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Visa Information

Visa Information for Short Term Visitors

Updated December 15, 2010


Many of MSRI’s short-term visitors (most workshop participants and about 70% of members) receive travel reimbursement and/or per diem expenses only. If you are such a short-term visitor (see following worksheet), unless you are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program described below, you will need to obtain a Visitor Visa at the nearest U.S. Consulate. The Visitor Visa stamp is usually issued as a combined B-1/B-2, business/tourist stamp (sometimes issued for multiple entries (M) for up to ten years). The B-1 business classification allows for "usual academic activities" such as workshops and collaborations. The B-1 allows for travel reimbursement and incidental expenses (no salary or honorarium). The B-2 is strictly a tourist classification and DOES NOT allow for payment of any kind, including travel and expenses (unless the 9 day rule* exception applies--see info below).

At the port of entry, the Immigration official will indicate either the B-1 OR the B-2 designation on the I-94 card (a small white card which will be stapled into your passport). If you are to receive expense reimbursement, it is crucial that you receive the B-1 classification. In the inspection area you must tell the official that you will receive reimbursement which requires the B-1 designation. Show your MSRI workshop invitation letter or visa designation request memo. Check the I-94 card for the B-1 classification before leaving the inspection area.

U.S. Department of State website for estimating how long you will have to wait to get a visa interview appointment:

Although a visa stamp is not required to enter the US, if you are to receive travel reimbursement and/or per diem you must inform the immigration officer and request that the B-1 (business classification) is written on the entry stamp (unless the 9 day rule* applies—see info below). If the B-2 (tourist classification) is designated, then reimbursement is not allowed.  Note: Non-citizen Canadian residents require a visa to enter the US.



Effective January 12, 2009, all Visa Waiver Program travelers will be required to obtain an electronic travel authorization PRIOR to boarding a carrier. One must apply for authorization online at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov. The Department of Homeland Security recommends that applications be submitted no less than 72 hours prior to travel, however we recommend applying far in advance in case one is not authorized online, therefore needing to make an appointment for a Visitor Visa at a U.S Embassy or Consulate.

All visa waiver program participants must have a machine-readable passport (MRP). Depending on when the passport was issued, other passport requirements apply:


  • Machine-readable passports issued/renewed/extended before 10/26/05 – no further requirements
  • Machine-readable passports issued/renewed/extended between 10/26/05 and 10/25/06 – requires digital photograph printed on the data page or integrated chip with information from the data page
  • Machine-readable passports issued/renewed/extended on or after 10/26/06 – requires integrated chip with information from the data page (e-passport)

The following 36 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom. Eligible nationals of these countries are able to travel without a visa for tourist and business travel of 90 days or less provided they possess an e-passport and an approved authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). This means it is not necessary to obtain a visa stamp from an American Consulate. At the American port of entry or land border, you will be required to show a passport, valid for six months beyond the intended visit, and a return trip ticket. The immigration official at the U.S. inspection point will place an entry stamp in your passport. It will be stamped with the entry date and bear the designation "WT" (waiver tourist) or "WB" (waiver business).  If you are to receive local and/or travel expenses, it is critical that you inform the immigration official and obtain the "WB" designation on your entry stamp.  As of August 31, 2010  I-94 cards are no longer issued to Visa Waiver Program travelers.



  • Total visit may not exceed 90 days
  • Passport must meet above requirements and be valid for six months beyond the intended visit
  • You must have a return ticket (to any foreign destination other than a territory bordering the US- except residents)
  • VWP travelers are required to have a valid authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to travel, are screened at the port of entry into the United States, and are enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s US-Visit program.



  • absolutely no extensions or changes of visa status permitted
  • no payment or honorarium permitted, reimbursement for local expenses and travel only if "WB" notation appears on I-94 card (unless one is eligible for the '9 day rule')*
  • Waive right to review or appeal admissibility decision, waive right to challenge decision if admission is denied


For more information see: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/temp_1305.html

* The '9 day rule' refers to a part of the 1998 Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows a visitor admitted with a B-1, B-2, WB or WT on the I-94 card or entry stamp to accept honorarium, travel reimbursement and incidental expenses associated with a visit for the purpose of ‘usual academic activities’ lasting not longer than 9 days at any single US institution, if the visitor has not accepted such payment from more than 5 US institutions in the previous 6 month period.

visa flowchart