9. februar 2023

Students Limited in their Ability to Study Abroad without a Visa, Changes in the Foreign Affairs Manual

Beau Russell

For years, students wanting to travel to the United States for short independent study courses have been able to utilize B Visas. Embassies relying on 9 FAM 402.2-5(B), generally issued B visas to those wishing to travel to the United States to “undertake independent research.” As long as no credit was earned from a U.S. institution, no was money earned for any work in the U.S. or no U.S. institution received any benefit from their activities, a B Visa was generally found to be appropriate. This small exception was useful for students who wanted complete the field study, thesis or other portion of their degree in the U.S. The B Visa was seemingly appropriate as these students did not attend a U.S. institution, receive guidance from U.S. professors, or otherwise rely on any U.S. institution while in the U.S. Rather, they paid for their own travels, arranged their own accommodations, and planned their own research.

In November 2015, the Department of State revised, rewrote, renumbered and relocated the FAM. Found within this rewrite is a new section that will cause such students and foreign Universities who relied on this section some trouble. A new section at 9 FAM 402.5-5(I)(3), titled “B-2 Visa for Visitor who Will Engage in a Short Corse of Study”, states that individuals who travel to the United States to attend seminars or conferences that are required to earn a degree are not eligible for B visa classification.  This could be interpreted to mean that if such an independent study as described was required to complete their foreign degree, the B Visa is no longer appropriate. This is the case even if there is no relation to a U.S. institution. The Department of State has stated that Embassies started to receive training in this regard. Embassies will now look to see if the purposed study program is required as a part of the foreign degree. If it is, they may deny the B Visa and require the student apply for an F, J or M visa.

The wording of this section however, leaves room for debate. Should it apply to cases where some independent research is required, but not necessarily in the United States? Will it apply if a student is required to visit numerous countries but not specifically the United States, only traveling to the U.S. by choice? The words “seminars and conferences” seem to mean that a when a specific study event is required in the United States, then a B Visa may not be appropriate. What is not clear, however, is whether this section applies to when it is the student´s choice to enter the United States and conducts research in an entirely independent manner. If it does, this strict interpretation is unduly harsh.

If you are affected by this change or are contemplating studying in the United States, it may be wise to contact a qualified U.S. immigration attorney before you travel.

Beau Russell is a U.S. Immigration attorney located in the Copenhagen Area. For the past several years in California he has helped hundreds of individuals solve their U.S. Immigration issues. Beau joined THOMAS THORUP LAW in 2015 and works from our Copenhagen Offices. His specialty is assisting businesses and families obtain non-immigrant/temporary visa and permanent/immigration visas (“green cards”) to the U.S.