F-1 vs. J-1: Which Status is Right For You?

F-1 Status

F-1 is the most common visa status used by students in the U.S. and best fits a student's situation. Most international students at UC Berkeley have F-1 status. See F-1 Immigration Regulations to find out more about the benefits and restrictions of F-1 status.

J-1 Status

J-1 visa status is generally used for students in specific educational exchange programs such as the UC Education Abroad Program (EAP), Fulbright, LASPAU, DAAD, AmidEast, or others. It may also be used by the university for students in degree programs. To be eligible for a J-1, students must receive a majority of their financial support from sources other than personal funds. The U.S. Department of State also requires specific health insurance coverage for J-1 students and accompanying J-2 dependents for the entirety of their stay in the U.S. See J-1 Immigration Matters to learn more about the benefits and restrictions of the J-1 student status. 

To be eligible for J-1 status, students must meet the following criteria:

  • Have adequate financial support for all of your school and living expenses, including additional financial support for any accompanying family members, for the duration of your degree program as determined by normative time AND
  • 51% of student's total financial support comes from an institutional or government sponsor in the form of a scholarship, fellowship, assistantship, stipend, tuition waiver, or other direct support provided specifically for the educational program.  Personal or family funds and loans or support from individuals do not qualify.

  • The student is  participating in a specific educational exchange program (see above).

Comparison Between the J-1 and F-1 Status

Must have substantial (51%) institutional financial support provided specifically for the educational program to obtain the initial document and to request any extensions of the DS-2019.

Must show financial support for the entire length of program when requesting the initial document.

Any source of financial support is acceptable.

Must show financial support for the first year of the program when requesting the initial I-20 document.

Any employment on- or off-campus requires a work permit from the J program sponsor. On-campus employment does not require a work permit. 

Off-campus employment requires a work permit from Berkeley International Office and/or USCIS.
Academic Training is available for off-campus jobs/internships related to a student's course of study. A maximum of 18 months of Academic Training (or the length of the J program in the US, whichever is less) may be used during and after your studies. An extension for up to 18 months (or the length of the J program in the US, whichever is less is possible for post-doctoral research OR for some Bachelor's or Masters STEM students. Any previous Academic Training used before or during the degree program reduces the total period of Academic Training available after program completion.

During F-1 student's degree program, Curricular Practical Training permission is available for off campus jobs/internships related to the major field of study.

Post-completion Optional Practical Training employment permission is available for a 12-month period. A job offer is not required to apply for 12-Month OPT.

An OPT extension for an additional 24 months is possible for certain STEM majors.

J-2 dependent (spouse, child) work permission is available, but not guaranteed. Income from the dependent's employment may be used to support the family's customary recreational and cultural activities and related travel, among other things. Employment will not be authorized if this income is needed to support the J-1 primary status holder. 

F-2 dependents (spouse, child) are not eligible for any work permit.

J-1 and J-2 dependents may be subject to the Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement

J-1 and J-2 dependents may also be subject to the 12-Month Bar depending on the length of the J program.

Note that the Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement and 12-Month Bar are separate rules.

No Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement.

No 12-Month Bar.

J-2 dependents are eligible to study part-time or full-time in the U.S.

F-2 children may attend full-time elementary or secondary school (kindergarten-12th grade).

F-2 spouses and children may enroll in other academic programs for less than a full course of study at an SEVP-approved school. (Check with the school and their international office to be sure enrollment is less than full-time.)

F-2 spouses and children may participate in studies that are "avocational or recreational in nature"  (i.e., non-academic hobbies and recreational studies) up to and including full-time. 

Other Nonimmigrant Classifications

New students may already be in the U.S. with another type of nonimmigrant status. Some of these classifications allow students to attend school and some do not. Students in F-2 and B1/B2 status are not allowed to study full-time at Berkeley and must speak to a Berkeley International Office adviser about changing status. See more information under Other Visa Classifications and Changing Nonimmigrant Status .

Questions About Your Status

Contact an adviser at Berkeley International Office if you have any questions about your current or future immigration status. If you think you may need to change status, talk to a Berkeley International Office adviser before you complete the NIF.

For more information about various types of nonimmigrant status, visit the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Service (USCIS) website.