Recently Amcham Finland had the pleasure of organizing a discussion on work-based immigration into the United States. Leading the discussion was Matthew Winslow, Vice Consul Embassy of the United States in Finland and Ceri Koski, Shareholder at U.S. law firm Ogletree Deakins. Participants in the discussion were representatives from the Finnish business and legal communities. I wanted to share with you some of the key takeaways from the session, so that you and your business will be better prepared to successfully navigate the U.S. immigration process.
Plan Well Ahead
If you were to visit the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website, you would see that it is advisable to apply for your ESTA at least 72 hours ahead of travel. Matthew indicated that 72 hours in advance is actually not enough to go through the visa application process if ESTA is denied, therefore, the application should be submitted much more in advance. On that note, Ceri brought up an excellent point; An ESTA application costs only $14, and if a website charges more then it’s not an official U.S. government website. Ceri also told us that published processing times for work related visas do not always align with actual processing times. Expect processing times to take longer, and plan your U.S. business activities and the movement of key personnel accordingly.
Be Prepared at the Point of Entry
Ceri said that it has recently become more challenging for foreigners to obtain access to the United States. It is also important to remember that having successfully obtained a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. That decision ultimately resides with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). A recent phenomenon that foreigners are experiencing at the port of entry are device searches. Yes, CBP officials have the right to search through your electronic devices. To ensure privacy, employees may want to ensure their devices do not contain sensitive confidential information. Ceri also advised that when travelling under a B visa or ESTA, carry an invitation letter from your U.S. based business partner explaining the purpose of your visit, or have a letter from your Finnish employer stating your role within the company and the purpose of your visit. Both letters should have detailed contact information for CBP to use if needed.
What’s the Point of All This?
The point of obtaining a work-based visa is the legal transference of employees for your U.S. subsidiary (or U.S. employer). This is accomplished by having the employee complete an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form that the U.S. affiliate must keep on file. It’s a crucial step for all new hires, especially in today’s political environment. Ceri noted that companies are increasingly subjected to I-9 audits, and FDNS (The Office of Fraud Detection and National Security) may perform site visits to confirm the accuracy of information in the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) petition. It is best to be prepared by designating a U.S. employee to handle this possibility.
Questions? Get in touch.
Should you have questions about U.S. immigration or need proper guidance, please let me know.
I would like to conclude by thanking Ceri and Matt, and a special thanks goes to Brad Mitchell and the wonderful team at Fondia for hosting us.