North America

Visa Regulations for Foreign Scholars Traveling to the US

In an effort to ease the navigational burden of the ever-changing visa regulations for foreign visitors to the United States, we provide below helpful information, links, and tips/best practices. These pages will be updated as additional information becomes available. Please share with us your visa success stories and nightmares, helpful hints, etc. Send information to The more information we have, the better we will be able to assist our visitors.

Non-immigrant Visas

How to Get a Visa

Visa wait times

Links to US Embassies and Consulates Worldwide

Visa Waiver Program

Whereas in the past nationals of certain countries did not have to have a visa to travel to the US, new rules regarding machine readable passports with digital photographs and integrated chips are now in place or soon will be. We urge nationals traveling to the US from the 27 countries that fall under the Visa Waiver Program to familiarize themselves with the new regulations. The 27 countries affected are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom.

Information for faculty who receive law enforcement inquiries under the USA Patriot Act (from the American Association of U.S. Professors)

The US Dept. of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT Program (explains procedures for foreign visitors upon arrival in the US) and particularly which describes the actual arrival process.

List of allowed entry ports into the US

Best Practices, Alerts, Advisories, Etc.

  • Finger prints and digital Photographs
    Now Required by Those Who Travel Under the Visa Waiver Program
    Beginning on September 30, 2004, visitors to the US traveling under the Visa Waiver Program will be required to have their two index fingers scanned and a digital photograph (PDF) taken to verify their identity at air and sea ports of entry. The new regulations apply to visitors from 22 European countries, including England and France, along with 5 western Pacific countries (Australia, Brunei, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore).
  • Importance of ports of entry and connecting flights
    In February and March, 2004 a Fulbright scholar from the Middle East spent two months of research, teaching and professional exchange on a campus of the University Wisconsin. Before returning to the region to visit his family, he checked with an immigration officer in Minneapolis and was told that although he originally had arrived in Minneapolis by direct flight from the port of entry, he would not jeopardize his status by connecting to a flight in Cincinnati. Two weeks later, upon his return to the US to complete his Fulbright fellowship, he was detained in Atlanta and assigned mandatory deportation status as a result of incorrect advice from U.S. immigration officials in Minneapolis.Apparently the scholar’s visa was revoked because he violated immigration regulations by not flying directly from Minneapolis-St. Paul on his flight home, Instead he flew from Minneapolis to Cincinnati, where he took another flight home. He was given wrong information. Although his case is still being worked out, all should be wary of advice from local authorities or local college administrators. Port of entry and connecting flight rules must be carefully scrutinized and confirmed with Washington-based U.S.
    Citizenship and Immigration Services representatives. Once a person has a strike on his or her immigration record, it is very difficult to get back into this country.
  • From the State Department’s visa site
    Apply Early: Recent changes in U.S. visa laws and regulations have increased the amount of time it can take to get a visa. Stricter security measures require more thorough checks and lengthen the visa application process but ensure the safety of visitors and U.S. citizens alike. Even with significant improvements being made in speeding up visa processing, it is inevitable that delays will sometimes occur. Processing times will vary. Please contact your nearest embassy or consulate for a current time estimate and planning recommendations.
  • From a contact at the State Department
    One thing visitors should be aware of is that there is now a requirement (since Jan. 4) to have their departures confirmed (i.e. close the loop). If they don’t confirm their departure, visitors could have difficulty returning to the U.S. the next time (because the system won’t show that they departed).
  • From a MESA affiliate
    Have potential visiting colleagues make copies of all documents they submit for a US visa. When eventually they arrive in the US at immigration, they can repeat word for word what they said in the original documents
  • NAS tracks visa problems The National Academy of Sciences collects and tracks information about visa problems affecting the science community. Their website ( contains information about the visa process that is of use to both those who plan to come to the United States and to U.S. scientists who may be inviting them or planning a scientific conference. The site also contains a place for reporting visa problems. Although NAS does not try to solve individual problems, they do document the problems and inform the government of the harmful impact of the new visa procedures on U.S. science.
  • From the International Society for Iranian Studies
    The Program Committee for the Fifth Biennial Conference of the International Society for Iranian Studies issued over thirty letters of invitations to conference participants who required a US visa.
    Most of our Iranian colleagues applied through the Embassy in Dubai and were faced with very long delays and rejections. In the end only three participants from Iran were successful in obtaining a visa. Other participants from Europe also faced long delays which resulted in them canceling their participation. Many of our participants were told that they had to embark on the application process a minimum of eights months before their date of travel. I would imagine this type of delay would apply to MESA participants as well. The best approach is to get the ball rolling many months in advance of the conference.

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