In order to register as students, Stanford University requires that all those who are not U.S. citizens or U.S. registered permanent residents must obtain and maintain an appropriate visa status for their stay in the U.S.

An Overview of F and J Visa Types

Students need six documents in order to enter the U.S. to study at Stanford:

  • Valid passport
  • Certificate of eligibility for an F-1 or J-1 visa
  • F-1 or J-1 visa stamp
  • Proof of payment of SEVIS fee: before 
being interviewed for a visa, F-1 and J-1 students must pay the fee for form I-901
  • Evidence of financial resources
  • Letter of acceptance

The F-1 and J-1 visas are the only types of student visas used at Stanford University. The I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for the F-1 Student Visa) or the DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa) will be used to obtain either an F-1 visa stamp or a J-1 visa stamp at the U.S. consulate or embassy in your country of residence. As noted above, a SEVIS fee payment will be required besides usual Embassy fees before the issuance of the VISA stamp. Proof of payment of the SEVIS fee must be presented before you will be interviewed at a U.S. consulate or embassy for a visa. Proof of payment may also be requested at your U.S. port of entry. For further information on the SEVIS fee, see the Bechtel International Center web site.

F-1 students may be issued a visa by a diplomatic or consular post up to 120 days before the program start date of the I-20. J-1 students may obtain a visa at any time before the beginning of the program date on the DS-2019.

All international visa documents for new international students coming to Stanford on F-1 or J-1 visas are issued by the Bechtel International Center at the request of the Graduate Admissions Office.

F-1 visa holders may enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the date indicated in section 5 of the I-20. J-1 visa holders may also enter up to 30 days before the date indicated in section 3 of the DS-2019. The starting date for both the 
I-20 and the DS-2019 is the first day of the term.
Students should not enter on a tourist (B-1/B-2 or WT visa waiver) visa just prior to starting school if the intent is to go to school. The following will help you to decide which type 
of visa is most appropriate to your needs.
Note: Most students study with an F-1 visa. 
Not all students qualify for the J-1 visa: Stanford policy prohibits the issuance of the J-1 visa to students who are funded by over 50 percent personal or family income. Students receiving 50 percent RA or TA assistantships or a 50 percent fellowship from Stanford University qualify for both the F-1 or the J-1 visa.

Visa information for partners and same sex couples

Unfortunately, immigration regulations prohibit the issuance of J-2 or F-2 dependent based visas to cohabitating partners. According to the U.S. State Department, “if the primary purpose of the partner or family member is to accompany the principal alien, then the B-2 visa classification is appropriate. Therefore, the activity is consistent with B-2 status, as long as the accompanying partner does not intend to work.”

However, legally married same sex couples are now permitted to apply for dependent bases visas.

The State Department Manual also mentions “as in any B visa case, the accompanying partner must still establish that he/she has a residence abroad that the alien does not intend to abandon.”

Students should also review the Foreign Affairs Manual (9 FAM 41.31 N14.4 Notes Page 26 of 32) regarding Cohabiting Partners. It is advised in the Manual that upon entry to the U.S., the B-2 visa holder should ask the port of entry in migration official for a “one-year stay at the time they apply for admission.” For further information please see the Bechtel International Center and U.S. Department of State web sites.

Comparisons Between F and J Visa Types

On-Campus Employment Before Graduation

F-1 and J-1 Visa Holders: 
On-campus employment is permitted for enrolled full-time foreign students for no more than 20 hours per week during the regular academic year. (A 50 percent RA/TA is already considered to be working 20 hours per week.) Full-time on-campus work is allowed during summer vacation and during breaks between quarters. F-1 students do not require authorization from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) or from the Bechtel International Center (I‑Center). J-1 students must first obtain approval in writing from their Responsible Officer (sponsor); in many cases, that will be the Bechtel International Center. Students on Stanford-based financial awards that provide tuition and salary or a stipend will be limited in doing concurrent employment. For more information, see the Bechtel International Center and Stanford Graduate Fellowships sites.

