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Study as a Visitor

Generally, citizens of other countries may visit the United States provided they have a valid B-1/B-2 visa or are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). When entering the country, immigration officers ask you to explain the purpose of your visit and where you intend to stay. The primary purpose of the trip must qualify as business, pleasure, or medical treatment.

Once admitted in valid B-1, B-2, or VWP status, you have restricted permissions for what they can do while in the United States. Visitors are granted status until a specific expiration date and do not have permission to work or enroll in an academic course of study during that time.

According to federal regulations, a nonimmigrant visitor “violates the conditions of his or her B-1 or B-2 status if the alien enrolls in a course of study” [8 CFR 214.2(b)(7)]. These conditions hold for visitors in the Visa Waiver Program as well. However, several government agencies have clarified these regulations to allow for recreational study, as long as the study is incidental to the primary purpose of the visit (business or tourism).

Incidental/Recreational study CANNOT:

  • Be used to satisfy any degree or certification requirements
  • Provide substantial training toward a vocational skill
  • Qualify as a full-time program.

Instead, permissible recreational study is viewed as casual and short-term, toward a personal hobby or interest, and is not the main reason for visiting the US.

Visiting or Incidental Study Opportunities at Rochester

The University of Rochester offers opportunities for visiting study, including several short-term programs that provide informal study or enrichment experiences. Many of these are available on a non-credit basis and are open to the community.

For international visitors hoping to participate in incidental study during their trip, the International Services Office (ISO) recommends that you meet all of the following conditions:

  • The primary purpose of your visit is business or tourism
  • Registration is processed as non-credit or an audit
  • The course(s) will not be used toward a degree or certification
  • Study does not exceed 18 hours per week

If all of these conditions are met, a short-term class or workshop should not be considered a violation of B-1/B-2 status or the Visa Waiver Program.

If all of these conditions cannot be met, however, you should consider requesting University sponsorship for a student category (F-1 or J-1). This requires additional processing time and application fees, and you must enroll in full-time study to maintain status. Contact the school or program coordinator at least three months in advance and follow directions (depending on your program) to request documentation or apply through the Office for Global Engagement’s Global Visitor Process, and apply for the appropriate student visa category.

Maintaining Status and Permissions

Educational institutions may enroll any successful applicant to their programs, regardless of their immigration status, and are not required to verify their permission to study. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to make sure that you are maintaining status and have appropriate permissions for their activities.

If you are not sure whether a student status is the best option for you, please contact us.

Additionally, you may contact your local US consulate for guidance. Consular officials will be able to evaluate the primary purpose of your visit and whether the proposed study is permitted as incidental to status.