9

According to the State Department:

Indefinite validity visas (Burroughs Visas) are tourist/business visas manually stamped into a traveler’s passport which were valid for ten years. Effective April 1, 2004, all indefinite validity Burroughs visas became void. Therefore, if you have an indefinite validity visa you must apply for a new visa for travel to the U.S.

This seems like a curious type of visa and certainly a big luxury compared to the modern VWP system. My questions are:

  1. Who was eligible for the indefinite visas?
  2. Was it really possible to stay in the US for however long you want while they've existed?
  3. Why was the system scrapped?
  4. Why were they named "Burroughs" visas?
  • 2
    I don't have time to write up a full answer tonight, but this old Federal Register notice and this on the phase-out will give you the gist of their scrapping, minus the list of countries whose nationals could receive them, which is going to take some digging to find. They weren't for staying in the country indefinitely; they were simply valid indefinitely, unlike today's visas that are only valid for 10 years. It even tells you why they were called Burroughs. – Zach Lipton May 19 '17 at 7:53
  • 1
    It seems from the link that @ZachLipton provided that these visas were valid for the lifetime of the passport into which they were stamped, not for the life of the person to whom they were issued. – Calchas May 19 '17 at 8:11
  • 1
    To be sure it's only an anecdote but a relative had one after working for Pan Am in the 1970s. He still used it in the 1990s, certainly across several passports. AFAIK, in the US the length of validity of the visa is completely unrelated to the length of stay (i.e. status). Those were visitors visa granting you the right to visit for a short time over many years, not resident visas. Conversely, people coming to live and work in the US (F visas for example) only get 1 or 2-year visas but are certainly allowed to stay longer than that. – Relaxed May 19 '17 at 8:34
  • 4
    An indefinite validity visa did not allow indefinite stays in the US any more than a five- or ten-year visa allows five- or ten-year stays in the US. A US visa does not authorize a period of stay; it only authorizes one to apply for entry in a particular status. – phoog May 19 '17 at 13:14
  • 1
    i got mine as aircrew for non operating positioning flights.(BA Captain) – alan glover Nov 12 '17 at 17:54
11

Burroughs visas were antecedents of Machine Readable Visas (MRVs) and ceased being issued in May 1994, with none valid after 1 April 2004. While they were business and tourist visas with indefinite validity, they were non-immigrant visas. Although the bearer could remain in the US for lengths of time, they were not residents for purposes of immigration.

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs gave the history in the Federal Register 22 CFR Part 41:

Public Notice 2538

Visas: Documentation of Non-immigrants Under the Immigration and Nationality Act; Validity of Non-immigrant Visas

Before the [Machine Readable Visa (MRVs)], non-immigrant visas were issued using a device called a Standard Register protectograph, otherwise known as a Burroughs certifier machine. It produced what was colloquially known as a "Burroughs visa," an indelible ink impression mechanically stamped directly onto a page in the alien's passport. Over time, Burroughs machines were gradually replaced by MRV technology, which is now used exclusively by all non-immigrant visa issuing posts throughout the world.

Cessation of Indefinite Visa Validity for "B" Visas

Prior to MRV technology, Burroughs visas were issued to alien visitors for indefinite validity periods whenever an enabling reciprocal arrangement was established between the United States and a particular foreign government. Because a Burroughs visa would last for the life of the passport containing it, consular officers were authorized to issue, where appropriate, a non-immigrant visitor visa with an indefinite validity period. MRVs, however, have a lifespan of ten years. Consequently, in anticipation of replacing Burroughs visas with MRVs, the Department instructed all posts, effective April 4, 1994, to cease issuing visitor visas with indefinite validity. The maximum validity for a non-immigrant visa is now ten years.

Elimination of the "Bearer(s)" Annotation

Burroughs visas contained a space in which a consular employee was required to write the name of the alien to whom the visa was being issued. An alien's passport might also include family members, such as a spouse, or children, who also had to be listed on the visa. In March 1983, in order to expedite the issuance of non-immigrant visas and to improve operational efficiency, the Department authorized the use of a "bearer(s)" stamp for certain countries so that consular officers would not have to spend time writing in the applicant's name (and those of accompanying family members). MRVs, however, must be issued individually to qualified aliens. Consequently, the "bearer" annotation has become obsolete.

Federal Register Volume 62, Number 86
Monday, May 5, 1997
Rules and Regulations
Pages 24332-24334
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov
FR Doc No: 97-11519

  • 1
    This is particularly interesting as it suggests the Burroughs visas weren't specifically the indefinite validity ones, but all visas made using a "Burroughs certifier machine", ie, the ones stamped in indelible ink directly into a passport, whether of indefinite duration or not. My first US visa (a J1 "bearer" visa, valid for 13 months in 1991-92) was one such; I still have that passport, and I thought (and still think) it looked rather grand compared to its machine-readable successors. – MadHatter Nov 21 '17 at 8:10
10

I can't improve on Giorgio's excellent answer above, but while searching out some other paperwork I came across my old passports dating from the 1980s, one of which contains my Burroughs visa from that time, stamped in my blue British passport.

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  • Mine was issued in Berlin in 1988 and looks exactly the same (B1 and B2). It was applied for with a very simple form at the consulate and the waiting time was about a hour. With a new passport you either brought it to the consulate to get a new stamp or took the old passport with you. – Mark Johnson Sep 21 at 8:30
  • Further note: there was no charge for the Visa. – Mark Johnson Sep 21 at 9:06
3

I got one (when I was child). I went in US for first time (like my family) for a full booked touristic tour. As far I know, we didn't asked anything special, I think it was the standard tourist visa for our country. Note: I was a children so no personal financial record, and US could not forecast what kind of job I would get as adult.

I used that visa twice, last use it was just few days after the "converted 10 years validity", but it was still OK. Just the Immigration officer cancelled it with a huge X, and he told us that it was converted to 10 years some time ago.

As far I know, it was cancelled not because of Machine Readable Visas, but because of introduction of Visa Waiver Program (VWP), so removing the need of a visa in such "trusted" countries. So now I doesn't need a visa (so in principle I still have a "visa of indefinite validity"). Just that in my last travel with such visa, because I had the visa, I should not complete the VWP form, now I need to do it (as ESTA form).

1

I have an "indefinite Class BII visa" in my 1972 passport. I was a student at the time. The application form was extremely lengthy and detailed. I had to be interviewed at the US embassy in London where they asked my three questions (also on the form): 1. Was I or had I ever been a member of the communist party. 2. How long did I intend to stay. 3. Did I jave enough funds to cover my stay. The visa (tourist) allowed me to stay up to three months. That was it. My 1972 passport was returned with a clipped corner and I was instructed to take it and present it along with my new passport as the old one had a valid "indefinate" visa. I have not travelled to the US since 1972, and many of my work colleagues were telling my that they were completing "visa" request firms on the plane journey over to the US. Sounded a little risky to me as what would happen if the visa were to be refused? Presumably an immediate return flight home! Anyhow, I understand things have changed again visa application wise due to the elevated security checking nowadays......Cheers, Jon

  • 1
    The forms filled out on the plane were for the "visa waiver program," which allows citizens of some countries, including the UK, to enter without a visa. I believe that program began sometime in the 1980s. Your visa was made invalid by a change in the law, but you can travel to the US without a visa as a tourist (or business visitor) under the VWP. You could aso apply for a new B-2 visa, of course. These now have a validity of no more than 10 years. – phoog Jul 28 at 15:29

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