Obtaining an F1 student visa or a J1 exchange visitor visa are considered the two most common ways to be able to come to the United States for non-immigrants. Students or exchange visitors wishing to travel to the U.S. must have a valid F1 or J1 visa.
Both F-1 and J-1 visas may allow international students to study at a college or a university in the United States. However, there are key differences between the two visas. Here are the details:
F-1 Student Visa
F-1 visa is suitable for students attending a full-time degree or academic program at a school, college, university or language training program. F-1 visa is valid as long as the course of study is completed. Students having an F-1 visa can also work on campus.
A student’s with F-1 visa primary purpose for coming to the United States is to complete a full-time program of study at any grade level at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school. For many F-1 students, this program of study is a post-secondary education at an SEVP-certified college or university in the USA.
As studying is one of the primary purposes of a student with an F-1, students with F-1 visas must be enrolled in a full course of study while in the United States and must follow the rules to maintain their F-1 student status.
J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa
The Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa category is best for those approved to take part in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs. These programs may include au pair, college and university student, intern, research scholar, secondary school student, short-term scholar, summer work travel, teacher, and trainee.
A J-1 visa provides countless opportunities for international candidates looking to travel and gain experience in the United States.
You must prove that you have a permanent residence in your home country as well as strong ties that would be a reason for you to return (e.g., bank accounts, cars, family). You must also affirm that you intend to leave the U.S. after your J-1 or F-1 validation period is over.
Working in the US with J1 and F1 Visas
One of the main differences between J-1 and F-1 visas is the access you may have to regular employment. Students with J-1 visa are allowed to work on-campus or off-campus on the condition that they get work authorization. On-campus work, you can work up to 20 hours a week. You can work as a teacher’s assistant, in the library, in a bookstore or even as a security. You may contact your institution to see what jobs are available to you.
On the other hand, F-1 students may not work off-campus during the first academic year, but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions. After the first academic year, F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment:
- Curricular Practical Training (or CPT) – this is a work avenue that is a part of your school curriculum, which may include paid or unpaid internships.
- Optional Practical Training (or OPT) – you can choose between pre-completion or post-completion OPT to work while you are studying. This kind of work can only be done if it is directly related to your field of study. If you choose post-completion, you can stay one full year after your studies have concluded.
- STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) OPT – This allows you to stay and work for two full years after your studies have concluded.
Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement
J-1 students may be subject to the two-year home country physical presence requirement. This means J-1 holders will be required to return to their home country for two years at the end of the exchange visitor program. This requirement applies to you if:
- You receive any funding (including nominal travel grants) from your home government or a U.S. government agency; or
- Your degree/program of study is on the Exchange Visitor's Skills List. This is a list of fields with specialized knowledge and skills that are deemed necessary for the development of your home country.
If a J-1 student is subject to the two-year home country physical presence requirement, so are his/ her J-2 dependents.
Twelve Month Bar after Previous J-1 Participation
J-1 students who have studied in the U.S. for more than six months may not return as a J-1 Research Scholar (another J-1 visa category, often used for post-doctoral research) until at least 12 months have passed. This 12 Month Bar is separate from the two-year home country physical presence requirement listed above. J-2 dependents are also subject to this bar.
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