F1 student visas are the most common type of student visas in the USA. All full-time degree seeking international students can apply for the F1 visa. However, some students may also qualify for the J1 student visa. To qualify for the J1 visa at least 50% of your financial support must come from a source other than personal or family funds. Examples of this may be a scholarship, fellowship, or assistance from an external funding source such a university, home government, or corporate sponsor. F1 visas are most commonly for students who wish to acquire a degree from the USA and wish to stay for employment in the country following their degree. J1 visas are more for people who wish to go to the USA for a cultural exchange program or learn a specialized trait in a specialized field such as in medicine or teaching.
F1 Visa Requirements
- Pursue a full course of study at an established college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program in the U.S. and make normal progress towards completing the course of study.
- Remain in the U.S. for no longer than 60 days after completing the full course of study unless prior to that time the student has followed procedures for applying for practical training, changing educational levels, transferring to another approved school, or change of status.
- On campus employment does not require work permit
- There are two authorization options for working off campus. Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for working off campus before completion of studies and Optional Practical Training (OPT) for working after completion of studies. Both CPT and OPT are only available to students who have completed one academic year of full-time enrollment in the U.S. Only degree-seeking students are approved for OPT. With OPT F-1 students are eligible to work off campus for up to 12 months, and there is an extension for 17 months is possible for certain STEM majors. They must work in a position that is directly related to their program of studies.
- F-2 dependents are prohibited from engaging in employment or a course of study, but that F-2 children may enroll in elementary or secondary school for grades K-12.
F1 Visa Types
- F1: for full-time students
- F2: for spouses and children of F-1 visa holders
- F3: for "border commuters" who reside in their country of origin while attending school in the United States
If you meet the J1 visa requirements, you may be eligible for an F1 to J1 change of status.
J1 Visa requirements
- You must engage only in approved activities at the authorized location for which the DS-2019 was issued.
- Any employment on or off campus requires a work permit from the program sponsor
- You must maintain medical insurance
- You must leave in the United States no longer than 30 days after completing your J1 program.
- There is one authorized option for working off campus. Academic Training is available for working off campus either before or after completion of studies. J1 students are eligible to apply for up to 18 months and PhD students engaged in post-doctoral research are eligible to apply for up to 36 months of work that is related to their major area of study.
- J2 spouses and children are eligible to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD), but there is no regulation restricting J2s from enrolling in a course of study.
- J1 visas have a 12 month bar for students who had a previous J1 visa for 6 months or more before one can apply for another J1 visa.
- Two year Home Country Requirement = J1 students are subject to the 2 year home country physical presence requirement if
- you receive any funding from your home government or a US government agency
- the skills that you are coming to develop are in a field which your home country governments requested be included on the US government’s “Exchange Visitor’s Skills List, which means your home country government considers that trained person in your field of study in short supply.
J1 Visa Types
- Private sector programs:
- Alien Physician
- Au pair and EduCare
- Camp Counselor for a summer camp
- Student, Secondary School
- Government and academic programs:
- Government Visitor
- International Visitor
- Professor and Research Scholar
- Short-Term Scholar
- Student, College/University
As you can see there are many differences between F1 and J1 visas. If you think the F1 to J1 change of status could be a good option for you but you are unsure, consult with an immigration attorney.
8 CFR 214.2(f): “special requirements” for admission, extension, and maintenance of F nonimmigrant status
8 CFR 214.2(j): “special requirements” for admission, extension, and maintenance of J nonimmigrant status