Can I Work in the U.S. with a Tourist Visa?

Because tourist VISAs are the easiest to obtain, people often ask me if they can work in the United States with a tourist visa. The answer is no; you generally can’t do it. If you are in the U.S. on a visitor visa, a B1 or B2 visa, you cannot accept employment to work in the United States.

Work on a visitor visa

There are some very narrow work-related activities that you may perform on a B-1 visitor visa. These include:

  • Negotiating a contract
  • Settling an estate
  • Consulting with business associates
  • Attending a business, scientific, or educational, or professional conference

If you are in the U.S. on a B-2 tourist visa, your activities are even more limited. You may enroll in a short recreational course of study, like a weekend cooking class while you are on vacation.

Don’t overstay your welcome

Do not overstay your visa. You can apply to extend your stay if:

  • You were here legally with a non-immigrant visa
  • Your non-immigrant visa status is still valid
  • You haven’t committed any crimes that might make you ineligible
  • You haven’t violated the conditions of your admission
  • Your passport is valid and will remain valid for the rest of your stay

If you stay in the U.S. after your tourist visa expires, you will be “out of status.” Violations can make you ineligible to receive a visa or enter the United States in the future. If you are in the U.S. illegally for 180 days, USCIS will bar you from entering the U.S. for the next three years. If you are in the U.S. illegally for over one year, USCIS will bar you from entering the U.S. for the ten years after you leave the US.

Can I convert my U.S. tourist visa to a work permit?

You may be able to convert your B-1 or B-2 visitor visa to a work visa if your visa hasn’t expired and if you have not misused your B visa. A misuse of your B visa is coming to the US with the intention of looking for a job so that you can change your status to a visa that allows you to work.

Some possible petitions to change your B visa to a work visa include:

  • H-1B visa: This visa allows a foreign worker to work for a U.S. employer in a specialty occupation temporarily. For this visa, your employer must file an I-129 petition and ask the USCIS to change your status to H-1B and extend your stay for a specific period, usually three years. For employees of for-profit employers (cap subject employers), this visa is only processed once a year.
  • O-1 visa: This visa allows a foreign worker with extraordinary abilities to work temporarily for a U.S. worker. Your employer must file an I-129 petition and ask the USCIS to change your status.
  • H-2A or H-2B visas: These visas are for temporary or seasonal agricultural or non-agricultural workers.

There are additional work-related visas, but the most important thing to remember is that you must file the  hange of status must happen before your tourist visa expires and then NOT work until the new visa is approved.

Leaving the US to get the visa at the embassy may be the better option for you. However, the novel coronavirus pandemic has also thrown a new wrinkle into immigration plans this year. In March of this year, President Trump issued an executive order suspending many work-related visas for 60 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, he extended the suspension until the end of 2020. These proclamations apply to visa applicants who are outside of the US.

Whether you are just beginning the immigration process or are already in the middle, it’s a good idea to discuss your situation with an experienced immigration attorney. I’ve helped many immigrants from around the world through the U.S. immigration process, and I’m happy to help you. Call (617) 714-4375 or email to get in touch.