Visa Types & Study

Difference Between F-1 & J-1 Student Category

Exchange Visitor (J) status is granted for a variety of activities intended to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. There are 15 different categories of J-1 visa status, each category having its own set of regulations, restrictions, and benefits. Additionally, each J program sponsor can impose their own requirements for a particular exchange visitor program.

Most international students come to the U.S. in F-1 status. The J-1 student category status may be granted under the following conditions:

  • Student is attending FSU with funding from their home government, the U.S. government, or an international organization and at the specific request of that funding entity (Note: some government-funded students are given I-20's for F-1 status because there was no requirement for issuing a DS-2019 for J-1 status in their initial award letter), or
  • Non-degree student is coming for a full course of study under a formal exchange agreement between their university and FSU, their government and the U.S. government, or under an international agreement.

The main differences between J-1 status and F-1 status are as follows:

  • Students in J-1 status and their J-2 dependents may be subject to the two-year residence requirement, which requires the student to return to their country of last permanent residency for two years before they can be eligible for an employment status or green card;
  • Anyone in J-1 or J-2 status in the college/university student category must wait for one year after the end of the student’s J-1 program before they can be eligible for the J-1 Research Scholar or Professor category (often used for post-doctoral positions);
  • Students in J-1 status may not change major during their J program (including when they transition to a new degree level);
  • J-1 non-degree students cannot transition to a degree-seeking J-1 status inside the U.S.;
  • The J program does not allow any online classes as part of the student’s full course load (anything above the full course load can be online);
  • Students in J-1 status may not engage in any program activities in a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade setting of any kind;
  • Students in J-1 status may not engage in any program activities that involve clinical counseling, therapy, child care, elder care, social work, or medical care;
  • Academic Training (the J-1 version of OPT/CPT) is employer specific, not general authorization;
  • While F-1 post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows students to carefully plan the timing of obtaining a post-graduation Employment Authorization Document and then beginning employment with no more than 90 days of unemployment, the J status allows no period of job searching or unemployment, requiring that a specifically approved job, training, or internship begin within 30 days after graduation;
  • No gaps between jobs, gigs, or assignments are permitted during post-completion academic training, meaning that an unexpected job loss can result in losing the remainder of available academic training;
  • F-1 students have options for long periods of approved part-time Curricular Practical Training, as well as additional post-completion OPT between each degree level, but the J-1 permits only a total of 18 months of any type of training, internship, or employment for the entirety of the J program and an additional 18 months only after graduation from a doctoral degree;
  • It may be harder for J-1 students to job search after graduation, as employers are often concerned about the two-year residence requirement that is attached to most J-1 students’ records, which would prevent the employer from sponsoring an employment status or green card;
  • All on-campus employment (including assistantships) requires the J-1 student to apply for written employment authorization at least once a year;
  • J-2 dependents may not support the student’s program through income earned through USCIS employment authorization;
  • Both the J-1 and J-2 must have insurance that meets the J visa requirements throughout the J program, including during post-completion academic training;
  • All major events (like a big accident or illness) must be reported to the U.S. State Department during the J program;
  • Dependents in J-2 status can currently apply for work authorization and may study full-time; and
  • Termination of a J-1 or J-2 program for violation of regulations or program rules is irreversible and can impact future visa applications.

Students and departments should be aware that the different categories of J status carry different rules and benefits specific only to that category. Those in J-1 status cannot generally change their J category (for instance, J-1 Research Scholar to J-1 College/University Student). The U.S. Department of State envisions each J program as having a very specific objective, after completion of which the visitor will return home.


Spouse Dependents Who Wish to Study

Many dependent statuses allow part-time or full-time study as outlined in this chart. There is no need to change to F-1 student status to study, except in the following situations:

  • The admitting academic department is offering an assistantship or other employment position and you do not have, do not have enough time to obtain, or do not qualify to get employment authorization from USCIS (see chart above for dependent statuses that may obtain an EAD).
  • You are in F-2 status and wish to pursue a full-time degree program.
  • Your spouse’s status will end before your program of study ends.
  • You no longer qualify for your dependent status, due to divorce.

If you are a J-2 dependent, and your J-1 spouse is subject to the two-year residence requirement, you will not be able to change status inside the U.S. On page two of your DS-2019 form, you will see this restriction explained in item (e). You will need to carefully plan travel during a school break in order to apply for a new visa at a U.S. consulate outside the U.S.

If you are an F-2 dependent changing status inside the U.S., you will not be able to study full-time or be employed until your change of status is approved. Change of status inside the U.S. generally takes several months.


Dependent Children Reaching 21

Typically dependent statuses end upon a child dependent’s 21st birthday. It is the student’s responsibility to know their legal immigration status and the limitations of that status in order to plan accordingly. Students who will be “aging out” of their dependent status should contact the CGE several months before their dependent status ends, in order to obtain an I-20 and begin the change of status process. Students who have not changed from a child dependent status by their 21st birthday will need to seek the advice of a qualified immigration attorney.


Entering B Status to Visit University

Potential students who would like to visit U.S. universities prior to being admitted may enter with a B visa or under the Visa Waiver Program as long as they alert the Port of Entry officer that they intend to apply to a U.S. university. The B visa status and Visa Waiver Program strictly prohibit academic study. Approval of a change of status or re-entry to the U.S. with an F-1 visa is required prior to enrollment in classes.


Statuses that Allow Study

Various statuses allow study that is incidental to the primary purpose for which the person entered the U.S. See this poster for a comprehensive list. For instance, someone with H-1B status can study part-time in their non-working hours, as long as they maintain the full-time employment for which the H-1B status was issued. A change of status is not required in these cases. If the H-1B holder decides to change their primary purpose to full-time study, though, they will also need to change to the appropriate student status, prior to the end of their H-1B status.

A foreign government may decide to send an employee or military officer to Florida State University for a degree program, training program, or short-term study program under the A visa status. As long as the student’s home government and the U.S. have decided that the A visa is appropriate and it has been issued for that purpose, the student may engage in their study program without obtaining the F-1 or J-1 visa status.

Those in the Au Pair category of the J-1 visa status are expected to study part-time during their program. The Au Pair host family is required to contribute toward the cost of attendance. Other J-1 categories, such as Research Scholar, Short-term Scholar, Secondary School Student, Summer Work/Travel, Camp Counselor, Trainee, or Intern do not have educational provisions in the regulations that govern those categories and will need to apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. consulate abroad prior to enrolling in coursework at FSU.