Do International Attendees Seeking Visas Need Letters of Invitation?

Members of PCMA's Catalyst community offer meeting manager some guidance on what international attendees need for their visa applications.

Author: Convene Editors       

PCMA’s Catalyst community offers members a platform to ask each other questions, share ideas, or, as the website says, “communicate and collaborate.” Here’s a sampling from a recent Catalyst discussion.

“We will be hosting a conference in the U.S. in August that will have some international attendees,” Shelley Cohen, meeting manager, Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering Energetics Research Group, wrote on the Catalyst forum. “The last time we ran this conference in 2018, upon request, we provided letters of invitation to international attendees to use for their visa applications. I’m wondering if there are new guidelines for these types of letters, or if they’re still needed. I found this on the State Department website: ‘A letter of invitation or Affidavit of Support is not needed to apply for a visitor visa. If you choose to bring a letter of invitation or Affidavit of Support to your interview, please remember it is not one of the factors used in determining whether to issue or deny the visa.’ If it’s still a good idea to provide these letters, does anyone have recent samples?”

Our conferences are global. As advised by the embassy and immigration of different countries, including the United States, [we] require paid registration in order to receive a website-generated visa letter. This letter is used for the visa appointment. Our experiences have been quite different according to what country we are hosting our conference in, parallel to where the applicant is applying from. The U.S. and Canada seem to be more restrictive than our European conferences.

Terri Auricchio, Executive Director, Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS), the International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML), and the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics (AISTATS)

Hi Terri — thanks for taking the time to reply. Your comment that paid registration is required to receive a visa letter is concerning. My understanding is that the wait time for visa interview appointments can be months long (depending on the embassy/consulate location) and we don’t anticipate opening registration until May for the August conference. Do you have any resources or contacts that could address this topic? I tried calling the State Department, but they’ve suspended their phone customer service, and I haven’t found an email address. The website also doesn’t really address the topic to the level of detail that I’m looking for. I just want to be sure that we do the right thing.

Shelley Cohen

I am definitely not an expert on this matter and want to be careful that the experiences we have had on our conferences are not legal advice. We open our registration quite early, specifically to support our international researchers and scientists with the visa letter processes. In turn, we offer a cancellation refund within a date period should their visa be denied, or paper not accepted. Our DEI chairs, board, and logistics teams have spent years fine-tuning the process, [and each year], each destination tends to have something new [to add] through the processes.

Terri Auricchio

As the co-president of the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA), the event industry’s advocacy arm, of which PCMA is a member, here’s my understanding. While your organization certainly could provide a letter of invitation, it isn’t required at any U.S. embassy or consulate for a B-1 visitor visa application. The only time it may be useful for your prospective attendees is if they are trying to get an expedited visa appointment.

As you likely know, visa wait times continue to be quite high in several countries and regions around the world (e.g., Mexico, India, the Middle East, South Asia, etc.). ECA is working overtime on Capitol Hill to help bring these wait times down. There has been some progress, but we are backing some legislation that will make further improve- ments going forward and ensure these long wait times never happen again.

Vinnie Polito, CEO, Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO)


‘An Advocate for Listening’

Loved Michelle Russell’s editorial on listening, followed by the companion piece that Michelle and Barbara Palmer co-wrote [in the January/February Cover and CMP Series story]. In an industry of talkers, thanks for being an advocate for listening.

William F. Reed, FASAE, CMP, Chief Event Strategy Officer, American Society of Hematology (ASH)

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