve completing the long and involved DS-160 form online, paying approx NZ$285 for the visa application fee, and, if aged between 14-79 years of age, attend an interview at the US consulate in Auckland.  

If you anticipate that your trip may be longer than 90 days, or you are ineligible to use the ESTA visa waiver for some reason you will need to apply for a visa.  Ineligibility may be due to a certain physical or mental illness, arrest and/or conviction of a “crime involving moral turpitude,” or use of illicit drugs.

Determining whether your conviction was for a “crime involving moral turpitude” can be complicated and you may wish to consult an immigration lawyer before you apply for ESTA if you are unsure.

A single DIC/DUI conviction is not a crime involving moral turpitude and is therefore not a ground to deny entry into the U.S under ESTA, meaning you may still enter the US on an ESTA visa waiver if you have only one DIC/DUI conviction.  If you have more than one DIC/DUI conviction, have been charged with using illicit drugs, or have been convicted of or punished for a crime involving moral turpitude (regardless of how long ago or whether the conviction was recorded – the clean slate rules do not apply) then you are ineligible for the ESTA visa waiver and must apply for a visa. 

If you have any questions regarding the nature of the offence you have been charged with, or whether you need to apply for a visa, feel free to contact us.