Off-Campus Employment

F-1 Visa Holders:

Students must have been in valid F-1 visa status enrolled for an academic year (approximately 9 months) before their requested period of employment can begin. Employment must be related to the student’s academic field of study.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Students in valid F-1 status receive 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT), which may be used before or after graduation. Most students save it for use after graduation. OPT requires that the student receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the USCIS, which usually takes about three months or more months to obtain. Part-time employment (20 or fewer hours per week) under OPT is deducted from the student’s remaining OPT at a half-time rate. Students can apply for OPT as early as three months before the end of the first academic year and as late as two months prior to the graduation date. Students do not need to have a job offer in order to qualify for OPT.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is off-campus employment undertaken as part of a student’s academic program. Students must sign up for a Curricular Practical Training course, find an employer, and apply for authorization from the Bechtel International Center, which may be processed in 1 to 2 weeks. CPT is allowed part-time (20 hours or less per week) during the academic season and full-time over the summer. There is no limitation by law upon 
the length of time you may participate in CPT, but it may be limited by your department. If you participate in full-time CPT for 12 months or more, you will not be eligible for Optional Practical Training.

Internship with an 
International Organization
This work authorization may be granted if the employment is based with a recognized international organization (e.g., Organization of American States, African Development Fund, the World Bank, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development). Students are required to receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the USCIS before beginning employment.

J-1 Visa Holders: 
Off-campus employment (academic training) during and after completion of a program is available to J-1 visa holders. As long as you stay within the stipulated time limits, it allows you to work part-time (20 hours or less) while 
classes are in session and full-time during 
vacation periods and after -graduation. Academic training may not exceed the period of full course of study or 18 months, whichever is shorter. Any academic training approved before completion of your program will be deducted from your total remaining time of academic training. To qualify for academic training, you must first obtain approval in writing from your sponsor (responsible officer); in many cases that will be the Bechtel International Center. A decision regarding whether or not your academic training is appropriate is made only after your proposed employment has been evaluated in terms of your program of study and your individual circumstances. If Stanford University is not your sponsor (e.g., for USIA/Fulbright or LASPAU students), you should contact your J-1 responsible officer concerning your possibilities for employment. At the latest, the student must submit a written offer of appropriate employment to the Bechtel International Center within 30 days after the date of graduation, or lose eligibility for Academic Training.

Under rare circumstances, limited employment authorization may be given to J-1 students who can demonstrate that they have been placed under severe financial hardship due to circumstances beyond their control which arose after their arrival in the United States. J-1 students must talk to an I-Center advisor, and must receive authorization from their J-1 sponsor before beginning any authorized employment. Note: J-1 students also require authorization from their J-1 sponsor to work on-campus. Authorization must be issued before beginning employment.

Employment of Dependents (F-2 and J-2 visa holders)

F-1 Visa Holders:
F-2 visa holders (dependents of F-1 visa holders) are not permitted to work in the United States under any circumstances whatsoever.

J-1 Visa Holders:
J-2 visa holders (dependents of J-1 visa holders) may apply to the USCIS for employment authorization provided that they can demonstrate that their earnings are not needed to support the J-1 visa holder. If the application is approved, the J-2 visa holder will usually receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) within three or more months. J-2 visa holders do not need a job offer in order to apply for the Employment Authorization Document.

Non-Immigrant Students Currently Residing in the U.S.

If you are a non-immigrant currently residing in the U.S. with an H-1B, L-1, G-1, or other visa, and you will be attending Stanford full-time, you are strongly encouraged to change your visa status to F-1 or J-1 before beginning attendance at Stanford. Furthermore, if you are in the U.S. on a tourist visa (B-1, B-2...) the immigration service has stated that "the alien may not enroll in the course of study until the Service has admitted the alien as an F-1..." Although immigration regulations allow a student in certain cases to enroll pending approval of their change of status, all employment on- and off-campus is strictly prohibited, and you could also forfeit your ability to receive any other university-based funds such as a Stanford-based graduate fellowship, or research and teaching assistantship. Changing status within the U.S. can take 2 1/2 - 3 or more months.

