Honorarium Payments to Foreign Nationals


U.S. law significantly restricts what employment foreign nationals may accept. Before committing to an honorarium for a foreign national, departments must ensure the person has the appropriate visa that allows such a payment. For short-term visits made for the purpose of delivering a lecture or speech, only certain visa classifications are authorized to accept an honorarium. An individual already in the U.S. may not necessarily be here in the correct visa classification. For instance, diplomats, employees of foreign governments, military personnel, or others on foreign government representative visas, employees of the World Bank or political officers attached to a foreign embassy in the U.S. hold visa classifications specific to the duties of their posts and are not permitted to earn additional income through activities such as speaking engagements.
Do not assume that an international visitor holds the correct visa classification, especially if he or she is already in the U.S. You must look at additional sources of information that could include the individual’s passport visa or stamped I-94 card to determine visa classification.

Visitor for Business B-1:

Foreign Visitors present in the U.S. on a B-1 visa may be paid an honorarium; however, such individuals cannot provide services at the University for more than 9 days and must not accept payment or expenses from more than 5 institutions in the 6-month period of the visa’s duration. Other types of payments that a B-1 visa holder may receive while in the U.S. include reimbursement for expenses including accommodations, meals and travel expenses. Payments may be made directly to the provider of the service or to the nonresident visitor (all expenses must have original receipts and are subject to WSU Travel Policy restrictions). NOTE: The 9-day/five institution rule does not apply to those who are only reimbursed for receipted expenses and not receiving honoraria. “B” immigration holders are not employees.

Visitor for Tourism B-2:

Prior to 2006, foreign visitors in the U.S. on a B-2 visa were prohibited from receiving payments of any kind for any reason. Payments made on behalf of B-2 visa holders for such things as lodging or transportation were also prohibited. An easing of these rules came when an IRS general information letter from the Office of the Asst. Chief counsel was published, allowing B-2s already in the U.S. to accept an honorarium for a speaking engagement.

Visa Waiver Program

Foreign nationals from a participating country in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) do not have to have a visa to enter the U.S. for business or tourist travel. However, they must have a machine-readable passport valid for six months past their expected stay in the U.S. (unless a country-specific agreement provides an exemption). The foreign national may stay in the U.S. for business or tourist purposes for a maximum of 90 days. No extension of the stay is allowed.

As of September 2010, travelers from a VWP country no longer complete an I-94W. Instead, they must submit their request for a travel authorization to the U.S. through the ESTA Program (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Travelers complete the ESTA on-line form before entering the U.S. prior to boarding, the carrier will electronically verify with U.S. authorities that the traveler has an approved travel authorization file through ESTA.

Since the ESTA program started, some individuals who have been invited to the US as a B-1 have reportedly been admitted as a B-2 even after showing the B-1 invitation letter. If the individual is in the US for strictly business activities ie academic activities but their immigration stamp is B-2 then in this situation we can reconsider making payments such as honoraria and travel to a B-2 by using the B-1 rules since we have considered both the visa type and the purpose for the trip. Contact Travel Services at 509 335-8074 with any questions.

For more information on which countries are in the program, see the Department of State web site about the Visa Waiver Program.


What Activities Can Be Paid Through an Honorarium

An honorarium may be paid to a foreign national for “usual academic activity or activities.” These activities include lecturing, teaching and sharing of knowledge or performance.

Honorarium Rule (“9/5/6” Rule)

Foreign nationals in B-1, B-2, VWB, and VWT status may accept an honorarium and/or reimbursement of travel expenses under the following conditions:

  • For “usual academic activity or activities”
  • Nine (9) days or less at WSU
  • The individual has accepted such payment from no more than 5 educational or research institutions (including the WSU)
  • In the previous 6-month period.

If the individual does not meet the honorarium rule, then they cannot be paid for the honorarium.   Foreign nationals holding a B-1/VWB or B-2/VWT visa who exceed the honorarium rule are not prohibited from giving an invited lecture at WSU. They just can’t be paid an honorarium. There is nothing that says an honorarium has to be offered.
Dr. Jones from New Zealand is invited by the Geology Department to give a talk for which he will be paid an honorarium and expenses. This is his first trip on a B-1 visa to the U.S. He will be on the Pullman campus for 5 days. During this trip in the U.S. he is also giving talks at four other universities. Dr. Jones has now used the full benefits provided by the honorarium rule. He will not be able to accept an honorarium from another U.S. university for another six months.

Have the visitor complete the B1/B2 Short-Term Visitor Declaration Form and submit it as backup to payment request forms.


Who is Eligible to Receive an Honorarium

  • B-1 or B-2 provided the individual meets the conditions of the Honorarium Rule.
  • VWB (Visa Waiver Business) or VWT (Visa Waiver Tourist) provided the individual meets the conditions of the Honorarium Rule.


An honorarium paid to a foreign national is subject to 30% withholding. This withholding also applies to a nonresident alien entity. Travel reimbursement is not subject to withholding because it is not considered income.

Letter of Invitation

A letter of invitation must be sent to every foreign national invited to WSU who will receive an honorarium or reimbursement for travel expenses. The letter should come from the department that is sponsoring the activity. The letter should contain the following information:

  • Name of the event or activity
  • Date of the event
  • The amount of any honorarium that will be paid if any
  • Whether travel and/or incidental expenses will be reimbursed
  • Contact information at the sponsoring  department for further information

Contact the WSU Office of International Students and Scholars with any questions about invitation letters at oiss@wsu.edu or 509 335-4508. Attach a copy of the offer letter as backup to payment request forms.

Reimbursement by B Visa Type When Honorarium Rule is Not Exceeded
B Visa Type Pay honorarium? Reimburse travel and/or incidental expenses?
B-1/VWB Yes Yes
B-2/VWT Yes No


Reimbursement by B Visa Type When Honorarium Rule is Exceeded
B Visa Type Pay honorarium? Reimburse travel and/or incidental expenses?
B-1/VWB No Yes
B-2/VWT No No