Probably one of the easiest ways for entry in the U.S. is to secure a student visa.
Both F1 student visas and J1 student visas are meant for temporary residence in the U.S. for purposes of studying, training, and knowledge transfer.
Depending on the circumstances and purpose, however, an applicant may be suited either for a J1 visa or an F1 visa.
Although both appear to provide similar entitlement and privileges, their differences outweigh their similarities – which will be discussed below.
J1 visa and F1 visa
J1 visa also called an “exchange visitor visa” is generally used for students in specific educational exchange programs approved by the government.
This visa is for people who want to train in the U.S. for purposes of applying the skills they learned in their home countries upon their return.
Thus, those who have been issued with a J-1 status are required to return home for at least two years before coming back to the U.S.
This feature is called the “home residency requirement” for purposes of the application of the said skills they learned in the U.S.
There are however exceptions to the home residency requirement, which shall be discussed later.
F1 visa is more common among university students. Most students are automatically eligible for an F1 visa as long as they are admitted by the academic institution of their choice.
12 Month Bar for J1 visa
J1 holders who have studied for more than 6 months in the U.S. may not return as a J1 Research Scholar (J1 status for post-doctoral research) after a year.
This 1-year bar rule is distinct from the 2 year home residency requirement. Note that J2 dependents are also within the scope of this 1-year bar rule.
Similarities of a J1 and F1 visa
Study and Training
Both visas are available to those who want to enter the U.S. as a student, intern, or trainee
Both visas grant the student or trainee the right to engage in part-time employment on campus while studying in the U.S.
Differences between an F1 and J1 visa?
As stated earlier, J1 visa holders are required to submit into the “home residency requirement” and return to their home country after their program and remain there for 2 years. However, this requirement can be waived upon showing any of the following:
A statement of “No Objection” from the government of their home country
Evidence showing that their return to their home country would expose them to persecution
Evidence that returning to their home country would result in extreme hardship for them and their family members.
Evidence that a U.S. government agency has expressed their interest in having the J1 holder remain in the U.S. after the completion of the program.
F1 visa holders need not waive the home residency requirement since they are not mandated by any rule to return and remain in their country for 2 years after they complete their program.
F1 programs are only limited to scholastic and vocational programs.
J1 programs are more diverse, and are not limited to academic programs for students, professors, and scholars only, but also includes government-related training and visitor programs.
Programs under the J1 category usually accommodate trainees, au pair, government, and international visitors, other than those already mentioned above. Length of stay may vary, depending on the chosen program.
Source of Funding
J1 visa holders must have a substantial (at least 51%) financial support from an outside source (i.e. scholarship, fellowship, or government support) provided specifically for the educational program to obtain the initial document and/or to request any extensions of the DS-2019.
Additionally, they must show the existence of financial support for the entire length of their program when requesting the initial document.
F1 visa holders need only to prove to the government and the university that they have adequate funds coming from any source. For purposes of requesting the initial document, they must show sufficient financial support only for the first year of their program.
On-Campus and Off-Campus Employment
Programs for J1 visa holders are entitled to Academic Training (AT) and may work part-time on campus for up to 20 hours.
The institution where the student is studying will provide the jobs available, which may range from a teacher’s assistant, custodian, library staff, and other related campus jobs.
The duration of the Academic Training is equivalent to the duration of their study in the U.S. However, students under a Doctoral program may be allowed for an additional period of up to 18 months.
The F1 visa however allows more freedom as it entitles the student to work off-campus after the first year of studies.
After one year of study, F1 visa holders are allowed to take a:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT) which is internship or work related to the program of the curriculum;
- Optional Practical Training (OPT) is any work that must be directly related to the field of study.
After completion of the program or graduation, F1 visa holders are allowed to take an:
- Optional Practical Training (OPS) to work off-campus for up to 12 months.
- OPT under STEM fields may be allowed to work for up to 2 full years.
Periods of Recess
During the period of academic recess or the period during their stay when the student is not engaged in full-time study, F1 visa holders are allowed to work full time. On the other hand, J1 visa holders are only permitted to work full time during such period if they are granted permission by their Alternate Responsible Officer (OISS advisor).
Rights of Dependents
F1 holder’s dependents with F2 status are allowed to study part-time, but they are not eligible for employment. The dependents of J1 holders who have J2 status are allowed to study full time and apply for a work permit
F1 holders including their F2 dependents are not required to carry health insurance. J1 holders and their j2 dependents are required by Federal Law to carry health insurance for the duration of their stay.
Which one is the better visa?
For those who want to have more options to work than to study, the F1 visa is usually the better option. In general, the J1 visa is also subject to more requirements compared to the F1 visa. However, those who intend to spend more study and training time during their stay would have more options under the J1 visa other than scholastic and vocational programs.
To answer the question on which is the better visa, the answer is neither as it is relative to the applicant’s circumstances and future plans on why they want to obtain the visa.