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DIS Title Divider Administrative Staff Title Divider Selecting a NIH Designation
​​​​​​Administrative Staff
Selecting a NIH Designation

At NIH, designations function much like job titles. The hierarchy of designations and expectations and responsibilities for each designation are largely standardized. NIH Intramural Research Program (IRP) designations are divided into two primary categories: Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) and Non-FTE. They are further divided by appointment, assignment, and award type in the Office of Intramural Research's Sourcebook. For a list of the most common intramural FTE and Non-FTE designations, refer to DIS’s NIH Designations Chart. The Visiting Program is limited to the NIH IRP. NIH extramural programs are not authorized to use IRP designations.

The Institute/Center (IC) should pick the most appropriate NIH designation for a prospective foreign national scientist before they send a case to DIS. After DIS receives the case, an Immigration Specialist will review to ensure the selected designation complies with NIH policy and immigration regulations. If the IC wants to change a scientist's designation, DIS approval of the proposed change is required. Refer to our guidance on Non-FTE to FTE Designation Conversion or detailed information on this common request.

There are several major factors to consider when selecting a NIH designation:

Level of Education


A terminal degree (Ph.D. /M.D) is required for most NIH Visiting Program designations, as outlined in Section D of the NIH policy manual chapter on Visiting Program Policies. A master's degree is required for NIH sponsorship of a J-1 Exchange Visitor. Foreign national scientists are ineligible for post-bac positions at NIH,and foreign national Special Volunteers must have either completed or be enrolled in a terminal degree (Ph .D./M.D.) program.

Doctoral Degree to be Conferred before NIH Start Date: Include Acceptable Evidence of Doctoral Degree in cases sent to DIS for currently enrolled doctoral degree students who will complete their degree program prior to arriving at NIH.

Pre- Doctoral Degree Students: The most appropriate NIH designations for students who are currently enrolled in a doctoral degree program are Special Volunteer or Pre-Doctoral Visiting Fellow. Doctoral students who will remain at NIH for more than six months must register and complete the Graduate Partnerships Program (GPP) process. For more information, refer to DIS guidance on Pre-Doctoral Students.



All foreign national scientists who participate in the NIH Visiting Program must demonstrate proof of funding that covers the entirety of their time at NIH. Notify DIS if the scientist's anticipated funding amount or source changes after you have submitted a case to DIS or after the scientist's stay at NIH has begun. For more information, refer to DIS guidance on Funding.

NIH Funding: All FTE designations are salaried employees at the NIH. The most common Non-FTE designations that can be fully supported with NIH funds are Pre- and Post-Doctoral Visiting Fellows. If a prospective Visiting Fellow has non-NIH funding, a Supplemental Visiting Fellowship should be considered. A Supplemental Visiting Fellow's non-NIH funding cannot be a salary from an outside employer. See the NIH Manual Chapter on Fellows for more information.

Non-NIH Funding: Include evidence of any non-NIH funding in cases sent to DIS. There are certain policy requirements regarding non-NIH funding, including the use of personal funds, outside employer funding, and J-1 Exchange Visitor minimum requirements. For more information, refer to DIS guidance on Funding.

Special Volunteer, Guest Researcher, and Research Collaborator are commonly used NIH designations that can be fully supported with non-NIH funding. Please review the appropriate Manual Chapter (linked above) for more information about each designation.

Contact DIS with questions concerning non-NIH funding for FTE employees. For a list of common Non-FTE designations with non-NIH funding, refer to the "Assignments" column on the NIH Designations Chart.

Patient Contact


A medical degree is necessary for any level of patient contact at the NIH. DIS confirms scientist eligibility for patient contact consideration based on immigration policy. If allowable, patient contact privileges are granted after review and approval by the NIH Credentialing Services Section, Medical Records Department, and the Medical Executive Committee.

Full Patient Contact: Only NIH clinical designations (Clinical Research Collaborator, Clinical Fellow, Staff Clinician, etc.) are eligible for full patient contact.

Incidental Patient Contact: Incidental patient contact (IPC) is reserved for scientists whose research program is predominately involved with observation, consultation, teaching or research. Apply for IPC to be effective at the start of the award, appointment, or assignment period. When in doubt about whether IPC will be needed to fulfill a foreign national scientist's research program, apply for it. For guidance on which NIH designations are eligible and how to apply for IPC, refer to DIS guidance on Patient Contact.

Length of Research Program


The duration of a foreign national scientist's research program is affected by NIH policy and immigration status. For example, the NIH 5/8 Year Duration Rule dictates that postdoctoral trainees are limited to a training period of five years, with an additional three years of training available if they are converted to an FTE appointment.

For more information on length of research program, please refer to the NIH sourcebook under the appropriate designation.

Short Stay Visitors: If a foreign national scientist's anticipated stay at the NIH is less than 90 days, DIS pre-arrival approval may not be necessary. The scientist can be routed through the individual IC's B-1/WB Delegate Program if they are eligible for B-1/WB status. The Delegate Program is for intramural use only. A list of IC Delegates can be found on the DIS website. If the IC does not have a B-1/WB Delegate, a case will be required and DIS approval is necessary.

Type of Research Program


The foreign national scientist's type of research program is also a factor in determining the most appropriate NIH designation. For example, a scientist who recently graduated from a doctoral degree program is likely ineligible for an FTE appointment because they still need to complete post-doctoral training. This individual is more suited for a Non-FTE Visiting Fellow Award, which provides developmental training and practical research experience.

Other scientists come to NIH as independent researchers, for observation purposes, or as part of an established collaboration with an outside institution. The nature of their stay and their outside institution's relationship with NIH, if applicable, will dictate which designation is most appropriate. For example, Guest Researcher would be the most appropriate designation for a scientist who plans to conduct their own research using NIH facilities and is funded by an outside source. See the NIH Manual Chapter on Guest Researcher/Special Volunteer Programs.

Refer to the Office of Intramural Research's Sourcebook when selecting a NIH designation for a foreign national scientist. The sourcebook details the expected duties and policies associated with each appointment, assignment, or award.

Revised 05/2023

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