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Guide to most-used visas

For students

Visa Length of stay Eligibility Advantages/disadvantages
F-1
Learn more: travel.state.gov
As long as academic progress continues
  • Admission to academic course of study
  • Evidence of adequate financial support for length of program
  • Indication of adequate English language skills or opportunity to improve
  • Advantages: Easy to change status when applicable; not subject to home country residency requirement
  • Disadvantages: Limited off-campus work opportunities; spouse unable to work
J-1 student
Learn more: travel.state.gov
As long as academic progress continues
  • Invitation to academic program with sponsorship
  • Evidence of adequate financial support for length of program
  • Advantages: Relatively easy and quick to obtain; dependents may work and study; easier to get off-campus work permit
  • Disadvantages: May be subject to two-year home country residency requirement; cannot change program objective

For scholars (faculty, staff and researchers)

Visa Length of stay Eligibility Advantages/disadvantages
J-1 scholar
Learn more: travel.state.gov
Five years
  • Invitation to teach, lecture or conduct research
  • Indication of adequate financial support for length of program
  • Advantages: Relatively easy and quick to obtain; dependents may work and study
  • Disadvantages: May be subject to two-year home-country residency requirement; cannot change program objective
H-1B
Learn more: travel.state.gov
Three years initially (renewable up to six years total)
  • Job that qualifies as "specialty occupation," which requires at least a bachelor's degree or equivalent
  • Applicants must prove they are not subject to two-year home-country residency requirement or have received a waiver
  • Advantages: May have long-term intent to immigrate; not subject to two-year home-country residency requirement
  • Disadvantages: Large amount of supporting documentation needed; job must pay prevailing wage; most dependents cannot work

For dependents (spouses and children)

Visa Length of stay Eligibility Advantages/disadvantages
F-2
Learn more: travel.state.gov
As long as F-1 maintains status
  • Legal spouse or child of an F-1 student
  • F-1 must prove financial support for each dependent
  • Advantages: Not subject to two-year home-country residency requirement; F-2 children may study full-time at the K–12 levels
  • Disadvantages: Cannot accept employment; F-2 spouses cannot study full-time (part-time permissible only if study is recreational in nature)
J-2
Learn more: travel.state.gov
As long as J-1 maintains status
  • Legal spouse or child of J-1 visa holder (student or scholar)
  • J-1 must prove financial support (including insurance coverage) for each dependent
  • Advantages: May be employed full-time; may study full-time
  • Disadvantages: If J-1 is subject to two-year home-country residency requirement, so is J-2; may not be able to change visa status inside the U.S.
H-4
Learn more: travel.state.gov
As long as H-1B maintains status (maximum of six years)
  • Legal spouse or child of H-1B visa holder
  • Applicants must prove they are not subject to two-year home-country residency requirement or have received a waiver
  • Advantages: May have long-term intent to immigrate; not subject to two-year home-country residency requirement; may study full-time
  • Disadvantages: Most H-4s may not work (see exception)

Other entry options

Visa Length of stay Eligibility Advantages/disadvantages
TN
Learn more: travel.state.gov
Three years initially (renewable indefinitely)
  • Citizen of Canada or Mexico
  • Job must constitute prearranged professional activity for a U.S. entity in a specified occupation
  • Advantages: Relatively quick and easy to obtain; can be used many times; no government form or petition required
  • Disadvantages: Only available to citizens of Canada or Mexico
B-1
Learn more: travel.state.gov
Six months initially (renewable up to 12 months total)
  • Letter of invitation indicating academic or business purpose for visit to U.S.
  • Advantages: Relatively quick and easy to obtain; can be used many times; no government form or petition required
  • Disadvantages: Limited stay in U.S.; no salary; cannot stay for more than nine days at any one university if being paid
B-2
Learn more: travel.state.gov
Six months initially (renewable up to 12 months total)
  • Evidence of financial support and tourist plans
  • Advantages: Relatively quick and easy to obtain; can be used many times; no government form or petition required
  • Disadvantages: Limited stay in U.S.; no salary; cannot stay for more than nine days at any one university if being paid
VWP
Learn more: travel.state.gov
90 days
  • Applicant must be from designated visa waiver country
  • Evidence of financial support and tourist plans
  • Advantages: Relatively quick and easy to obtain; can be used many times; no government form or petition required
  • Disadvantages: No extensions or change of immigration status possible; limited stay in U.S.; no salary; cannot stay for more than nine days at any one university if being paid