When you come to the United States to conduct postdoctoral research, you must enter with an appropriate visa stamp (except Canadian citizens) and with the proper immigration documents. Although there are a variety of visa options available for an assortment of purposes, the most common statuses utilized for temporary research are the J-1 and the H-1B. The J-1 and H-1B visas require institutional certification that you have the essential academic and employment backgrounds, as well as the financial suitability to support yourself during your research stay. Further, each institution has a set of individualized policies and procedures to secure these types of visas, as well as their own time frame to obtain the required certifications.
SPECIAL NOTE: Canadian and Mexican citizens are also eligible for the TN status. For more information regarding the TN status, please see special section entitled "For Canadian and Mexican Citizens".
After the institutional certification process is completed and the documents received, postdocs are required to secure the visa stamp at a U.S. embassy or consulate — usually in the postdoc's home country. Canadians are visa exempt and present the Notice of Approval or DS-2019 form at the U.S. border. Please keep in mind that internal policies and procedures affecting visa issuance at the U.S. consulates will differ from country to country. When securing the visa stamp, in most instances, you must have a passport that is valid for six months beyond the anticipated ending date of your postdoctoral appointment.
Upon entering the United States, you will be interviewed at the airport (or port of entry) and asked to present appropriate entry documents, which are discussed below. After the entry interview with the immigration officer, your "I-94 Arrival/Departure Card " (the document you filled out on the airplane or, if entering by land, at the border) will be marked to reflect the amount of time granted for your research stay in the U.S. J-1 visa holders are generally admitted for "Duration of Status" (D/S), meaning until the ending date of the J-1 Form DS-2019. H-1B visa holders are generally admitted until the ending date on the H-1B approval notice.
If you require additional time in the same type of immigration status while you are in the United States, you can request an extension of your visit while you are inside the United States. Please note that usually there is no need to travel outside the United States to transact the extension. However, the time frame for obtaining the H-1B visa status extensions may vary from one U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regional processing center to another.
If you return to your home country during your research stay and desire to re-enter the United States, you will need to have a valid visa stamp. If the visa stamp is not valid, you will need to renew it at a U.S. embassy or consulate unless you are visa exempt, such as Canadian citizens . Although it may not be necessary for you to apply at the location where you received your original visa stamp, applications for visas are usually more successful in your home country.
If you are a postdoc in J status, you are required to report certain activities, for example, your arrival and departure date and your U.S. residential address, to the institution that provided you with the Form DS-2019. Each time you move to a new residence, your change of address must be reported within 10 days of the move.
Finally, if you have exhausted the time limits of your status but would like to continue your stay in the United States, you should first consult your institution's international office. Further, you may eventually need to consult with an immigration attorney as to what, if any, alternatives may be available to you.
If you are a J-1 visa holder returning to your home country, you may be required to remain there up to two years before being eligible for change of status to certain other U.S. visas (two-year home country physical presence requirement). This is contingent upon agreements between your home country and the U.S. government, as well as the source of funding for your postdoctoral research. It is possible in certain circumstances to obtain a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement.