The J-1 visa is issued to people who are participating in the Exchange Visitor Program regulated by the U.S. Government. While most students at The University of Tennessee enter the U.S. with F-1 visas, some students have J-1 status because they are here with a specific exchange program or because they have a government scholarship or funding from another organization. The spouse and children (up to 21 years of age) of a J-1 student may apply for J-2 visas.
Many of the rules for J-1 students are similar to the laws for F-1 students, but there are some important differences that J-1 students should learn and understand. Failure to “follow the rules” may result in the termination of a student’s program, and may require the student to leave the U.S.
J-1 students with questions about U.S. laws that pertain to the J-1 visa category are encouraged to speak with an advisor at the Center for Global Engagement. For a concise summary of all the immigration information listed below, please download our J1 Immigration 101 handout. We also provide this handout to incoming J-1 international students during our orientation immigration regulations session.
All forms mentioned below can be found on our forms page: http://international.utk.edu/forms/
U.S. Immigration law requires all J-1 students and J-2 dependents to notify the CGE of their U.S. address within 30 days after initial arrival in the U.S. and within 10 days after any move to a different U.S. address. This address change must be entered by CGE into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Failure to notify CGE of a change in address is non-compliance with J regulations and can result in the student being out-of-status.
To update an address, students can log in to iVols and complete the Address Update e-form.
IMPORANT NOTE: International students must always notify CGE directly of their new US address by completing the Address Update e-form in iVols. Students must also update their address profile with MyUTK. These are two separate processes: Updating an address with the CGE does not automatically update in MyUTK. Both immigration and university updates are necessary.
Address Changes: Frequently Asked Questions
Can I just update my address on MyUTK? Will the CGE be notified?
No. You must notify CGE directly about your local address in the U.S. to remain legal. MyUTK does not transfer any address updates to CGE.
I’m staying at a friend’s place temporarily while I look for a new place. Do I have to tell CGE?
Yes. You need to complete an Address Update e-form in iVols. Immigration regulations require you to report information about where you stay at any given time, even if this is a temporary arrangement. If you move out and find your own place within 10 days, just report your new address directly. If it takes longer than 10 days, you must report your “temporary” address.
I am moving from one room to another, within the same dormitory. Do I need to report anything?
Yes. Whether you move from 5000 Middlebrooke to 6300 Kingston Pike, or from Room 123A to Room 123C in Shelbourne Towers, you must always notify CIE within 10 days of any change in your residence.
I have my dependents with me. Do they need to report anything to CGE?
CGE encourages J-2 spouses to submit separate notifications, so that they may keep copies of their forms for their own personal records. This also allows CGE to continue to maintain accurate information (additional phone number, email) in case of an emergency. It is expected that J-2 dependents will normally reside with the primary visa holder (J-1 student).
Bringing Dependents to the U.S.
Immigration regulations allow the spouse (husband or wife) and children (under age 21) of a J-1 student to hold “dependent” status and accompany the student in the United States during the student’s academic program.
If dependents are joining the J-1 student in the U.S. at a later date, the student should ask their sponsor to issue a DS-2019 for each dependent to get a visa for entry into the U.S. The sponsor must also enter some information into the “ISEAS” database before a student’s dependents can apply for visas. If the student’s sponsor is UT, the student should fill out a J-1 Request Form at the CGE. The student will be required to provide additional financial documentation to prove they have enough money to support all dependents. Students are encouraged to discuss plans with a CGE Advisor before their family travels to the United States.
Dependents are eligible to stay in the United States in J-2 Dependent status as long as the student maintains legal J-1 status. It is recommended that dependents carry a copy of the student’s J-1 documents when applying for J-2 visas, and while traveling (i.e., DS-2019, passport, visa, I-94, EAD and/or employment letter if applicable).
Dependents MUST be covered by health insurance for their entire visit.
J-2 dependents are eligible to work while in the United States. Work permission is granted through USCIS and typically takes 3-5 months to complete. Employment may not begin until the J-2 has received the work permit, called the Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
J-2 dependents may work in any job, full-time or part-time, but employment may not extend beyond the end date on the EAD. Extension of work permission is possible, up to the end date of the J-1 student’s DS-2019. Please note that the extension process for J-2 work permission takes 3-5 months. If the first work permit expires before the new permit is received, the J-2 may not continue working. Plans to renew work permission should be made in advance if the J-2 wants to work continuously.
