Overview

Effective August 23, 2021, UAB will lift the pause on the admission of international visiting scholars to UAB’s campus. This includes requests for international visiting scholars to campus for appointments in the 02, 04, and 60 job categories, whether funded by themselves, UAB, their home government, or any combination of the three. 01 Regular positions and 20/21 Postdoc appointments can continue to be requested through usual HR channels.

Starting on August 23, 2021, UAB will implement a new, comprehensive campus-wide process for the admission of international visiting scholars to the UAB campus, not only to address the health and safety of the UAB community and the international visitors, but also to assure that the international visiting scholars’ time on campus can be mutually productive. An overview of the new process may be found HERE.

While responsibility for the management of UAB international visiting scholars’ UAB activities will remain with the host department/unit, the Office of International Education (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) will oversee their on- and off-boarding according to applicable UAB policies and procedures. This new process is driven by expectations from federal law enforcement/funding agencies as well as to promote institutional values of diversity, inclusion, and respect. ISSS will assist with immigration processing as necessary after 02/04/60 appointment paperwork has been cleared.

Background on B visas and the ESTA Program

It is possible that, after the international invitation process described above, ISSS determines that the international visitor could come to the US on a B visa or through the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) visa waiver program instead of on a J-1 or other visa. Remember, any visa is just a “ticket” to enter the US for a specific purpose. The visitor must be coming to the US to engage in activities commensurate with the intent of the B visa and ESTA visa waiver programs. These options are most likely in the following scenarios:

  • Consult with business associates
  • Attend a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention or conference
  • Negotiate a contract

Generally, the B visa is for business visitors and tourists and does NOT confer work authorization. Like every visa, the B visa is a physical sticker placed in an individual’s passport after an interview at a US embassy or consulate abroad. ESTA is an electronic document issued to citizens of specific countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program. It does not require an interview at a US consulate or embassy abroad and is not a physical sticker in the passport. It does NOT confer work authorization.

Common examples of appropriate use of the B visa and ESTA are: an international expert invited to give a lecture at a UAB conference or grand rounds, an international scholar briefly needs to access a particular UAB library collection or piece of equipment to complete their independent research not funded by or in collaboration with UAB, a prospective international student or employee is invited to campus for an interview and/or campus visit.

B visa/ESTA may also be appropriate for short-term observerships organized by the Office of International Medical Education. ISSS and IME must first confirm if the proposed visit is appropriate.

In any case, a B visa or ESTA is NOT appropriate, regardless of the length of the visit in the following circumstances:

  • If the visitor is coming to UAB to engage in collaborative research with UAB
  • If the visit will benefit UAB in any way
  • If the visit is sponsored by the visitor's home government
  • If the visitor will be appointed in any category other than 60

A Word on Volunteering

Just because an opportunity is unpaid does not mean that is qualifies as "volunteering" under internal UAB definitions, the FLSA, or federal immigration regulations. For example, the Immigration and Nationality Act [8 C.F.R. § 274(f)] defines “employee” as “An individual who provides services or labor for an employer for wages or other remuneration.” “Other remuneration” can encompass items such as housing, childcare, transportation, etc.  The Department of Labor (DOL) defines a “volunteer” as an “individual who performs hours of service ... for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered.” The DOL has two concerns: protecting jobs for US workers and preventing exploitation of all workers. USCIS considers “work” to include performing a job that is normally paid, or if other people performing the same or similar jobs are compensated. Basically, anything done for UAB’s benefit (including for a UAB faculty member’s benefit) on a consistent or daily basis is considered “work.” The only true "volunteer" activities that would clearly be allowed under the regulations are those performed for charities, religious or community organizations, or other similar entities during an international visitor's free time.

When reviewing a request for a volunteer appointment during the international visitor invitation process, in addition to the above definitions, UAB units will consider the following analysis:

  • Are the international visitor’s prospective duties ones that are normally performed by a paid employee?
  • Are there other individuals in the department who perform such tasks without pay?

Many spouses of UAB employees who have J-1 and H-1B work authorization are established, talented scientists in their own right and seek opportunities to “stay active” in the field or keep up their CV while in the US accompanying their J-1 or H-1B spouse. However, as stated above, "volunteering" cannot displace a US worker and should be reserved for truly charitable opportunities. J-2 and H-4 dependents cannot “volunteer” to help in a lab, with research or literature review, or any other activity in any capacity that would displace a paid worker or result in a benefit to UAB. Any such opportunity offered to someone in J-2 or H-4 status would need to be reviewed under the international visitor invitation policy described above.