“My software company commitments require that I travel to the U.S. on business regularly. I fly to New York City about once a month and drive to Buffalo every few weeks. I always carry my passport and always tell the border guard I am traveling to a meeting. Unfortunately my experience at border crossings is growing alarmingly unpleasant, and twice now I’ve felt that the border guard was very close to turning me away because he didn’t believe I only attend meetings. Surely these people keep track of who crosses where and when and can easily figure out my story is true? Has anyone else experienced such difficulty? And if so, what have you done to ease the situation?”
Mike Salveta, HROI Human Capital Solutions, Mississauga, Ont.
The problem you face will become more difficult unless you take active steps to provide justification of your business visitors’ status to immigration port-of-entry inspectors. Being turned away at the border, or worse, being denied travel privileges for an extended period, can be catastrophic for your business.
There are a couple of things you can do to make your trips easier:
- Carry a letter from your company that outlines that you are entering as a business visitor on behalf of a Canadian company and that your expenses are paid by that Canadian firm. Identify that you will immediately leave the U.S. at the conclusion of each trip and return to Canada.
- Have supporting documentation with you, such as a return ticket, utility bills or mortgage and bank statements related to your Canadian residence.
- Consider applying for an INSPASS, a pre-approved multiple entry pass.
Your company should undertake the paperwork to ensure you are issued an L-1 business visa, which allows you to travel to the US with no problems to do business for your parent company. We work closely with the attorneys at Hodgson Russ, which have offices in Toronto and Buffalo. At the very least, a B-1 business visa would help (which is basically substantiated by a company letter outlining your employment and duties for the company in the US.)
Jana Marmei, AXISevents
I find this article very topical and interesting as I have now had some of the same experiences. I am a meeting planner and association administrator who frequently brings in US speakers to give talks to my association’s memberships. Recently a speaker came and told of a story that the last trip up here he was almost not let in because he did not have a work permit. He was also delayed until he proved that he had a letter of invitation from our group. I am now preparing myself for this in the future by having to issue letters of invitation to those speakers.
Aside from the obvious security issues, the U.S. border staff are responsible for ensuring the protection of U.S. jobs (despite all the free trade PR).
Read the government website (U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service) … and the message I glean from that is that the bottom line is protecting American jobs. So put yourself in the inspection agent’s shoes, so to speak. Does the reason you’re entering the U.S. at all threaten a U.S. job (current or one that could exist)? Could what you’re doing be done just as well by an American worker?
So think in a positive light and prepare your case accordingly — how is your business activity making jobs for Americans? How does your crossing in to the US create work for Americans? (And be sure you have a return ticket.)
One of the best ways is to show a letter from a US company requesting your presence at a meeting. This shows that you have a reason for crossing and where you are going. Embossed preprinted letterhead in lieu of anyone-can-do-it-on-a-printer letterhead works better.
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