J-2 Work Permission Process
Submit the following documents to CGE:
- Check or money order application fee. Check here for the current amount.
- I-765 Form
- DS-2019s (photocopies of both J-1’s and J-2’s)
- Copy of I-94 (J-2 only)
- Photocopy of passport bio page
All completed documents should be submitted together as a single packet. Once all documents are received, CGE will submit the work permission application to USCIS.
Enrollment Requirements for Maintaining Status
International students in the U.S. may, from time to time, fall “out of status.” This is a polite way of saying that a student has broken the rules and is illegal. Often this comes about through an innocent misunderstanding on the part of a student, or a student has been given incorrect information. But no matter what the cause, DHS states it is the responsibility of the student to maintain legal status. The consequences of falling out of status can be severe and call for quick action on the part of a student to regain status.
Students must follow all regulations pertaining to holding legal J-1 status. Students who engage in any activities that go beyond what is explicitly permitted for J-1 students (i.e., unauthorized employment), or who do not comply fully with J-1 rules (i.e., attending classes), may be in violation of their immigration status.
J-1 students with questions about staying legal are encouraged to speak with an advisor at the CGE before making any important decisions.
Academic Full Time
In order to maintain J-1 status, students must complete* a full-time class load each fall and spring semester. Summer is considered a vacation period unless it is the first or last term of enrollment. Students may take a summer vacation only if they intend to enroll in the following fall semester. Enrolling for the summer semester cannot be substituted for the fall or spring semester. Students must avoid engaging in any activities that go beyond what is explicitly permitted for J-1 students.
*Completion in this situation means a student remains registered through the entire term and that grades are awarded at the end of the semester.
What Is Full Time?
Undergraduates: All undergraduates must complete 12 credit hours per semester.
Graduates: All graduates must complete 9 credit hours per semester. For graduate students who work 20 hours p/week or maintain a 50% time-appointment assistantship, completion of 6 credit hours per semester is sufficient for immigration purposes.
For both graduates and undergraduates:
- Only classes taken for a regular grade (A-F), Pass/Fail (P/F) or Satisfactory (S) count toward the immigration requirement.
- Classes taken as Audit (AU) do not count toward this requirement.
- For a regular course offered online, only one class (or up to 3 credits) per semester can count toward the total number of credits for full-time enrollment.
- Withdrawing with a W/WP/WF does not count as credit for immigration purposes.
- Students must complete the course. Merely registering and paying for courses is not sufficient.
Note: There may be differences between DHS and academic definitions of full time. Students must always meet all minimum enrollment requirements.
Exceptions to Full Time Requirement
Students must consult with a CGE advisor before taking less than a full time load. In some cases, a student must get permission before registering for less than a full-time load or before dropping courses resulting in less than a full-time load.
- When a graduate student has completed all course work requirements and is only working on thesis or dissertation hours, registering for 3 credit hours is sufficient for immigration purposes. The student must obtain permission from CGE before being enrolled part-time. (Note: Academic definition may differ).
- In the final term of a degree program, a student can register for only the number of hours required to graduate (zero hours is not acceptable). The student must obtain permission from CGE before being enrolled part-time. (Note: Academic definitions may differ).
- A student who has a medical condition can be enrolled less than full-time or not at all in some cases. A letter from a licensed medical doctor explaining the reasons must be turned in. The student must obtain permission from CGE before dropping below full time.
Note: This special permission can only be approved for one semester at a time, and is limited to a total of 12 months.
- A student who has a valid academic reason can be enrolled less than full-time. Reasons can include: Initial difficulty with English, reading requirements, unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods, or improper course level placement.
Note: This situation is limited to one semester only. Each case is unique. The student must obtain permission from CGE before enrolling below full time.
Exceptions where a student does not need permission from CGE:
- During summer semester (after completing spring semester), a student does not have to be enrolled full time. The student must enroll in the following fall semester.
- A student who is on a period of authorized full-time Academic Training
- Note: some Academic Training authorizations require a specific minimum enrollment (even during summer), depending on specific Academic Training category.
Common Reasons for Being Out of Status
- Failure to complete a full-time class load or its equivalent during a regular semester.
- Not attending university during a regular semester but remaining in the U.S. unenrolled.
- Unauthorized employment.
- Failure to complete a transfer of school according to specific DHS policy.
- Failure to complete a notice of change in degree level (change of program) according to DHS rules.
