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A Quick Guide to Visas (Public Version) Print Email

Welcome to A Quick Guide to Visas.

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Table of Contents

DISCLAIMER


The following information is offered in an attempt to help international postdocs understand the basics of how to secure and maintain their immigration status during their research stay in the United States. In no way is this information to be interpreted as individual advice, as there are many variables involved in this process. However, the following generalizations have been compiled for your use as a result of surveying many institutions that are host to international postdocs. If you are unsure how to proceed, you should consult with your home institution's international office in the United States or with an immigration attorney.

 

INTRODUCTION


When you come to the United States (U.S.) 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 below 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 U.S., 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 (see below). 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 U.S., you can request an extension of your visit while you are inside the U.S. Please note that usually there is no need to travel outside the U.S. 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 U.S., 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 U.S., 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 a 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.

Return to Table of Contents

 

GENERAL INFORMATION/GLOSSARY


What is a visa?

A visa is the "stamp" in your passport that represents the classification (student, visitor, worker, etc.) that you have been granted at a U.S. embassy or consulate prior to your arrival in the U.S. The visa will indicate the number of times you may enter or re-enter the U.S. with a particular visa classification. Please note that Canadian citizens are visa exempt.

 

What kind of visa should I apply for as a postdoc?

Normally a J-1 or H-1B visa. Below is a chart outlining the differing aspects of these two visas.

 

What does the term "home residency requirement" mean?

This only applies to some, not all, J-1 or J-2 visa holders. The home residency requirement indicates that you must remain in your country of legal permanent residence or nationality for two years before applying for permanent residency in the U.S. or for H-1B visa. This restriction applies if you are receiving U.S., home government, or international organization funding, or if your home country is registered in the "Home Country Skills List" and your area of specialization during the J-1 program is noted on that list.

 

What is DHS?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) manages admission, authorized stay and other immigration related benefits.

 

What is USCIS?

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) replaced the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

 

What is DOS?

The Department of State (DOS) issues visa stamps and conducts other U.S. diplomatic business abroad.

 

What is DOL?

The Department of Labor (DOL) manages the wages and working conditions connected to the H-1B visa.

 

What is SEVIS?

The Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is an internet-based system that requires institutions to report various data regarding students on F and M visas as well as exchange visitors on J visas. Primary visa holders and their dependents in these visa classifications are required to report their home address, registration information, etc.

 

What is the Form DS-2019?

It is a certificate of eligibility for a J-1/J-2 visa and it confirms that the institution has screened the Exchange Visitor for appropriate academic credentials and adequate financial support to undertake the research stay in the U.S. The DS-2019 has an expiration date and must be maintained with periodic institutional validations.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


Question

J-1

H1-B


1  What is the purpose of this visa?


Provides foreign nationals with exchange opportunities in research as well as access to cultural and general educational programs.


Is a professional work visa and specific to the employer that petitions for you.


2  Who is eligible?


Reserved for researchers, faculty and scholars, specialists and speakers, and students in exchange programs. All are in the U.S. on fixed terms. Researchers must be brought in for a specific purpose as defined by the sponsoring institution.


Reserved for specialty occupations (scholars and scientists) that require theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in a field of human endeavor. Requires a Ph.D. or equivalent for postdocs.


3  What are the differences between these visa types?


Institutionally preferred status for postdocs. Two-year home residency requirement is imposed if home country, international organization, or U.S. government funds the research or your home country is registered in the Home Country Skills List and your area of specialization is on that list.


Often approved for J-1 postdocs who have exhausted the five-year limit. The H-1B status is typically reserved for employment purposes and not for academic exchange.

 

 


4 What is the maximum length of time for a visit?


Up to five years.

 


Up to six years. In certain circumstances the visa status may be further extended.


5 What are the requirements for obtaining the visa stamp?


The issuance of a Form DS-2019 confirms academic and financial screening by the sponsoring institution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Employer must demonstrate the following:

-employer-employee relationship;

-position applied for is professional;

-visitor holds minimum of BA/BS and, for postdocs, a Ph.D. or its equivalent and/or special skills;

-salary paid is at prevailing wage or higher;

-benefits are commensurate with other similar positions;

-initial intent to hire is temporary; and

-will pay for return transportation to home country if employer terminates job.


6 Is there a cap on how many visas are issued?


No.

 


Yes. The quota for the H-1B visa is 65,000 annually. Furthermore, there is an additional 20,000 if you possess a U.S. master’s or doctoral degree. The federal year runs from October 1 through September 30.

7 Are certain employers exempt from an H-1B visa cap?


Not applicable.

 


Employees of institutions of higher education and affiliated or related non-profit entities are exempt from the H-1B annual quota. In addition, employees of nonprofit research organizations are also exempt from the quota.

SPECIAL NOTE: 20,000 additional H-1B visas will be available annually for those who have earned at least a master's degree from a U.S. academic institution.


8 Can you extend a visit?


Yes, but the total stay cannot exceed five years for a J-1 Research Scholar.

J-1 visa stamps are usually issued for the length of the Form DS-2019, except in cases where foreign policy between two countries has defined a particular length of visa issuance.

