How to obtain a visa

Challenge: You need a visa—or you are helping to obtain one for a colleague or student in your department, lab, or center (DLC). Maybe it’s a visa for a visiting postdoc coming from Saudi Arabia, a visa for an MIT professor headed to a conference in Brazil, or a visa for members of an MIT humanitarian group traveling to an earthquake-devastated region.

What is a visa?

A visa is a proof of permission to enter a country. It gives non-citizens clearance to enter and to stay in the country for a specified time, and for a specified purpose. A visa may be a document or it might be a stamp in the traveler’s passport.

The reality of visas is that every situation is, to some extent, unique. Every applicant for a visa has a different profile depending on nationality, the stamps in his or her passport, and the purpose and duration of the trip. Also, every country in the world has a different process for evaluating visa applications—and different restrictions. The U.S. Department of State’s website outlines the visa requirements for specific countries.

Start now

In the 21st-century world, obtaining a visa is very often a lengthy process with unforeseen complexities. For this reason, it is wise to begin the process as soon as you know the basic facts—who will need a visa and when. Happily, you don’t have to go it alone. You can work through the visa application process with the support of a number of MIT offices—which office you contact depends on the nature of the visa. This simple guide will help point you to the right resources.

1. You are preparing to bring a visiting scholar, faculty, postdoc, or other non-student visitor to MIT

Every year, the International Scholars Office (ISchO) works closely with DLCs to arrange visas for international scholars, faculty, and postdocs representing 80+ countries. Your first step in obtaining a visa for a non-student visitor to MIT should be to contact the HR coordinator or personnel administrator in your DLC headquarters. This person is the officially designated liaison with the ISchO, understands U.S. entry visa procedures and regulations, and knows which advisor in the ISchO handles visas for your area. The visa process can take months, so contact the HR administrator as soon as an invitation to a foreign national is being considered or you have an official agreement in place.

Important: MIT does not provide visa sponsorship for non-academic staff (administrative, library, or technical positions). ISchO processes visas for teaching and research positions only. If you are helping an MIT student to obtain a visa, see #3 below.

Read more about how the ISchO works with DLCs.

Learn about MIT’s visa sponsorship policies.

2. You or a member of the faculty or staff in your DLC will be traveling to a region that requires a visa.

Each country has its own requirements for entrance, so if you plan to travel outside the United States on Institute business, learn about the types of identification necessary for admittance. You can find out which travel documents and types of identification are required by countries around the world by visiting the U.S. Department of State website.

MIT contracts out to an independent agency for help in obtaining visas. Consult with the administrator of your DLC about whether the situation warrants your reaching out to the visa expeditor. The company’s name is A Briggs, an MIT preferred vendor.

Institute travelers should use the MIT Travel Card to pay for any fees connected with obtaining a passport or visa. Charges for passports, visas, and other necessary identification documents are allowable under sponsored projects and do not have to be charged to a discretionary cost object.

Some visa applications require proof of health insurance. Review this information on the Office of Insurance website and check the requirements noted on your visa application to identify the appropriate next steps.

Finally, reach out to the MIT Travel Office for guidance on Institute travel policies and procedures.

3. You are helping an enrolled international student obtain a U.S. student visa so that he or she can attend classes at MIT.

The International Students Office (ISO) assists all incoming and enrolled international students at MIT in maintaining their legal status in the United States. If you are working with an enrolled or visiting international student who requires a visa to attend MIT, contact the ISO. Because no two student visa applications are alike, an ISO advisor will work with you on a case-by-case basis.

4. You are an academic from another country and wish to visit MIT.

Visiting scholars to MIT must be invited and sponsored by individual MIT departments, labs, or centers (DLCs). If you wish to tour the campus as a general visitor, you’ll find details about campus tours here.

Helpful links