- Failure to obtain an extension of current program (DS-2019) in a timely fashion.
- Ineligible for on- or off-campus work.
- Ineligible for Academic Training.
- The student may not change to any other legal immigration status in the U.S.
- Transferring to an alternate university becomes very difficult.
- Extending his/her J-1 status becomes very difficult.
- Future application for entry to the U.S. or for permanent residency in the U.S. becomes very difficult.
- In certain circumstances, a student may be asked to leave the U.S. immediately. In some cases, the student may not be allowed to return to the U.S. for 3-10 years.
- Being out of status has no direct impact on a student’s academic career or transcripts.
How to Stay Legal
- Maintain an unexpired DS-2019 or IAP-66 at all times. Any necessary extensions must be obtained before the current form expires.
- Notify the CGE within 30 days of arriving in the U.S., or within 10 days of moving to a new address.
- Register for and complete a full load of classes each semester of enrollment.
- Get written work permission from the sponsor BEFORE beginning work at any job. A J-1 student must not change employers until receiving new permission; continue working after the work permission ends or after graduating or completing studies.
- Maintain adequate health insurance at all times for the J-1 student and all J-2 dependents (if any).
- Ensure paperwork for a transfer has been completed before enrolling at a new university.
- Upon each entry into the U.S., the student must receive an I-94 marked “J-1” and “D/S”.
- Leave the U.S. within 30 days after the completion of the academic program.
Extension of DS-2019
J-1 students who need more time for studying or academic training must contact their sponsor about an extension. If the sponsor approves, they will issue a new DS-2019 to the student (via the CGE), and send electronic notification to the U.S. Department of State. Under current law there is no fee involved and the student does not need to apply in person to any government office. Before an extension is approved, the sponsor must make sure there is still funding available to cover the requested extension time and that the student has not broken any rules which apply to J-1 students.
If an extension of J-1 status is not approved, the student must leave the U.S. or apply for a change to another immigration status (Often, a change of status is not allowed. The student may discuss their options with a CGE advisor).
When to Request an Extension
DHS regulations state explicitly that students must obtain an extension via the iVols portal before their DS-2019 expires. Failure to comply with this deadline is a federal immigration violation. Students may submit an extension request as early as they can determine the need for an extension.
Program End Date
A student’s expected completion date is listed on the DS-2019 on page 1 (“To date” in item #3). This date corresponds to a Program Completion Date in SEVIS, and represents to the U.S. government the latest date the student is currently authorized to remain legally in their current program as a full time student. There is a 30 day grace period at the end of the program.
Requesting the Extension
1. Login to the iVols portal.
2. Select the J-1 Student Services drop-down menu.
3. Click on the Extension of DS-2019 link.
4. Fill out the E-form and upload supporting documents as needed.
Acceptable Financial Documents
To extend your DS-2019, you must submit evidence of financial support sufficient to cover the period of the program extension.
Note: All bank statements must be dated within last 6 months.
- Foreign bank: Original bank statements (not copies) showing ability of liquid funds (i.e., Checking or Savings account) to cover the remaining duration of a student’s studies or one academic year, whichever is shorter.
- U.S. Bank: An online balance printout can be acceptable if the bank statement is issued domestically by a U.S. financial institution (i.e., Bank of America, First Tennessee). The printout must display the student’s (or student sponsor’s) name as account holder, current date and balance.
- Please note: If a student’s GAship covers all expenses fully, it is not necessary to submit any bank statements.
On & Off Campus Employment, and Academic Training
Under certain conditions, J-1 students may work while studying in the United States. Permission must be granted by the sponsor in advance of the student beginning employment. Below is the list of employment categories available to J-1 students.
On-campus employment is usually defined as a job that pays with a UT paycheck. J-1 students are eligible to work on-campus up to 20 hours per week during a regular semester. During the summer term and official school breaks, full time employment (above 20 hours/week) is permissible. Students cannot continue working after graduating or completing studies (unless some other type of work permission has been arranged).
Students must obtain a work authorization stamp on their current DS-2019 from the CGE before employment can begin. To obtain a work authorization stamp:
- New students: After arriving in Knoxville, students must check in with the CGE and complete their immigration file during orientation.
- Current students must bring their DS-2019, passport (with I-94 card) and current class schedule to meet with a CGE advisor.
