B-1 Visa and Visa Waiver Program

What is the B-1/B-2 and the WB/WT?

The B nonimmigrant category permits temporary entry to the United States for either business (B-1) or pleasure (B-2). The Visa Waiver Program permits nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for business (WB) or tourism (WT) for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.

When are these statuses appropriate?

B-1 (or WB) status may be appropriate for a short-term visitor coming to the U.S. to engage in one or more of the following activities:

  • Consult with business associates
  • Participate in scientific, educational, professional or business conventions, conferences or seminars
  • Undertake independent research (this means that the research is an independent project, and would not typically show up as Washington University-sponsored research).

A B-1 is not appropriate for someone coming to the U.S. to engage in temporary employment. For those who are coming to Washington University to conduct research, it is important that this be considered “independent research,” which means that this is entirely for the benefit of the B-1 visitor, even though the research is conducted on the premises of Washington University. Someone who previously conducted the same research as a J-1 or an H-1B risks being denied a visa or being denied entry to the US as a B-1. In addition, if the visitor publishes the research under Washington University’s name, that may also be construed to be research for Washington University, and thus is not considered as “independent research.”

B-2 (or WT) status is typically used for activities such as tourism, visits with friends or relatives, and medical treatment. However, in some situations, visitors are given the B-2 or WT at the port of entry, even though they indicate that they are coming to lecture or visit with faculty members.

Length of Stay

Length of stay is determined by the official at the U.S. port of entry and is indicated on the visitor’s I-94 card. Immigration officials indicate that the length of stay is determined by the information that they have about the length of the proposed activities.

Process of Obtaining B-1 Status

To enter the U.S., the person must have a B-1 visa in his or her passport. In order to obtain a B-1 visa, the person will have to make an application online and visit a U.S. consulate abroad. Applying for a visa can be a lengthy process and should be started well in advance of the prospective visit. If the visitor already has a valid B-1 or B-1/B-2 visa in his/her passport, then he or she does not have to apply for a new visa. However, the fact that someone already has the B-1/B-2 visa in the passport does not automatically mean that he/she will be admitted as a visitor, if the activities are not consistent with admission as a B-1 or B-2.

At the port of entry, the visitor should be prepared to show evidence of the purpose of the trip, intent to depart the U.S., and arrangements made to cover the costs of the trip.

A Washington University department can provide the visitor with an invitation letter for the visitor to use at the consulate and port of entry. OISS can provide departments with information about what to include in this letter.

Process of Obtaining WB Status

The visitor should check with the U.S. consulate in his or her country of residence to determine if he or she is eligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Program. If eligible, the visitor will not need to apply for an entry visa at a U.S. consulate. The visitor will need to obtain pre-travel authorization from the Department of Homeland Security through a new electronic screening system called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Information about ESTA is available on the Customs and Border Protection website

If the ESTA travel authorization is approved, then the visitor is eligible to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program, although this does not guarantee admission. If the ESTA travel is not authorized, then the visitor will have to apply for a B-1/B-2 visa at a U.S. consulate.

A Washington University department can provide the visitor with an invitation letter for the visitor to use at the consulate and port of entry. OISS can provide departments with information about what to include in this letter.

Restrictions on Payment

A B-1 (or WB) visitor cannot be paid wages by Washington University. A B-1 (or WB) visitor may be reimbursed only for travel expenses incidental to the temporary stay, such as air travel and living expenses, but these may not exceed the reasonable costs that the visitor will incur while visiting the university. If eligible, the B-1 (or WB) visitor may be paid an honorarium under the 9/5/6 rule (see below).

Generally, a B-2 (or WT) visitor cannot receive reimbursements or payments from Washington University. If eligible, the B-2 (or WT) visitor may be paid an honorarium under the 9/5/6 rule if conducting usual academic activities.

9/5/6 Rule

The 9/5/6 Rule allows for payment of incidental expenses and an honorarium to B-1/B-2 or WB/WT visitors provided that:

  • The visitor is performing a usual academic activity,
  • The activity will not last more than nine days,
  • And the visitor has not been paid under this rule by more than five U.S. institutions in the last six months.

Usual academic activities may include lecturing, guest teaching, or performing in an academic sponsored festival. The services conducted must be for the benefit of Washington University.

A Washington University department should check with OISS and the Tax Office before offering an honorarium to a visitor. The Tax Office can determine, prior to the visitor’s arrival, if he or she is eligible for payment under the 9/5/6 rule. The visitor will need to complete manual tax forms or the online FNIS system to determine eligibility. Please contact the Tax Office to initiate this process.

Can a visitor enter in J-1 status instead of B-1/B-2 status?

Generally, at the U.S. consulate and ports of entry, a B-1/B-2 visitor is under more scrutiny than visitors on other visas, because the B-1/B-2 can be used for a variety of purposes. There is a greater chance of denial or problems at the consulate and port of entry for B-1/B-2 visitors.

A department may chose to bring a short-term visitor to Washington University as a J-1 Short-Term scholar rather than a B-1 visitor, if the visitor is eligible. If the department feels that the J-1 is a preferable alternative, then OISS should be contacted in order to discuss the visitor’s eligibility for J-1 status and to begin the process to issue the DS-2019.