Making your way to the USA: a primer in pandemic times

By Dan Clark Published 31/07/2020

Bags packed, passport in hand, not so fast…

We’re opening our first coliving space in New York City and as an international company, headquartered in Brussels, we feel the need to keep you informed. 

If you’re struggling to keep up with all the changes in travel restrictions and visas for the U.S., you’re not alone.

Here are the facts on how it stands today (July 28, 2020).
We’ve prepared this post with a lot of help from Sarah Friedman over at the Belgian-American Chamber of Commerce in New York. 

Keep in mind that these measures can and will change without much warning, so be sure to check out the references throughout for the most up to date information.


What documents do I need to travel to USA, New York?

For holidays/vacation
– Your passport (valid for at least six months after your travel dates).
– A valid visitor’s visa (B-2) or ESTA approval.

For short term work or business
– Your passport (valid for at least six months after your travel dates).
– A valid business visa (B-1) or ESTA approval.

Be aware! The rules for business travel are extremely strict. In general, consulting with business associates, speaking at or attending a conference, negotiating a contract, or settling an estate are considered permitted activities. Performing your usual duties is strictly prohibited.

For long term work or business
– Your passport (valid for at least six months after your intended stay).
– A U.S. visa in line with your proposed activities in the USA.

In most cases, your employer would be responsible for petitioning the appropriate visa for you. Read on for some options. Any supplemental visa documentation you have from your company or sponsor.

So. Where should we begin?

Only joking, but there are 4 major Presidential Proclamations in place that restrict both travel and visa issuance for European nationals, mandated by Trump’s executive order.

For Travel: At the moment, travel bans are in effect until revoked by the administration, and are reviewed every 30 days for changes. These concern the Schengen Zone Proclamation 9993, the United Kingdom & Ireland Proclamation 9996. The travel proclamations prohibit any person who has been in the Schengen Zone, United Kingdom, Ireland, China, or Iran, or cruise ship passengers from entering the USA, if they have been in one of the countries within the past 14 days of attempted arrival to the USA. 

For Work: To work in the US, you need to get a Visa. And for now, all Immigrant Visas Proclamation 10014 and Non-immigrant Visas Proclamation 10052 – are suspended until December 31, 2020. However, These are reviewed every 60 days for changes. 

Some exceptions: Though the rules tend to be extremely specific. For starters, commerce is not affected by these proclamations. For persons, US citizens, Green Card Holders (Legal Permanent Residents), spouses and children (if unmarried & under 21 years) dependents of US citizens are exempt from these restrictions. 

The same is true for any person, who currently holds a valid unexpired visa (including in one of the listed categories). These proclamations only impact new visa applications. 

There are also exemptions for national interest & foreign policy objectives, those traveling to assist in the COVID-19 response, and F-1 students, M-1 Students, and J-1 students and bilingual teachers. In most cases, you’ll need approval from the US Embassy in your home country to qualify for a national interest waiver. 

For the time being, E, O, and F visas are not affected by the proclamations in place. 

For the purposes of determining who is covered under the “national interest” exemption, the Proclamation directs the Secretaries of State, Labor, and Homeland Security to determine standards for those to whom such an exemption would be available. 

Do European citizens need a Visa or ESTA to travel to the USA?

You’d better believe it! Short trips, conferences, and meetings are usually covered under ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). 

An approved ESTA is usually good for 2 years total time or until your passport expires if that’s sooner and good for multiple trips to the USA. 

You do not need to apply for a new ESTA every time you travel to the USA and you can always check the status of your ESTA application online. 

Only use the official site; there are other fakes out there (really!), so double check before you submit your info online. Your ESTA is usually good for a 90-day admission to the USA. 

Can I work in New York/USA without a visa?

While it’s okay to have some business meetings or speak at a conference, it’s not okay to keep doing your job as if you do any other day (“performing usual duties”). The rules for business travel on ESTA or even on a B-1 short term business visa are extremely strict.

Do I need a visa for 5 days in New York/USA?

It depends on what you’ll be doing during those five days. In many cases, a valid ESTA is sufficient. Check out this factsheet on what you can do on a visitor visa/ESTA. If your plans include something else, then you’ll need to determine which visa is right for your trip. 

Can I move from Europe to New York/USA for work

It’s possible, but not always simple! Be sure to do your own due diligence in terms of which visa is the best fit for you and your company’s needs. Also know that for almost all labor visas, the burden is on your employer to process your visa petition (only the very last step is for you to attend an embassy interview for the visa stamp that goes in your passport).

While it falls into the group of visas that are suspended until the end of the year, if you’re a young professional, you may want to also consider a J-1 Intern/Trainee visa. This visa allows you to pursue training with a US Company for up to 12/18 months in a field related to your studies and work experience.

How long can I stay in New York/USA?

You may only stay in the USA until the date stamped in your passport – The stamp is blue and oval-shaped and lists your visa status (such as W-T or B-1) and the date written in is the last day you can be in the USA without violating your admission. Always plan to depart the USA at least a couple of days your final admission date – weather happens, flight cancellations happen; neither of which are good excuses for overstaying your admission. Let’s be real for a moment, there’s no good reason to overstay your admission status since it can limit or completely erase your ability to come back to the USA at a later date. 

Can I move from Europe and live for 3 months or more in New York?

Holiday, celebrate! For sure if you’re just coming to the USA for a long holiday. Under ESTA you can stay up to 90 days (but only as long as the date stamped in your passport by the Immigration Officer). 

You’ll want to be prepared with a return ticket, proof of enough funds to support yourself without working for the entire duration of your trip, and proof of accommodation reservations. When you enter the USA, the officer needs to know that you have plans and means to take care of yourself while you are here. There shouldn’t be any reason to doubt your intended activities in the USA. If this doesn’t fit your plans for the US, or you are looking to stay longer, you’ll definitely need a visa. Find a directory of all visa categories here.

Lying about your activities can (and often does) come back to haunt you later. Besides, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” -Mark Twain


About the author Hi! I'm Dan. Your local man on the ground in NYC. I bring a unique perspective to Cohabs, stemming from a life of international travel, intense volunteer work and an extensive career building Startups in the Hospitality and Real Estate Sectors.