How Visitors to the U.S. Can Bring Domestic or Personal Servants

An unusual use of the B-1 visa allows nonimmigrant visa holders to be accompanied by maids, cooks, nannies, and so on.

By , J.D.

If you are in the process of arranging to come to the United States on a temporary ("nonimmigrant") visa, or are already in the U.S. on such a visa, you might be able to bring not only your family members, but your maid, nanny, valet, cook, and other domestic or personal employees. They potentially qualify for a B-1 visa, meant primarily for business visitors to the United States. It's an unusual use of the B-1 visa, as evidenced by the fact that the U.S. State Department will specially annotate the visa indicating the person's position.

Which Types of Visa Holders Can Bring Employees to the U.S.

The following types of visa holders can have their domestic or personal employees apply for B-1 visas:

  • B, visitors for business or pleasure
  • E, treaty traders and investors
  • F, students
  • H, specialty workers, distinguished fashion models, nurses, temporary agricultural workers, and temporary trainees
  • I, foreign media representatives
  • J, exchange visitors
  • L, intracompany transferees
  • M, vocational students
  • O, persons of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics
  • P, internationally recognized athletes and entertainers,
  • Q, exchange visitors participating in international cultural exchange programs,
  • R, religious workers, and
  • TN, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) professionals (TN NAFTA provisions remain preserved under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

If you don't see your visa category on this list, don't give up quite yet. A-3 visas are available to the personal attendants, servants, and employees of A-1 and A-2 ambassadors, diplomats, and other foreign government officials; and G-5 visas are available to the attendants, servants, and personal employees of G-1 through G-4 visa holders (foreign government representatives or employees of international organizations).

In some cases, the above (and other) visa holders can actually obtain derivative visas for certain members of their work staff. For example, there's an O-2 visa available to essential support staff of O-1 visa holders, and P-1S visas are available to the essential support staff of athletes and entertainers. Nevertheless, the B-1 is a valuable option in cases where no other visa is appropriate—most often where the servant or other worker's job is not actually connected to the primary visa holder's work, but has more to do with the primary visa holder's domestic or home life.

Meeting the Requirements for a B-1 Visa as a Personal or Domestic Employee

In order to qualify for the visa, household employees must submit an application (at the same time or later than you, the household employer) and prove to the satisfaction of a consular officer working for the U.S. State Department that they:

  • have a residence abroad that they have no intention of abandoning — a common requirement for U.S. temporary visas, meant to provide assurance that applicants have no secret intentions of remaining in the United States
  • have at least one year of experience as personal or domestic employees
  • have been employed abroad by you as a personal or domestic employee for at least one year prior to the date of your entry to the United States. (Be prepared to provide a letter stating the dates of employment with you.) Alternatively, such employees can show that your employment relationship existed immediately prior to the visa application and that you have regularly employed (either year-round or seasonally) personal or domestic employees over a several-year period.
  • have signed an employment contract with you containing statements that they are guaranteed the minimum or prevailing wage, whichever is greater, as well as free room and board, and that you will be the only one to provide them work, and
  • will receive payment from you for initial travel expenses to the U.S. and to your subsequent assignment or to your country of normal residence at the end of the assignment.

Application Process for a B-1 Visa

The process of applying for a B-1 visa to the United States is fairly simple. Applicants must fill out one U.S. government form, prepare some documents (including proof of ties to the home country and proof that they meet the criteria listed above, such as the employer letter mentioned, a copy of the employment contract, and proof that you have purchased plane tickets for them), pay some fees, and visit a U.S. consulate for a personal interview. See Application Process for a B-1 or B-2 Visitor Visa for an overview of the process.

Be aware, however, that this use of the B-1 visa is fairly rare. The consular officer whom your employee meets might literally have never heard of it, and therefore deny it. Be careful to assemble a complete set of documents proving that any such employees meets the qualifications. The employees might also want to bring a copy of the relevant section of the Foreign Affairs Manual, at 9 FAM 41.31 N9.3-2.

B-1 Personal or Domestic Employees Must Apply for a U.S. Work Permit as Well

There's one major hiccup in the procedural steps to bringing your domestic help to the United States to work in your household—they aren't allowed to actually perform work in the U.S. until they have applied for and received a work permit (also called an Employment Authorization Document or EAD) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. However, they cannot apply for this work permit until after having arrived in the United States. The application must be made by mail.

USCIS processing times for this application (made on USCIS Form I-765) vary, but be prepared to wait several months for a decision. See Filling Out Form I-765 for more on this. Your domestic employee will start their U.S. stays with a long vacation!

Keep Track of Your B-1 Employee's Legal Status

If you are in the U.S. on a work-based nonimmigrant visa, it's entirely possible that your permitted stay will last longer than your employees'. Employee on a B-1 visa will be permitted no more than one year's stay at the beginning. They can apply for extensions, in time periods of up to six months at a time. The initial work permit will last only as long as the initial permitted B-1 stay. So, you'll need to plan ahead for renewing both your employees' status in the U.S. and their work permits. See Filling Out Form I-539 to Extend Nonimmigrant Visa for more information.

It should also go without saying that if you, as the primary visa holder, leave the U.S. earlier than intended, your employees' B-1 status will evaporate as well. They should take care to leave the U.S. at the end of their permitted stay. Accrual of unlawful presence in the U.S. can have serious consequences for their right to return.

Getting Legal Help

It can be helpful to consult with an attorney who specializes in immigration law in order to discuss and strategize your household's visa applications. The attorney will know the latest USCIS policies and can help you prepare a convincing case.

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