The J-1 Scholar Visa Process

This section is for faculty interested in inviting international visitors to campus as J-1 Scholars.   It is also intended for incoming visiting scholars who must obtain the J-1 visa for teaching and/or research.

The J-1 Visa Process at Penn State


The role of your Departmental Contact

Each department designates a contact with access to our immigration management software, iStart. 

Faculty, to choose the most suitable visa category for your visitor, promptly consult your departmental contact upon extending an invitation to an international visitor.

Incoming Scholar, your departmental contact will be your main point of contact throughout the immigration process.  


Tourist Visas for Visitors

A B-2 visa is never appropriate as it cannot be used for business purposes, only leisure activities.  However, in some instances, a B-1 tourist visa or the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA) is the most appropriate visa for your international visitor.   A tourist visa may be appropriate when:

  • The visitor is working on independent research that will not benefit Penn State in any way.
  • The visitor is meeting with faculty to discuss future collaboration.
  • The visitor is editing or writing manuscripts with faculty.
  • The visitor is presenting a guest lecture and/or attending a conference.

There are other considerations when assessing the most appropriate visa type for the visit.  The activities, not the length of the visit, are the determining factor.  Our staff at J-1 Scholar Advising can assess the visit to determine what visa status can be used for this particular visitor.


What positions are ineligible for a J-1 visa?

Because of the temporary nature of the J-1 visa, this visa category cannot be used for:

  • Tenure-line positions, because of the assumed permanency of these positions
  • Staff positions, for the same reason


University Policy AC01

University policy AC01: Visiting Scholars applies to all non-employee visitors. Approval from the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs is required for unpaid visiting scholars before J-1 Scholar Advising can issue a visa document. Your departmental contact will handle all required forms.


Inviting Faculty Responsibilities

By extending an invitation to a visiting scholar, the faculty member agrees to:

  • Notify the scholar of the English proficiency and medical insurance requirements.
  • Help with arrival needs, including housing.
  • Be present on campus for at least 75% of the scholar's working days.
  • Ensure the scholar checks in with the departmental contact upon arrival.
  • Conduct an initial meeting to discuss research strategy and goals.
  • Serve as an ad hoc adviser for degree-seeking candidates.
  • Keep track of the scholar's whereabouts (e.g., illness, vacation).
  • Report any unexplained, extended absences to J-1 Scholar Advising promptly.
  • Obtain prior approval from J-1 Scholar Advising for program changes.
  • Notify J-1 Scholar Advising and HR if the scholar's performance is below expectations.
  • Provide opportunities for the scholar to learn about American culture and meet Americans, as part of public diplomacy.


Visa Processing for a J-1 Scholar

The department should request the visa eligibility document (DS-2019) no less than three (3) months before the J-1 Scholar's program start date.  This timeline includes:

  • The input of other offices, such as Export Control and the English for Professional Purposes Intercultural Center (EPPIC)
  • Generation of the DS-2019(s), the visa eligibility documents for J-1 visa application.
  • Visa Appointment with the U.S. Embassy / Consulate
    • Longer wait times for citizens of China, India, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia
    • Longer wait times for scholars who interview outside of their country of citizenship (e.g., a French citizen working in Japan and schedules their visa interview at the US Embassy in Tokyo)
    • Administrative processing involves the security background check and it cannot be expedited
  • Finding a place to stay since on-campus housing is not available
  • Booking a flight to the United States

The information below will guide you through this process. 

For a J-1 Scholar, the departmental contact will handle all departmental paperwork using the J-1: Incoming Scholar Checklist.  Once the checklist is started, the scholar will receive an email notification to complete their part of the request.

The process is the same for all scholars who are transferring their current DS-2019(s) to Penn State.


English Proficiency for J-1 Scholars

All scholars applying for J-1 Exchange Visitor visas must meet U.S. State Department requirements for English proficiency, enabling them to engage effectively in their exchange programs and navigate daily life in the United States.

