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As of August 1st, my wife has a J1 visa as a post-doctoral student in the USA. As of the same date, I found a job at a consultancy firm in the USA. I applied for the J2 visa early August, but it has not yet been granted (I was informed this process can take up to 3 months). However, I started working at the firm since September 1st, because I was told this was not a problem while I am on ESTA.

I am, however, starting to doubt now. Am I working illegally?

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    The short answer is: Absolutley yes, and it may jepordize your chances of getting that J2 Visa. You can see what you are allowed to do on the Visa Waiver Program (you are not "on ESTA" - ESTA is merely required to enter on the VWP) here: travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/visit/… – CMaster Oct 1 '15 at 9:17
  • is there such a thing as a postdoctoral "student"? I think your wife is on the wrong visa as well. – Calchas Oct 1 '15 at 10:19
  • @Calchas This is a matter of terminology. The term "postdoctoral student" is sometimes used to express that someone is still working under guidance until they have the first real (=tenure-track) job. – DCTLib Oct 1 '15 at 11:04
  • Or maybe he just means postgraduate student? But yes, Post-doc normally means a job. – CMaster Oct 1 '15 at 11:05
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    What you're doing is illegal if you're doing it on VWP which is a B1 visa. – Karlson Oct 1 '15 at 11:40
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ESTA is clearly not a work visa - it only allows for business or tourism activities. You are not allowed to regularly work in the US if you are currently there on this visa - in my opinion (certainly I am not a legal expert on this).

Ask yourself if either of the following is true:

  1. Do you have an employment contract in the states with the US company you mentioned?
  2. Do you receive a salary (taxable income) from this US company for work you are doing (inside the US)?

You are allowed to visit the company for business purposes, but if you started working before you receive the appropriate visa, that is generally illegal.

A very good answer to this possible related question can also be found over here: https://travel.stackexchange.com/questions/9245/uk-citizen-us-company-living-in-uk-can-i-use-an-esta

In essence, you can not work for a company, unless they already employed you in another country and you are just there for a business trip. If you have no prior employment relationship (in another country) with this firm - things really become pretty clear - in a way that you are not allowed to work in the US right now!

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    Heh, I was just going to link to that same question on travel - the answer in there spells it out very clearly. – Mark Mayo Oct 2 '15 at 12:07

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