Visa Information

Contact MRS for visa letter requests

The International Visitors Office (IVO) is a program operated by the Board on International Scientific Organizations. The IVO serves as a resource on visa-related issues for The National Academies, Academy members, as well as scientists and students traveling to the United States for professional activities.

VISA Questionnaire

The IVO Questionnaire collects information on visa-related issues from the scientific community. The data collected through the questionnaire will be used to track trends and report urgent visa cases to the U.S. Department of State.

You are eligible to complete the questionnaire if:

  • You have applied for a B-1 or combination B-1/B-2 visa to attend a scientific conference, symposium, workshop, or other event related to professional development in your subject area, AND your visa has been undergoing administrative processing for at least 30 days and it is 14 days prior to the U.S. event’s start date.


  • You have applied for an F-1, J-1, H1-B, O-1, or other visa related to scientific work or study for science-related activities in the United States, AND your application has been undergoing administrative processing for 60 days or longer.

Please note that individuals who have applied for a tourist visa (B-2) or a dependent visa (such as F-2 and J-2) should not complete the questionnaire. Individuals with a visa case that was denied, rather than delayed, also should not complete the questionnaire. Note (Updated March 27, 2017):  The IVO is currently reporting new or pending visa application cases from nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The IVO recommends that interested parties check the Department of State's webpage on U.S. Visas for continued updates:


U.S. Visa Waiver Program

Under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

  • Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).
  • Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

Request Your Visa Letter Early

Note: If you have submitted an abstract for an upcoming meeting or workshop, please request your invitation letter as soon as possible so that you have enough time for the visa application process. MRS does not recommend waiting for abstract status notification before requesting an invitation letter.

Electronic System for Travel Authorization

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), introduced in January 2009, requires all international travelers from Visa Waiver Program* (VWP) countries to register in an online database. The online travel authorization is easy to use and available in more than 16 languages. Applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel; however, DHS recommends that applications be submitted no less than 72 hours prior to travel.

Inbound travelers to the United States from VWP countries may be denied boarding by the airlines if they haven’t complied with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization program. All nationals or citizens of VWP countries who plan to travel to the United States for temporary business or pleasure under the VWP need to receive an electronic travel authorization prior to boarding a U.S.-bound airplane or cruise ship.

Effective September 8, 2010, all ESTA registration applications or renewals will require a $14.00 fee payment by credit or debit card. Existing ESTA registrations remain valid through their expiration date. For more information, please visit the ESTA page on the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection website.

According to the ESTA website, “VWP travelers who have not received an ESTA approval … may be denied boarding. CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] will handle emergencies on a case-by-case basis.” Airlines risk fines if they allow travelers to board without the proper documentation.

International travelers to the United States can go to the ESTA website to fill out an application before entering the country by air or sea. If approved, the authorization is good for two years and can be renewed. Travelers no longer have to fill out an I-94W form before each trip. U.S. officials say ESTA will speed up the process for travelers, enable customs officials to screen passengers in advance and improve security.

Travelers unable to access a U.S. government website may register through travel agents or airline websites.

The ESTA requirement does not affect U.S. citizens returning from overseas, people from VWP countries traveling on a valid U.S. visa or travelers from non-VWP nations.

*The United States Visa Waiver Program countries include Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.

Learn more about ESTA.

Invitation Letter

International attendees often need a letter of invitation from MRS in order to obtain a visa to visit the US.

Because of increased scrutiny of visa applicants, many potential attendees of scientific meetings in the United States have experienced unusual delays in obtaining travel visas.

If you need a letter of invitation from MRS and have not yet made a request, please contact us as soon as possible.

In order to compose and send your letter, we will need:

  • Control ID number (the number assigned to your abstract upon submission)
  • Email address
  • Complete mailing address

Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa

From the U.S. Embassy in Moscow:

The U.S. Embassy Moscow's Consular Section reminds applicants that additional administrative processing is often required for individuals involved in scientific or technical fields of work or study. The possibility that your visa may be subject to additional processing is not regarded as an emergency for the purpose of granting expedited business appointments.

From the U.S. Embassy in China:

The U.S. Embassies in China recommend that business travelers and tourists make their appointment early and interview as far in advance of their planned travel as possible. Applying several months in advance will ensure that the embassy has the necessary time to conduct the interview, review the application, and determine whether a visa can be issued. The majority of visas can be processed in several days; however, some visa applications require additional administrative processing. Administrative processing for business and tourist visas is currently taking about 16 weeks.

The average visa processing wait time is the number of working days after a consular officer decides to issue a visa, for the passport and visa to be returned to the applicant. The majority of visas in Beijing are processed and returned to the applicant within several days.

Average visa processing wait time DOES NOT include the time required for administrative processing. These procedures require additional time. When administrative processing is required, the timing will vary based on individual circumstances of each case. Visa processing wait times can change.

Administrative processing for student and exchange visitor visas is currently taking approximately six to eight weeks.

Administrative processing for other classes of visas is currently taking approximately 14-16 weeks.

Other International Travel Resources

  • Requirement for Proof of Negative COVID-19 Test or Recovery from COVID-19 for All Air Passengers Arriving in the U.S.
    The CDC announced an Order requiring all air passengers arriving in the U.S. from a foreign country to get tested no more than 3 days before their flight departs and to present the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding the flight.
    As of January 5, 2004, the US-VISIT program is in effect. Most foreign visitors to the U.S. will now have their two index fingers scanned, and a digital photograph will be taken at your port of entry. 
  • Visa Waiver Program
    The Visa Waiver Program could dramatically affect your ability to enter the U.S., and we highly recommend that you learn more about the program now. The Visa Waiver Program enables nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. Currently, 37 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program. 
  • Voluntary Applications for Visa Waiver Program
    Complete information regarding Electronic System Travel Authorization (ESTA)
  • National Academies International Visitor Office
    The National Academies International Visitor Office has resolved more than 93% of visa processing problems that were brought to their attention. If you have applied for your visa and are having difficulties, please contact The National Academies International Visitors Office and complete a questionnaire to request assistance. 
  • U.S. State Department  
  • TSA Secure Flight Program
    Secure Flight is a behind-the-scenes program that enhances the security of domestic and international commercial air travel through the use of improved watch list matching. Collecting additional passenger data improves the travel experience for all airline passengers, including those who have been misidentified in the past.When passengers travel, they are required to provide the following Secure Flight Passenger Data (SFPD) to the airline:
    • Name (as it appears on government-issued ID the passenger plans to use when traveling)
    • Date of Birth
    • Gender
    • Redress Number (if applicable)

Health and Travel

The following links provide information regarding health and travel:

ACNS Conference Host:  NSSA


Canadian Institute for Neutron Scattering

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National Institute of Standards and Technology

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