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F-1 (I-20) vs. J-1 Student (DS-2019)

Individuals who are not U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents in the United States for the purpose of study are generally in F-1 or J-1 student status. Most students are given the I-20 (F-1), while those students who are government sponsored or who are on exchange programs are given the DS-2019 (J-1 student).

F-1 Visa

To enter the U.S. in F-1 status, DISSA must provide the student with an I-20 (Certificate of Non-Immigrant Eligibility) that is used to obtain the F -1 visa. DISSA is required to determine if students have enough financial resources to attend school and pay for their living expenses while attending school without resorting to illegal employment or relying on public funds. The F-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa; therefore, students must prove to the U.S. consulate that they have ties to their home country and will not remain in the United States.

In general, F-1 students:

  • must register full time each fall and spring semester; although, there are some federal regulations that allow for reduced course loads, but these must be approved by an international student adviser in advance.  Students admitted for a new degree program in summer must enroll in summer.
  • can work on-campus for no more than 20 hours per week.
  • cannot work off-campus without approval from DISSA or recommendation from DISSA and approval from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  • must report their non-U.S. address and local address.
  • keep their I-20 and passport valid at all times.
  • maintain health insurance.

Dependents (spouse and children) can also obtain an I-20 for F-2 status. F-2 dependents may not work under any circumstances. F-2 children may attend school through secondary education. After secondary education, F-2 dependents (both spouse and children) may not attend higher education without changing to F-1 status. They may, however, take avocational or recreational classes on a part-time basis.

J-1 Visa

Another visa category that is for study is the J-1 (student category). The Certificate of Non-Immigrant Eligibility for J status is the DS-2019, and the J-1 is also a non-immigrant visa status. The rules for the J-1 are similar to the F-1.

In general, J-1 students must adhere to the following:

  • They must register full time each fall and spring semester; although, there are some federal regulations that allow for reduced course loads, but these must be approved by an international student adviser in advance.  Students admitted for a new degree program in summer must enroll in summer.
  • They can work on-campus for no more than 20 hours per week.
  • cannot work off-campus without approval from DISSA (if DISSA issued the DS-2019 to the student) or the sponsor (i.e., IIE) who issued the DS-2019
  • must report their non-US address and local address 
  • keep their DS-2019 and passport valid at all times.
  • maintain health insurance.

However, there are two important differences:

  1. Those in J-1 status may be subject to what is referred to as the "two-year home residency requirement" or subject to 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The two-year home residency requirement means that those individuals must return home for two years before applying for the H, L, or permanent residency visas. In addition, those subject to the two-year home residency requirement cannot change status to another within the U.S. A J-1 becomes subject to 212(e) by coming from a country and studying a field on the skills list, being sponsored by the U.S. government or the home country government, or studying in a program for graduate medical education.
  2. Dependents in J-2 status may apply for work permission.