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I will be a visiting scholar at a US university for 3 months. I have to leave the country twice to speak at conferences. I will not be returning home;only attending these conferences and returning to complete my visiting scholar stint.

Does such time out of the country: a) get deducted from the 90 day limit under the visa waiver program, b) make no difference and is the visit is seen as one continuous stretch of 90 days from initial arrival, or c) "reset" the clock so that re-entry after my first conference starts a new 90 day period? (each conference related trip is about 7-10 days as the locations are very far away)

As I will be out for 20 days, it's a big enough chuck of my stint that I'd like to "hold on" to it and not have it eat into my 90 days.

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I don't know the answer to your question, but your host university very likely has an "international scholars office" whose purpose is to assist with this kind of issue. They would probably know the answer, and be able to help you if alternate arrangements are needed. Your host department should be able to put you in touch with someone from this office. –  Nate Eldredge Jul 28 '12 at 1:31
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Where will you be out of the country? Canada/Mexico, or elsewhere? It makes a difference... –  Mark Mayo Jul 28 '12 at 2:27
    
@MarkMayo: The question says "the locations are very far away" which I presume rules out Canada, Mexico, and the "adjacent islands". –  Nate Eldredge Jul 28 '12 at 13:33
    
@NateEldredge - yeah I saw that, but given we're talking about fine-print on a visa, it's still worth checking. –  Mark Mayo Jul 28 '12 at 19:32
    
Thanks for the responses, the conferences will be in Uruguay and Azerbaijan. The host usually gets visiting scholars J1 visas, but are keen for me to use the visa waiver as I'm a British citizen (resident in India). But yes, I will ask if their international office can help. –  Scholar Jul 28 '12 at 23:12
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1 Answer 1

You should not be using the VWP to enter the US as a visiting scholar. The VWP comes instead of B1/B2, while the status you're interested in is J1. You should get a proper visa and then you won't have to worry about what happens if you get caught breaking the terms of your stay.

Since apparently there's a lot of ignorance on the matter, here's the official quote from the US State Department:

Citizens from a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) who want to enter the U.S. temporarily as exchange visitors, must first obtain a an exchange visitor visa. Exchange visitor program participants cannot travel on the VWP, nor can they travel on a visitor (B) visa.

Here's the chart of visa types matched to visit purpose. As you can see, visiting scholar requires J type visa.

Here's the terms and conditions of the VWP program. As you can see, it is explicitly limited to tourism or business(B1/B2 visa):

The purpose of their stay in the United States is 90 days or less for tourism or business (Visitor (B) visa) purpose of travel.

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I'm fairly certain VWP IS sufficient for a visiting scholar, as long as the stay is less than 90 days. –  Doc Jul 30 '12 at 3:06
    
@Doc, I explained your mistake in the edits, feel free to educate yourself. –  littleadv Jul 30 '12 at 3:34
    
@littleadv, Thanks very much for the detailed information. On one hand, I see what you're saying, on the other, several reputed universities have material on their websites specifically addressing the use of the VWP for short term visitors. For e.g. - Harvard's interpretation is available here - hio.harvard.edu/guides/foradministrators/visas/b1andvisawaiver –  Scholar Jul 30 '12 at 20:13
    
For what it's worth, I'm not being paid, I'm not a professor or full time research scholar in my home country, and somehow don't seem to fit all the criteria for an exchange visitor (J1). –  Scholar Jul 30 '12 at 20:15
    
I have asked if they can simply apply for a J1 to play safe, and I hope that is possible even now, given that I have to be there in September. Thanks again for the detailed response. –  Scholar Jul 30 '12 at 20:16
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