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Understanding the after-sales service U.S. work permit exemption


When travelling to the U.S. to perform hands-on installation, maintenance, or repair of commercial/industrial goods (including software and IT solutions), or to perform other related services as required by a sales or warranty agreement, these visits may be exempt from work permit authorization. This exemption falls under the after-sales service business visitor category.

In most cases, before entering the United States to perform hands-on work, a foreign national requires appropriate work authorization. Foreign nationals are typically restricted to specific business activities when travelling to the U.S. on a B-1 visa or through a visa waiver program like ESTA. These activities include attending business meetings, engaging in marketing activities on behalf of a foreign employer, attending conferences or tradeshows and negotiating contracts.

However, a commercial or industrial employee or third-party service provider travelling to the U.S. to perform hands-on services, training, or installation of commercial goods or equipment manufactured outside the United States may be eligible to enter as an after-sales service provider. The after-sales service must have been contemplated and finalized in the original purchase agreement.

To be able to enter the U.S. under the after-sales service business visitor category, the traveller must be prepared to show: 

  1. The contract of sale specifically requires the seller to provide such services or training as a condition of the sale. 
  2. The traveller possesses unique knowledge essential to the seller’s contractual obligation to perform the services or training. 
  3. The services or commercial/industrial equipment was purchased from a company outside the United States.

Furthermore, while in the U.S., the business visitor may not receive any remuneration from a U.S. source beyond reasonable incidental expenses related to the trip, such as travel, accommodation, and meal expenses.

BDO can help

Prior to attempting admission under the after-sales service business visitor category, it is recommended that professional legal advice be obtained to ensure that the category is applicable in the particular circumstances and that the appropriate documentation is available to present to immigration authorities. A denial of entry to the United States can result in serious negative consequences including problems entering on future visits.

The information in this publication is current as of Oct. 18, 2023.

This publication has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The publication cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information in this publication or for any decision based on it.

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