To fulfill this requirement, scholars should consult the list on the EPPIC website for documentation guidance. All scholars, regardless of nationality or document transfer status, must submit the Proof of English Proficiency form. Approved documentation is necessary to obtain a DS-2019.


Funding requirement for J-1 Scholars

The individual must demonstrate sufficient finances per the charts below.  We can only accept documentation that has been generated in the last six (6) months.  All documentation must be in English or accompanied by a translation.

If funded by Penn State, the individual can receive compensation like any other instructor or researcher, provided the position is not permanent and meets financial guidelines.

Positions funded by Penn State must be advertised on the Penn State Jobs site to comply with Affirmative Action guidelines. Departments should liaise with their HR Strategic Partners and contact Affirmative Action for assistance.

For scholars without Penn State funding, proof of financial support is required to obtain a DS-2019. Funding sources can include:

  • personal funds,
  • family member funds,
  • institutional support,
  • government sponsorship, or
  • professional organizations. 

If a scholar will be receiving salary from the home institution, the funding document must explicitly state that “the salary will continue for the duration of the J-1 Program at Penn State.”


The figures provided below represent the minimum required amounts and do not align with the present cost of living. It is advisable for scholars to supplement these funds with additional savings or assistance from family to ensure a comfortable standard of living in this area.


Minimum Funding Requirements (Per Year, estimate)







Each Child


Minimum Funding Requirements (Per Month, exact)







Each Child





PRE-ARRIVAL: Upon approval of all forms in this section, the DS-2019 is generated and the scholar schedules the visa appointment.

Program Information -- DEPARTMENT

Inviting Faculty Responsibilities -- DEPARTMENT

Department Head Authorization -- DEPARTMENT

Applicant Information -- SCHOLAR

Transfer in DS-2019 -- SCHOLAR

Add J-2 Dependent -- SCHOLAR

Proof of English Proficiency -- SCHOLAR

Proof of Funding -- SCHOLAR

Additional Documentation -- SCHOLAR or DEPARTMENT


HOME COUNTRY TASKS:  Every scholar is obligated to complete the forms below before entering the United States.

I-901 Fee Payment Confirmation -- SCHOLAR

Amend Program Dates – SCHOLAR with approval from DEPARTMENT

J-1 Visa Confirmation -- SCHOLAR

Confirm Travel Plans -- SCHOLAR 

Emergency Contact Information -- SCHOLAR

J-1 Scholar Training -- SCHOLAR

Medical Insurance -- SCHOLAR


ARRIVAL TASKS: Scholars must check-in with their departmental contact within three days of their program start date.  

Document Check-in -- DEPARTMENT

Check in J-2 Dependent -- SCHOLAR or DEPARTMENT


What happens after a request is submitted in iStart?

After completion of the required Pre-Arrival forms by the department and the invited scholar, J-1 Scholar Advising will review the materials. Once approved, an adviser will generate the DS-2019, which is sent electronically to the scholar.

Using the DS-2019, the scholar pays the I-901 SEVIS fee ($220), completes the DS-160 visa application ($180), and schedules a consulate appointment. 

Consulate appointment availability may be delayed.  Russian, Ukrainian, and Iranian citizens may face unique challenges due to visa appointment limitations.

Upon obtaining the visa, the scholar can travel to the U.S.  Upon arrival, the department updates iStart with arrival information and uploads required documents for SEVIS validation by the Department of Homeland Security.    


Housing and Arrival

J-1 Scholars do not have access to on-campus housing. Therefore, it's the responsibility of the host department to help scholars find suitable accommodation and arrange transportation upon their arrival. 

The J-1 Scholar Advising office offers a housing presentation each month to incoming scholars to explain the difficulty with finding short-term housing. 


Medical Insurance

All J-1 Scholars and their J-2 dependents must carry medical insurance that meets the US Department of State requirements for the duration of their stay.

Penn State employees must purchase a separate Medical Evacuation and Repatriation of Remains coverage, as this is not included in Penn State employee health insurance coverage.

Unpaid J-1 Scholars may purchase the Penn State Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) or purchase coverage from our preferred providers.  See our Medical Insurance Page for more details.