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I am an Indian national who holds a US B-1/B-2 visa. I have been interacting with a professor at a US university. Since I have vacation at my institution this coming winter, we agreed that it will be a good idea for me to join him at university and work directly. I am not being paid for the visit.

The B-1 visa allows for "independent research," as long as the visitor is not paid any honoraria. My situation satisfies this clause. Also, the clauses state that the institution should not benefit from the collaboration. The chances of coming up with a research output over just a month of collaboration are borderline zilch. The clauses can be found under the researcher section in this document.

We might come out with something by next summer, and, hence, I'll be joining as a paid intern under a J-1 category, next summer. I have not yet applied for a J-1 visa.

So, in this scenario, is a B-1/B-2 visa indicated? Also, what does the word "benefit" mean in the US government document?

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    Let me note: this is an exemplary question. OP did their research, framed the question in an easy to understand manner, the entire premise is totally reasonable. Let's hope it gets rewarded by a good answer. – chx Nov 7 '17 at 9:45
  • At this point everything will depend on how you frame your visit to the immigration officer. Frame it right and you're good to go. Frame it the wrong way and get turned back. – JonathanReez Nov 7 '17 at 16:47
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+150

No, B1/B2 is not the right visa type in your case. The university will "benefit" from this, even if it will be at a later time.

You also will benefit if any research activity you'll conduct will use any of the institute services/equipment. Independent means you will be independent, no help from a US based institute. It's not only about getting paid, that's an addition to the "independent" part.

My sources? who will be better than the US universities who must have faced this countless times, so they have done the homework for you. They all state that a J-1 visa is required/preferred.

Here are a few links from various US based universities that explain this in details for people in your situation:

  1. https://isss.ucsc.edu/departments/othervisas/bvisa.html

    These visits can be short in duration, the visitor may not be paid, and they will not have a formal appointment at the university. However, if the university is benefiting from the visit, if equipment and facilities used are owned or operated by the university, the contents of the visit and/or research activity undertaken might result in the form of published work, patent or discovery at a later date, and/or the visitor is involved in a formally structured program, use of B1/B2/WB/WT visa will contradict U.S. Department of State guidelines....

  2. https://ap.washington.edu/ahr/visas/b-visa/#business

    Foreign nationals coming to the UW to perform research must hold a visa appropriate to the activity. Generally, this requires University sponsorship for a J-1 or H-1B visa. It is not lawful for foreign nationals to perform research in the United States on a visitor (B-1 or B-2) visa or visa-waiver, even for short periods, unless the research is strictly “independent” (e.g., book research in the library) and provides no benefit to a US institution.

  3. http://isss.gsu.edu/administrators/using-the-b1b2-visitors-visa-category/

    NOTE: The B-1 business visitor category is not appropriate for visitors engaging in active in-lab research or collaborative activities that will benefit Georgia State in any way. Visitors involved in exchange programs, formal collaboration between institutions, or joint research projects from which Georgia State will benefit should use the J-1 Exchange Visitor visa.

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