Restrictions on working and traveling under the Visa Waiver Program
Traveling and working with the Visa Waiver Program generally means engaging in business activities other than the actual performance of labor. To work in the United States, you will need a visa specifically for that purpose.

The visa waiver program is appropriate for the following types of persons/activities: Selling, Voluntary Work, Service Engineer, Speaker/Lecturer, Conference, Researcher, Business Venture, Medical Elective, Telecommuters.

Selling: Individuals traveling to the United States to participate in an exhibition, set up an exhibition booth, display samples, sign contracts, and take orders for merchandise produced in and delivered from Japan, may be eligible for travel under the Visa Waiver Program. Those who travel under the Visa Waiver Program may not actually sell or take orders for merchandise produced in the United States. If the proposed activities are not as described, a temporary work visa will be required.

Voluntary Work: Individuals participating in a voluntary service program which benefits a U.S. local community, who can establish that they are a member of, and have a commitment to, a particular recognized religious or nonprofit charitable organization, may be eligible for work under the Visa Waiver Program if the work to be performed is traditionally done by volunteer charity workers; they will receive no salary or remuneration from a U.S. source, other than an allowance or other reimbursement for expenses incidental to their stay in the United States; and they cannot engage in the selling of articles and/or the solicitation and acceptance of donations.

A voluntary service program is an organized project conducted by a recognized religious or nonprofit charitable organization to provide assistance to the poor or the needy, or to further a religious or charitable cause.

If the proposed activities as a voluntary worker are not as described, you will require either an exchange visitor (J-1) or temporary work visa.

Please Note: When applying for entry into the United States as a voluntary worker under the Visa Waiver Program, you should furnish a letter from your U.S. sponsor which contains the following information:

Your name and date and place of birth;
Your foreign permanent residence address;
The name and address of initial destination in the U.S.; and
The anticipated duration of your assignment

Service Engineer: Engineers traveling to the United States to install, service, or repair commercial or industrial equipment or machinery sold by a company in Japan to a buyer in the United States, under a purchase contract requiring that the Japanese company provide such services may apply for the Visa Waiver Program. However, in such cases, the engineer(s) must possess the specialized knowledge essential to perform the services, receive no remuneration from a U.S. source, and the company must not receive any payment for these services in addition to that specified in the original contract of sale. If the proposed activities are not as described, a temporary work visa will be required.

Please note that travel under the Visa Waiver Program does not cover building or construction work, even if the purchase contract requires that the company provide such services. In such cases, the employees must always qualify for a temporary work visa.

Traveling under the Visa Waiver Program is also appropriate for engineers traveling to the United States to train U.S. personnel in the installation, service or repair of commercial or industrial equipment or machinery as specified above. The individuals concerned must continue to be paid by the Japanese company and the contract of sale must specifically require the seller to provide such services.

Speaker/Lecturer: Individuals traveling to the United States in connection with a speaking engagement may apply for travel under the Visa Waiver Program provided there is no remuneration from a U.S. source, other than expenses incidental to the visit. Speakers/lectures who will receive an honorarium in addition to incidental expenses may still be eligible for the Visa Waiver Program provided they satisfy the following conditions:

The activities will last no longer than nine days at a single institution;
The institution is a nonprofit research organization or a governmental research organization, or an institution of higher education, or a related or affiliated nonprofit entity;
Such activities are conducted for the benefit of the institution or entity; and
The speaker/lecturer has not accepted such payment or expenses from five such institutions during the previous six month period.

If the proposed activities are not as described, an exchange visitor (J-1) or temporary work visa will be required.

Conference: Individuals participating in scientific, educational, professional, or business conventions, conferences or seminars may travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. The Visa Waiver Program is also appropriate to present a paper at the conference, provided there is no remuneration from a U.S. source other than expenses incidental to the stay. Those who will receive an honorarium in addition to incidental expenses will only be eligible for the Visa Waiver Program provided they satisfy the following conditions:

The activities will last no longer than nine days at a single institution;
The institution is a nonprofit research organization or a governmental research organization, or an institution of higher education, or a related or affiliated nonprofit entity;
Such activities are conducted for the benefit of the institution or entity; and
The delegate has not accepted such payment or expenses from five such institutions during the previous six month period.
If the proposed activities are not as described, an exchange visitor (J-1) or temporary work visa will be required.

Note: The applications of those seeking visas to attend a technical conference may be subject to additional administrative processing. Therefore, do not make any final travel plans until you have received your passport with a visa in it.

Researcher: Individuals engaged in independent research may be eligible for travel under the Visa Waiver Program provided there is no remuneration from a U.S. source and the results of the research will not benefit the American institution. Those who will receive payment from a U.S. source and/or the U.S. institution will benefit from the results of the research, will require an exchange visitor (J-1) or temporary work visa.

Business Venture: The Visa Waiver Program is the appropriate classification for individuals traveling to the United States to survey potential sites for a business and/or to lease premises. However, the person traveling under the Visa Waiver Program may not remain in the United States to manage the business. An L-1 (intra-company transferee) visa is required. This would enable the holder to travel to the United States for a temporary period to open up and operate a branch, subsidiary or affiliate office of the business there. To qualify, the new U.S. operation is required to file a petition on the employee's behalf with the nearest office of the Department of Homeland Security, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the United States.

Medical Elective: An elective clerkship which affords practical experience and instruction in the various disciplines of medicine under the supervision and direction of faculty physicians at a U.S. medical school's hospital may be undertaken by those traveling under the Visa Waiver Program, if the clerkship is an approved part of the individual's foreign school education and no remuneration will be received from the hospital. When applying for a visa, a letter from the U.S. medical school outlining the nature and duration of the stay and source of remuneration, if any, should accompany the application. If traveling under the Visa Waiver Program, the letter from the school should be presented to the officer of the Immigration and Naturalization Service at the port of entry.

Students seeking training as physiotherapists, dentists, nurses or vets require H-3 visas.

Telecommuters: Individuals temporarily resident in the United States who will be working from home as computer programmers for foreign based companies may be eligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Program provided they satisfy the following conditions:

The individual is employed by a company outside of the United States;
No remuneration will be received from a U.S. source, other than expenses incidental to the stay;
The work is in an occupation requiring a bachelor's or higher degree in the specific specialty and the individual has that level of education.

The above information is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice. To receive advice regarding your individual circumstance, please consult an immigration attorney or consular officer.