According to current regulations, students may begin on-campus employment before receiving a Social Security card. According to the same rule, a newly-obtained Social Security Number (SSN) must be provided to the employer within 90 days.
Academic Training: A sponsor may give a J-1 student permission to accept employment related to their field of study. This employment, called “Academic Training” may take place anywhere in the U.S., and can be either before and/or after the student finishes their studies. However, the total time spent doing Academic Training may not be longer than 18 months, and may not last longer than the time the student spent taking classes*. The student must have a job offer before getting permission for Academic Training. The training is then authorized for that specific job. If a student wishes to change to a different job, they must again apply to their sponsor for permission. Remember: Students expecting to do Academic Training at the end of their program must complete all application paperwork before their DS-2019 expires. For more information about Academic Training, please contact us at email@example.com
*Exception: Students who receive a Ph.D. may be granted up to 36 months of Academic Training.
Severe Economic Hardship
If there has been a serious and unexpected change in a student’s financial situation, a student may be eligible to apply for Severe Economic Hardship. This is general permission, granted for up to one year of work off-campus in any job.
- Severe Economic Hardship work permission does not apply when sufficient on-campus employment is available.
- A student must consult his or her sponsor before applying for this benefit. The CGE assists students with understanding eligibility issues and provides guidance on the application process with appropriate supporting materials.
- A student must have studied at UT for one full year before becoming eligible.
- A student must also obtain permission from USCIS before beginning work off-campus.
- Work authorization for Severe Economic Hardship must not exceed part-time (up to 20 hours/week) during a regular semester. The student must also maintain full-time enrollment in classes.
- The use of Severe Economic Hardship work permission does not eliminate a student’s Academic Training eligibility later on.
Exception: During the summer semester, work can exceed 20 hours/week, and enrollment can be less than full time.
Students are eligible to transfer to another school in the US by following a specific procedure and timeline. Students must pay attention to all transfer steps, as required both by the transfer-out institution (current university) as well as the transfer-in institution (new university). The overall process of transferring between universities is set and monitored by the Department of Homeland Security.
Transferring Out (From UT Knoxville)
J-1 students wishing to attend a different U.S. university must obtain permission to transfer from their sponsor. If the sponsor is The University of Tennessee, there is normally no objection to the student transferring to another university. However, the student must obtain a new program sponsor with the new university. Before transferring, the student must notify the current sponsor of their intent to transfer; if the sponsor has no objection, they will electronically “release” the student from sponsorship. The new sponsor will then issue a new DS-2019 and inform the INS and State Department of the student’s transfer*. If the sponsor is not a university, the student must still obtain their sponsor’s permission to transfer, but probably will not change to a new program sponsor after transferring.
* Note: If the transfer also involves an extension, then all the transfer paperwork must be completed by the new university before the student’s current DS-2019 expires.
All documents listed below must be submitted to CGE in full, before a transfer can be initiated.
- Transfer Out form
- Copy of official admission letter from new school
Note: Any UT holds must be cleared by the student before any paperwork can be processed by CGE.
Transferring In (to UT Knoxville)
Incoming students must transfer into UT by the beginning of an official academic program start date. This means the student’s SEVIS record must be released to UT no later than our official reporting date for the particular semester (i.e., this date corresponds to the program start date listed on the UT DS-2019). Please check with UT Knoxville Admissions for more information and admission deadlines for each term.
Traveling Inside and Outside the U.S.
J-1 students departing the U.S. must surrender their I-94 card while boarding the international flight (please see exceptions below). In order to re-enter the U.S., students must submit all valid immigration documents for inspection at the Port of Entry. Dependents must carry their own original documents. If travelling separately, it is recommended that dependents carry copies of the primary visa holder’s documents. Students must be sure to obtain the correct notation (“J-1, D/S”) on their new I-94 card before leaving the immigration inspection area. Students must also submit copies of any new documents (of their own or their dependents) to the CGE after re-entry to the US.
Documents required for re-entry into the US
- Valid Passport (must have 6-month future validity at time of re-entry to the US or at time of visa application)
- Valid student/dependent (J-1/J-2) visa (must be unexpired on date of re-entry). Students must also ensure their sponsor has submitted an entry into the ISEAS database.
- Current DS-2019/IAP-66 (Either a new one or a new signature on the back of the old one. Students requiring a new visa, or a student who’s financial situation has been through major changes are recommended to obtain a new form).
