As a result of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, provisions were made for nationals of eight countries to come to the United States without obtaining a B-1 (Business) or B-2 (Tourist) visa. Since then, other countries have been added to the VWP (see list of countries currently participating below). Eligible nationals who wish to come under this program do not need to obtain a B-1/B-2 visa from a U.S. Consulate to enter the U.S.
An individual who is a national of a participating country (regardless of place of residence or point of embarkation) may seek admission under this program provided that the individual:
- Seeks admission to the U.S. for a period not to exceed 90 days;
- Possesses a passport that meets VWP requirements (see “Links” at the end of this advisory to learn the full VWP passport requirements). NOTE: if the individual does not have a passport that meets VWP requirements, then he/she is not eligible for the VWP and must instead obtain a B-1 visa stamp for entry into the U.S.;
- Has obtained approval via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) at least seventy-two (72) hours prior to travel to the U.S. (see “Links” at the end of this advisory to learn about the ESTA requirement). NOTE: if the individual does not receive ESTA approval, then he/she is not eligible for the VWP and must instead obtain a B-1 visa stamp for entry into the U.S.;
- Has an onward or return trip ticket which will transport the individual out of the U.S. and the contiguous areas of Canada and Mexico, and adjacent islands in the Caribbean - unless the individual is a resident of the contiguous areas or adjacent islands; and
- Arrives aboard a carrier that has signed an agreement with the U.S. Government to participate in the VWP.
The individual must still also meet all eligibility requirements, funding, and documents to obtain Business Visitor status, as discussed in this advisory.
When being admitted into the U.S., the foreign scientist should request that the DHS Immigration Inspector provide an entry date-stamp in the passport to indicate
“WB” (Visa Waiver for Business) as his/her immigration status and include the period of admission specified in the NIH sponsor's letter of invitation (not to exceed 90 days). To assist the DHS Inspector, the scientist should present the letters from the NIH host, the DIS and the home country employer (if applicable). Please note that those admitted in WB status are not issued a Form I-94; the entry date-stamp from the passport is acceptable evidence of admission in WB status.
Although DIS instructs the foreign scientist about entering the U.S. in WB status, the IC sponsor and administrative Key Contact should also reinforce this, inasmuch as DHS officials may erroneously annotate “WT” rather than “WB.” Such an error may prevent the scientist from participating in the business activities until his or her status is changed to WB by the DHS, a procedure that could take 2-3 months.
WB Visitors must depart the U.S. on or before the expiration date listed on their entry date-stamps in the passport. There is no grace period for individuals in WB status. Therefore, failure by the Business Visitor to depart will result in an unlawful overstay.
There are several very important restrictions that apply to those who come under the VWP. Most important are that once in the United States an individual cannot apply for:
A change of immigration status
For an extension of stay in the U.S. beyond the 90-day limit under the VWP.
Therefore, if there is any intention that the individual will remain at NIH beyond 90 days, he/she should apply for a B-1 visa at the U.S. Consulate in the home country and enter the U.S. in B-1 status.
REMINDER: WT status is NEVER appropriate for ANY foreign scientist carrying out research activities in NIH's laboratories for any period of time under any circumstances. An individual coming to NIH for an interview, who was admitted to the U.S. in WT status, CANNOT be reimbursed for travel or per diem expenses.