If you plan to visit the United States for the purpose of studying or working, you must first obtain a visa that allows you access into the country. The two most common student visa statuses are F1 and J1, but which one is right for you?
Each one has different benefits and application requirements. Read further to learn what those are so you can know which route to take.
What is F1 and J1?
Of the two, the most popular student visa is F1. This allows students to travel to the United States to attend a college or university and be funded by friends, family, or any outside funding sources. Students must be enrolled full-time and expect to complete their studies by the end of their visa term.
Students are also able to work on-campus during their studies. If they would rather work off-campus, they must first obtain approval for Optional Practical Training (OPT), and the off-campus work needs to be relevant to their program of study.
In order to keep F1 status, students must remain at the institution for which their F1 visa was approved for and maintain good academic standing. They must also have strong ties to their home country and prove that they intend to return (via bank accounts, homes, job offer, etc.) upon completion of their studies.
Depending on their study or work plans in the United States, some people will choose J1 status due to it being a more versatile option. For college and university students, J1 status offers them the same chance to study as F1 status does.
One difference between the two statuses is funding. While F1 students will have personal funding from friends and family, and possibly a few outside sources, J1 students must have funding from government, scholarships, or some other United States organization.
J1 visas usually require applicants to return to their home country and work there for a minimum of two years before applying for other visas, while F1 has no stipulation.
Besides students, J1 visas are available for anyone needing to travel to the U.S. to be an au pair (nanny), camp counselor, intern, physician, research scholar, teacher, and many more.
The application process for an F1 visa:
- Apply to and be accepted by a college or university that is approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
- Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee to be enrolled in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Once you pay the fee, your school will provide you with something called a Form I-20.
- Apply for the F1 student visa with your choice of U.S. embassy or consulate, which will require a non-refundable visa application fee.
- Schedule your F1 visa interview with the U.S. embassy or consulate. Do this as early as possible, as interview appointment times might not be readily available. When it is time to go to your interview make sure you have:
- Your passport
- Your passport photo
- Your visa application form DS-160
- The receipt showing you paid the application fee
- The Form I-20 that your school sent you
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For the J1 visa, steps 2 through 4 are the same. The only difference is step one, where instead of just applying to a participating school, students must find a sponsor for their J1 student visa. Once that step is accomplished, follow the other steps, but for the J1 visa.
Do You Qualify for F1 or J1?
Based on the information above, decide which visa status you most qualify for. For instance, if you can prove financial eligibility (money in your bank or scholarships), submit documents showing strong ties to your home country, are proficient in English, and have a valid enrollment offer from an SEVP approved university, you qualify for F1 status.
The main qualification for J1 status for students, however, is financing from the government (U.S. or your country) or another international organization or be participating in a student exchange program.
What are the Benefits?
One of the biggest benefits of the F1 status is that there are two ways to extend your stay in the U.S. after graduation (12-24 months) so long as you are pursuing work in your field of study. Those two are the Optional Practical Training (mentioned above) and the 24-Month STEM Extension.
The F1 visa also allows you to get funding from friends or family, in addition to scholarships.
J1 also has a program, called Academic Training, that allows students to work off-campus during or after graduation for up to 18-months if it relates to your field of study. You must already have a job offer in place to apply.
One benefit that J1 status has over F1 status is that it allows dependents (“J2s”) to also study and work, while F2s are only allowed to study.
Each type of student visa has different qualifications and requirements and choosing between the two can be frustrating. If you qualify for either one, decide which one would benefit your academic and work needs the best before deciding.
If you need help, we recommend speaking with an experienced immigration attorney. They will be able to discuss with you the various qualifications and help you decide which visa status to apply for.