 

 


Yes, but the total stay cannot exceed six years, except in rare instances.

9 I entered the U.S. as a J-1 exchange student and would like to continue as a postdoc. Will my time on the J-1 visa as an exchange student affect my time on a J-1 visa as a postdoc?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 

 


10 Although my Form DS-2019 (certificate of eligibility) has been revalidated for another 12 months, the J-1 visa stamp in my passport has expired. Am I required to obtain a new visa stamp in my passport to be in compliance with USCIS regulations?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 

 


11 What must I do to re-enter the U.S. if my J-1 visa stamp has expired but my Form DS-2019 is still valid?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document


12 Where can I find out about the standard visa procedures at each U.S. consulate or embassy?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document


13 Is it possible to renew my visa stamp in my passport without leaving the United States?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document


14 Should the visa stamp in my passport always remain current?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document


15 Can the two-year home residency requirement be waived?

 


Waiver of the two-year home residency requirement depends on how one became subject to the requirement; home country and/or funding agency can influence decision-making.


Not applicable

 

 


16 Are there any travel restrictions associated with these types of immigration status?

 


Check with your sponsoring institution and/or an immigration attorney.


Check with your institution/employer and/or an immigration attorney.


17 What is the cost to secure this immigration status?

 


Department of Homeland Security charges $180 SEVIS fee. Many institutions charge a handling fee (approximately $200-$500) for J-1 services fee.

 

 

 

 

 


USCIS charges a filing fee of $325 for the processing of the initial I-129 petition plus $500 for a police fee. H1-B extensions for same employer are exempt from $500 of this fee. Additionally, many institutions charge a handling fee to submit the necessary paperwork to USCIS rather than commissioning an attorney to process and submit the documents to USCIS.

 


18 Who pays for the processing of the petition or immigration document for this status?

 


The postdoc or the institution

 

 


The employer/institution.

 

 


19 Who files the request for the immigration status?

 


The institution issues the DS-2019 form.

 


The employer/institution files the H-1B petition.

 


20 How long does it take to process a visa application to enter the U.S.?

 


Plan ahead!
The institution can take from two weeks to several months to issue the Form DS-2019. The U.S. Embassy/ Consulate-which actually issues the visa-can take from a few days to many months to complete the process.

 

 


Plan ahead!
The employer/institution can take from days to weeks to process internal DOL and USCIS paperwork for the petition; USCIS can take up to another six months to review the petition. The U.S. Embassy/ Consulate can take from days to months to issue the visa stamp.

 


21 Can the procedure be expedited?

 


No.

 

 

 


Yes. The petition can be expedited by adding $1,225 to the initial $820 filing fee. This $1,225 is called the "premium processing fee," and can take USCIS up to 15 business days to adjudicate the petition. However, the issuance of the visa stamp cannot be expedited.

 


22 Who pays for the “premium processing fee?"

 


Not applicable.

 


The employer/institution or employee.


23 Can I be employed?

 


Yes.

 


Yes.


24 Is it possible to change employers while in this visa status? If so, what do I have to?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


25 Do I need USCIS authorization prior to working with the new, proposed employer?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document


26 Regarding employment, what does the term “employer-specific” mean?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document


27 Is there a limit to the number of times one can use this status?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

28 What are the consequences of letting your immigration status lapse?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

29 Can you work while you are waiting for a change in visa category?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guidedocument

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

30 What kind of status do I need for family members?

 


J-2 for legal spouse and unmarried children under 21.

 


H-4 for legal spouse and unmarried children under 21.

31 Are family members eligible to work on/off campus?

 


Family members on J-2 visas may apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Form I-765 from USCIS for all types of employment. However, their earnings cannot substitute for the support of the J-1 visa holder. Cost for the EAD is paid by the postdoc.

 


No.

 

 

 

 

 


32 Am I required to report to SEVIS?

 


The J-1 program sponsor is responsible for reporting you directly into the SEVIS system. Check with your international office immediately upon arrival in the U.S. so that you may report your residential address.


No.

 

 

 


33 If I change my residential address, am I required to report this information? If so, to whom should I report this?

 


Yes. Report your residential address to the J-1 program sponsor or the institution's international office within 10 days of your move.

Scholars subject to “Special Registration” must complete an AR-11 form within 10 days. This form may be completed at http://uscis.gov. The form also provides the mailing address. Please note that you must submit a separate form for each family member, including children.


You are responsible for notifying USCIS of any residential address changes within 10 days. The form used to notify USCIS of an address change is the AR-11. This form may be completed at http://uscis.gov. The form also provides the mailing address. Please note that you must submit a separate form for each family member, including children.

 

 

 

 


34 Can family members travel without the postdoc?

 


Yes. Family may only enter after the J-1 (postdoc) has entered the U.S. Spouse and minor children may subsequently be admitted into the U.S. in J-2 classifications. Each family member has a SEVIS DS-2019 form issued in his/her own name by the postdoc's sponsoring organization.

