Sometimes international scholars will ask a UAB faculty member if they can come to UAB to conduct purely independent research, use a library or other lab resource, or observe how something is done in the US. Other international scholars will be invited to campus to lecture or attend a conference at UAB. These individuals will not be paid by UAB as employees and may need only certain levels of access via a volunteer appointment in order to achieve their objective.

The vast majority of the time, such individuals will not need any immigration-related sponsorship from UAB and can apply for a business (B-1) visa at a US consulate abroad on their own in order to enter the US for the activity at UAB. Additionally, citizens of certain countries don’t even have to obtain a physical visa at a US consulate abroad and can just apply online for a visa waiver through the ESTA program. For ease of reference, we will call these groups “independent researchers.”

Even though independent researchers do not require UAB/HSF to file immigration-related sponsorship paperwork with a government agency, ISSS must still be notified that they are coming, and they still have to follow the proper institutional protocols for health & safety, confidentiality, immunizations, and the myriad of other rules of the UAB community. If we know they are coming, we can also help facilitate the tax piece of any honorarium or travel expense reimbursement offered.

Helpful Forms and Tips

It is helpful for the department to provide an official invitation letter to them outlining the scope of the visit so that the individual can present it to a US Customs and Border Protection official at the airport.

Explanation of Visitor Visas

The B-1 visa is for business visitors. The B-1 visa is a physical sticker placed in an individual’s passport after an interview at a US embassy or consulate abroad.

ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is an electronic document issued to citizens of 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.

Remember, a 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-1 visa and ESTA visa waiver programs. It is appropriate for temporary visitors to UAB engaging in the following activities:

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

B/ESTA visas 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, the B-1 Visa or ESTA is NOT appropriate, independently of the length of the visit:

  • 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 home government

Common Scenarios

“Someone at a conference liked my presentation and asked if they could come to UAB for a couple of weeks and work with me.”

“I want to invite a prestigious international figure to UAB to deliver a lecture.”

Cover reimbursement and honoraria.

“My friend’s niece is a genius and wants to shadow me in the lab this summer.”

Policy on minors.

“My colleague recommended a UAB observership to one of her friends overseas.”

The Office of International Medical Education has established very clear parameters and processes for international observerships at UAB.