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Travel visas for traveling scholars

Education knows no boundaries, but that doesn't mean a researcher can enter the country for work without filling out border-related paperwork.

It's common in higher education to bring in subject experts or to travel to a location essential to your special research project. While you may be an expert in a particular research field, most people aren't experts on immigration law. There are many types of travel and work visas, and identifying the best one to complete your project in a reasonable timeframe can be a challenge.

Common reasons why scholars travel

At Stanford, approximately 50 percent of their scholars are not US citizens.

Scholars visit a university for many reasons, some more temporary that others:

  • as a guest educator
  • as a researcher for a project
  • to share knowledge or experience
  • to conduct private research
  • for a seminar or conference

Visa options and sponsorship

The most common visa options for academics are J-1, H-1B, F-1 OPT and O-1, depending on the length of stay and purpose of visit to the US. The F-1 OPT is a common student visa that can be extended based on field of expertise and personal need. J-1 is the primary postdoctoral visa and the H-1B is for specialized employment that is not specifically academic in nature. O-1 is for specific event travel and is often reserved for the upper echelon of a field. The TN visa is for residents of Canada and Mexico who wish to work in the US. It is limited to one-year.

Each university has its own procedure. Stanford, for example, emphasizes J-1, H-1B and F-1 OPT instead of using O-1 or TN options. UCLA points potential visitors to the J-1 visa. Finding the best fit may mean considering your own work and if it is likely to change or evolve as it progresses.

While the above are common visas for academic purposes, US immigration law is as complex and nuanced as your own profession. Length of stay and your specific field will play a large role in determining which documentation is proper to conduct your work.

Specialization requires expertise

There are many factors in choosing the right visa. Some can be extended and others come with a strict time limit, so it's important that to find the right fit for your own needs, whether it's for an international conference, a lengthy research project or a term as a guest professor. Your own needs vary and so do those of your university. Working with an experienced immigration law firm you can be confident that your needs will be met to carry out the project to the best of your ability.

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