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J-1 vs. F-1: What Visa is Right For You?

Comparing the J-1 exchange visitor visa and the F-1 student visa

If you’re a foreign national planning to participate in some type of educational or exchange program in the U.S., you may be wondering about the different types of visas available to you. Two popular options are the J-1 exchange visitor visa and the F-1 student visa. While both visas allow foreign nationals to temporarily stay in the U.S. for educational or cultural purposes, they have some significant differences. In this article, we will explore the differences between a J-1 visa and an F-1 visa, including eligibility requirements, work authorization, and other important considerations to help you determine which option is right for you.

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J-1 Visa Basics

A J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows foreign nationals to temporarily stay in the U.S. to participate in educational and cultural exchange programs. It is also known as an Exchange Visitor Visa.

The J-1 visa is typically granted to students, scholars, teachers, interns, trainees, or other individuals who wish to come to the U.S. for a specific educational or cultural purpose. These programs can include activities such as research, teaching, studying, and participating in cultural and professional exchanges.

To obtain a J-1 visa, individuals must be sponsored by an approved program sponsor, such as an educational institution, a government agency, or a private sector organization. They must also meet certain eligibility requirements, such as proficiency in English and sufficient financial resources to support themselves during their stay in the United States.

J-1 visa holders are subject to certain regulations, including maintaining their program objectives, obtaining permission before changing their program activities, and returning to their home country upon completion of their program.

You can learn more about the application process, cost, and timeline of the J-1 visa in Boundless’ guide.

Important Update (April 2023):

The U.S. government recently published a final rule confirming that it will increase nonimmigrant visa fees effective May 30, 2023. Among the cost changes are a 15% increase for travel, student, and exchange visas. Learn more about the upcoming fee increase and the costs you can expect for each visa type here.

F-1 Visa Basics

An F-1 visa is a non-immigrant student visa that allows foreign nationals to study full-time in the U.S. at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution.

To obtain an F-1 visa, individuals must be accepted by a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school in the U.S., and must have a valid Form I-20 issued by the school. They must also demonstrate that they have sufficient financial resources to support themselves during their studies, and that they intend to return to their home country after their studies are completed.

F-1 visa holders are also subject to certain regulations, including maintaining their full-time student status, making normal academic progress, and reporting any changes to their program or address to their designated school official.

Boundless also put together a more in-depth guide to understanding the F-1 student visa process.

J-1 Visa vs. F-1 Visa

Here’s a breakdown of the main differences between the J-1 visa and the F-1 visa:

Eligibility Requirements J-1: Designed for individuals participating in educational and cultural exchange programs (such as au pairs or research scholars) F-1: Designed for individuals pursuing full-time academic studies at a U.S. institution (such as those obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree)
Cost Program Fees = VariesDS-160 Fee = $185SEVIS Fee = $220Program Fees (Varies)DS-160 Fee = $185SEVIS Fee = $350
Visa DurationJ-1 visa holders can participate in exchange programs for up to five yearsF-1 visa holders can remain in the U.S. for the duration of their academic program, plus an additional grace period of up to 60 days
Work Authorization? J-1 visa holders can work in the United States with permission from their program sponsorF-1 visa holders can work part-time on campus during their studies and may be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT) after completing their degree
Path to Permanent Residency? J-1 visa holders may be subject to a two-year home residency requirement, which requires them to return to their home country for at least two years before they can apply for certain U.S. visas or permanent residencyF-1 visa holders generally not subject to two-year home residency requirement, may be able to transition to a different type of nonimmigrant status (such as a work permit) or adjust status to permanent residency

Overall, choosing between the two visas will depend largely on the type of program you’re interested in participating in during your time in the U.S., as well as your long-term employment and immigration goals.