Do Foreign Nationals as Speakers Need Visas?

This is an issue that comes up frequently around graduation time. It is related to wanting a foreign national to come to the U.S. to give a speech, and whether or not they are required to have a visa.

As with most things, there is a simple answer, and a complicated answer. The simple answer is that if the speaker does not receive any payment for an honorarium or reimbursed travel expenses for their trip, they will not need a visa, and can travel into the U.S. via either a B1 business visa, or the visa waiver program (VWP).

Performing artists have slightly different rules. An artist who is currently a professional in his/her home country needs to obtain a special visa to be able to perform in the United States, even if they are not going to be paid for their services.

There are a few exceptions to these rules, such as a speaker being eligible to enter the U.S. without a visa even if they are receiving payment for an honorarium or reimbursed travel expenses if:

  • They are appearing for no more than 9 days at any one organization/institution,
  • They are being paid by an organization/institution that fits categories listed in INA 212(p),
  • The honorarium is strictly for services rendered for the institution, and
  • The speaker has spoken at fewer than 5 institutions in the past 6 months

Each and every one of those requirements must be met, or the speaker will need to obtain an O visa, and be able to prove that they are prominent in their field, either nationally or internationally. As an O visa can take months to obtain, it is a good idea to apply roughly a year before the scheduled speech.

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