Compiling, Evaluation and Choosing Visa Options: Factors to Consider in Deciding Between F-1 vs. J-1 Visa Categories

Most full-time international students come to the U.S. on an F-1 student visa (Form I-20), although some have the option to obtain J-1 visa status [DS-2019]. And if both choices are options, then how do you decide? It all depends on your goals – where you want to find yourself 5 to 10 years down the road. Just like you have a destination in mind when you
purchase an airline ticket, when you decide on a student visa category, you’ve thought ahead for more than just the school program.

People get overwhelmed by information, especially when it comes to life plans because unexpected change is inevitable. But the basic act of making a decision is not that difficult if you already know the outcome you desire. Success, after all is said and done, is simply achieving your personal objective(s) and the means of “getting there” are tools that may
change or become outdated. That’s why I tell international students seeking my advice about whether to come into the U.S. on an F-1 or a J-1 visa, the that answer (after eligibility) depends upon their long term plans.

Researching Eligibility: Many college websites, especially those who have a large international student body, have organized resources online for weighing the specifics and the pros/cons to help students in the global internet community. When you are evaluating choices between two options, it helps to see things in columns with basic terminology and follow-up links for going deeper into the question.

I do recommend, however, that your research be primarily targeting information from .gov [example, ] websites. Additionally there are informative .edu websites: [examples, ]. However, for .edu websites you should ensure they are up to date and accurate as immigration law frequently changes; thus you should also consult an immigration attorney.

Long term plans: Here’s seven basic factors to put beside your life plans in choosing between the F-1 and J-1 visa:

1) Eligibility requirements regarding sources of funding;
2) Off-Campus Employment options for student
3) Employment/education opportunities for dependents
4) Home residency requirement (2 year return to home country): visit for more information regarding obtaining a j1 waiver
5) Grace period after completion program/expiration of visa
6) Program changes allowed (e.g., change major)
7) Insurance requirement(s) (state/federal)

Clearly the factor that certainly affects goals/plans the most would be #4, the home residency requirement. The J-1 visa holder subject to this rule must return to country of origin for two years after completing their J-1 program, unless they have been approved for a j1 waiver. Getting a waiver 5 to 7 years down the road may not be a sure thing.

Having Plan A and Plan B worked out in advance, will prevent unnecessary upset when expectations are waylaid/delayed due to a necessary change in plans. Plan ahead, know your goals, and have at least one Plan B in your toolkit. Don’t give up – that’s the only step you absolutely have to take again and again.

Related Information on J-1 Visa Hardship Waivers