Note: Students who require a signature on their DS-2019 must contact their sponsor at least two weeks before traveling.
Remember: J-1 visas are not issued in the U.S. If a J-1 student’s visa is no longer valid, he/she will need to apply for a new visa in his/her country of residence. Applying for a new visa may take some time. In some countries, it can take as long as 3-5 weeks to get a visa. If a security clearance is required, there may be a much longer delay. For students not traveling home, it is sometimes possible to apply for a visa at the U.S. Consulate in another country.
Request a travel signature from CGE
A student who requires a new signature in his or her DS-2019 is encouraged to submit a Travel Request in iVols as early as possible, and at least two weeks prior to traveling. CGE must certify certain information before signing or issuing a new DS-2019 for travel. The student must have cleared any university holds before CGE can sign the DS-2019.
Request a J-1 Student travel request through the iVols portal.
Applying for a new visa
Students traveling with an expired visa will need to submit a Travel Request and Confirmation of Financial resources form to the CGE at least two weeks prior to traveling. The student must show proof of funds for 12 months, or until graduation (whichever occurs sooner).
All university holds must be cleared before CGE can sign a student’s DS-2019.
Students must take their newly-signed DS-2019 and original financial documents to a U.S. Consulate to apply for a visa. A student may need to take additional documents to the visa interview, depending on their individual situation.
Travel to Canada, Mexico and adjacent islands (except Cuba)
The Department of State allows for the benefit of “Automatic Revalidation of Visa.” Under this rule, J-1 students are permitted to re-enter the U.S. after a single visit of no more than 30 days to “contiguous territory” (Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands) without having to obtain a new visa prior to re-entry. In this situation, students do not surrender their I-94 when exiting the U.S. as it will be needed it to re-enter the U.S.
- Citizens from certain countries (such as Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Cuba) are not eligible for the automatic revalidation of visa benefit. Check with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to see recent information on which countries are excluded. The DOS is the authority of this list and can make changes at any time without notice.
- Students who choose to apply for a new visa while in a contiguous territory will not be eligible for automatic revalidation of visa benefit. Students will have to wait until a visa is granted in order to re-enter the U.S. If the visa is denied, the student must return to their home country directly from the contiguous territory.
- Students whose visit goes beyond 30 days.
- Students who travel outside of the contiguous territories (i.e., visit their home country from Mexico, return directly to Mexico and then try to re-enter the US) will NOT be allowed to re-enter the U.S. on automatic visa revalidation.
Traveling Within the U.S.
While in Knoxville, students are strongly advised to keep their documents in a safe and secure place. If traveling outside of Knoxville, students should take all original immigration documents and their passport with them. Students may want to keep an extra set of copies accessible to a trusted friend or roommate in case of an emergency, or in the event that original documents are lost or stolen during a weekend (when the CGE is not open and therefore unavailable to assist).
Graduation and travel
Students planning to travel in and out of the US after graduation are not eligible to return with their current J-1 documents during their 30-day grace period. In order to re-enter with student status, a student needs to have applied for Academic Training or have obtained a new DS-2019 in advance, if beginning a new program (at UT or another school).
Two-year Home Residency Rules and Waivers
Two-Year Home Country 212(e) Regulation
Exchange visitors subject to the 212(e) rule requirement must return to their home country and reside in that country for two years before they become eligible for H, L, or permanent resident status. If subject to the 212(e) rule, exchange visitors are not permitted to change their nonimmigrant status within the United States from J to any other nonimmigrant category except A (diplomatic) and G (international organization) statuses.
Exchange visitors may be subject to this requirement if:
- The exchange visitor’s skill category appears on the applicable country’s “list of skills” that are in critical demand; and/or
- The exchange visitor’s program is supported financially by a government or international agency.
Listings of skill categories for applicable countries are located in the Federal Register: Revised Exchange-Visitor Skills List.
U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate General visa officers determine if an exchange visitor is subject to the 212(e) rule. Inquiries about applicability of the 212(e) rule should be addressed to a visa section representative at the appropriate U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate General’s office.
Waiver of the Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement
Exchange visitors may apply for a waiver of the 212(e) requirement. Waivers are permitted by the Department of State and granted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Exchange Visitor Services considers compliance with the Home Country Presence Requirement the responsibility of the exchange visitor. Exchange Visitor Services’ role in the waiver application process is limited to providing basic procedural information about the process.