When traveling it is recommended that all family members carry copies of birth and marriage certificates (with translation, if not in English) to more easily demonstrate spouse and children relationships

 


Yes. Family may only enter after the H1-B (postdoc) has entered the U.S. Family members will need H-4 visas and verification that the H-1B principal is already in the U.S. working for the approved employer.

 

When traveling it is recommended that all family members carry copies of birth and marriage certificates (with translation, if not in English) to more easily demonstrate spouse and children relationships.

 


35 Where do you apply for dependent visas?

 


U.S. Embassy/Consulate (unless Canadian citizen).

 


U.S. Embassy/Consulate (unless Canadian citizen).

 


36 If I apply for a visa while in Canada or Mexico, can I re-enter using another visa status?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


37 I would like to travel to Canada or Mexico. My passport has an expired visa stamp but my other USCIS documents have been revalidated and will be current when traveling. Can I re-enter the United States without getting a new visa stamp in my passport?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 

 

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 

 

 


38 How long can I stay in Canada or Mexico with an expired visa stamp but revalidated USCIS documents?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


39 What other documentation should I take to Canada or Mexico so that there will be no problem when I re-enter the U.S.?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 

 


40 What do I need to travel to Canada?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


41 What is the cost of dependent visas?

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


42 If a postdoc changes immigration status, how does it affect family

members?


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document

 


43 Are visa holders subject to federal taxes?

 


Depends on tax treaty between home country and U.S. governments. Most J-1 visa holders are considered residents of the U.S. for tax purposes if they meet the substantial presence test.

 


Depends on tax treaty between home country and U.S. governments. Most H-1B visa holders are required to pay federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes.

 

 


44 What do I need in order to travel to Mexico?


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document


Available to subscribers within the NPA members html Visa Guide document




      

FOR CANADIAN AND MEXICAN CITIZENS

Question

Answer


45  What is a TN visa?


The TN (Trade NAFTA, Trade North American Free Trade Agreement) status is issued to Canadian and Mexican citizens who will be employed in a profession that is listed on the U.S., Canada or Mexico Free Trade Agreements. While Mexican citizens must first apply at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate for a TN visa stamp, Canadian citizens are visa exempt and need only present themselves at the U.S. port of entry. This status is granted in up to three-year increments.

Spouses and children of TN visa holders are granted TD visa status. The TD status prohibits employment.


46  If qualified for both TN and J-1 visas, which is the preferred visa for a postdoc?


Institutions make the decision about whether or not the TN is appropriate for employment.

A postdoc who wishes to avoid the two-year home residency requirement must determine if accepting the J-1 visa will subject him/her to this requirement.

If a postdoc wishes not to be subject to the two-year home residency requirement as required on the J-1 visa, it is advised that the postdoc enter the U.S. with a TN visa instead.

Consult with your institution's international office prior to entering the U.S.


47  Is the process for obtaining a TN visa different for Canadian and Mexican citizens?


While Mexican citizens must first apply at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate for a TN visa stamp, Canadian citizens are visa exempt and need only present themselves at the U.S. port of entry for adjudication of the TN application.



     

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


Author and Project Leader

Sam Castañeda, Director
Visiting Scholar and Postdoc Affairs Program
University of California, Berkeley
Member of NPA Advisory Board, International Postdoctoral Committee, and Annual Meeting Committee


Immigration Attorney Advisor

Adam Green, Law Offices of Adam Green
www.employment-familysponsoredimmigration.com

Institutional Advisors

Please note that the titles and institutions listed here may not necessarily reflect the advisor's current position.

Sook Hollingshead, International Student and Scholar Advisor
Berkeley International Office
University of California, Berkeley

Gloria Law, Immigration Specialist/J-1 Program Consultant
Buck Institute for Age Research

Catheryn Cotten, Director
International Office
Duke University, Medical Center and Health System
Durham, NC

Martha Skender, Manager
Research Trainee Programs
The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Houston, TX

Ashish Sahni, Director
Office of Institutional Research
Services to International Students and Scholars
University of California, San Francisco

Gail Robinson, Director
International Affairs
Tufts University School of Medicine
Health Sciences Campus International Affairs Office
Boston, MA

Contributing NPA International Postdoc Committee (IPC) Members

  • Isabelle Leduc, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Chiara Gamberi, Postdoctoral Fellow, The University of Texas at Austin
  • Amber Budden, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, Berkeley
  • Derek Scholes, Research Scientist, Wadsworth Center, Albany, NY
  • Wolfgang Schuster, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, San Diego
  • Claudina Aleman Stevenson, Instructor in Medicine, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA
  • Jonathan Gitlin, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Kentucky

RELATED INTERNATIONAL POSTDOC WEBSITES


Following is a list of useful websites for postdocs who will enter the U.S. with a J-1 or H1-B visa. Please note that nothing in the websites should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation.

Duke University - Visa Services

NAFSA: Association of International Educators

National Academies

Rice University, Office of International Students and Scholars

Tufts University, Health Sciences Campus International Affairs Office

University of California, Berkeley International Office

University of California, Los Angeles, Office of International Students and Scholars

University of California, San Francisco

University of Texas, International Office

U.S. Department of State

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Visa Services

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

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