If you currently have a SEVIS-based 
I-20, please make sure that your former foreign student adviser has released your SEVIS record to complete the transfer to Stanford University. See the SEVIS transfer instructions and form.

Duration of Status

An F-1 student is admitted to the U.S. for “duration of status,” noted as D/S on both Form I-94 (arrival record) and Form I-20. Duration of status means the period during which the student is pursuing a full course of study, followed by the period of practical training after graduation (if applicable), plus 60 days to prepare for departure from the U.S. If the student is still pursuing a full course of study, but will not be able to graduate by the date indicated for completion of studies (in section #5 of the 
I-20), he or she must apply for a program extension at the Bechtel International Center before that date, or risk violating his or her status.

J-1 students are admitted to the U.S. for "duration of status," noted as D/S on both Form I-94 (arrival record) and form DS-2019. Duration of status means the period which the student is pursuing a full course of study, followed by the period of academic training after graduation (if applicable), plus 30 days to prepare for departure from the U.S.

If a J-1 student is not able to graduate before the expiration date in section #3 of the DS-2019, he or she must apply through his 
or her sponsor for a program extension before 
the expiration date. The USCIS rarely permits students (under the same visa sponsor) to change visa types (from F-1 to J-1, or J-1 to 
F-1) within the United States. Most unmarried Stanford students enter the United States on the F-1 visa. Students who are sponsored by either a U.S. government agency or by their home country government are expected to enter the United States on a J-1 visa. Prospective J-1 students who are substantially financed by personal or family income funding may not enter the United States under the J-1 visa program. For the purpose of issuing the DS-2019, Stanford University has designated that support of over 50 percent by personal or family income, including bank loans, company loan, or loans from friends, would disqualify a student from the issuance of a DS-2019.

Home Country Residency Requirement

Students on J-1 visas might have a two-year home country residency requirement. This requirement stipulates under Section 212(e) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that certain J-1 visa participants are required to reside “at least two years in the countries of their nationalities or their last residences after leaving the United States.” Contact your local embassy to see if this rule applies to you. It is extremely difficult to obtain a waiver of this requirement. You may obtain more information from the U.S. Department of State web site.

Health Care

See Health Care for International Students. It is very important for international students who are arriving at Stanford with family members to have purchased adequate health insurance.

J-1 Insurance Requirement

As an exchange visitor in the U.S., you must carry health insurance for yourself and your J-2 dependents for the full duration of your J program. Government regulations stipulate that if you willfully fail to carry health insurance for yourself and your dependents, your J-1 -sponsor must terminate your program, and report the termination to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the State Department.

The reason for the requirement, and the need for health insurance, is that it is dangerous to be in the United States without adequate health insurance. Although in many countries the government bears the expense of health care for its citizens, visitors, individuals, and families in the United States are responsible for these costs themselves. A single day of hospitalization and medical treatment can cost thousands of dollars; many hospitals and doctors refuse to treat uninsured patients except in life-threatening emergencies. Most Americans rely on insurance, and you should do the same.

SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System)

SEVIS is an internet-based system which maintains accurate and current information on non-immigrant students (F and M visa), exchange visitors (J visa), and their dependents (F-2 and J-2 visas). SEVIS enables schools and program sponsors to transmit electronic information and event notifications via the Internet to the DHS and the Department of State throughout a student or exchange visitor’s stay in the United States. The I-Center will have to report certain changes to SEVIS within a specified time frame of the date of occurrence.
Reportable events to be sent to the DHS within 21 days of the occurrence:

  • Any student who has failed to maintain status, or complete his or her program
  • A change in a student’s or dependent’s legal name
  • A change in a student’s or dependent’s address
  • Any student who has graduated early or prior to the end date on the I-20/DS-2019
  • Any disciplinary action taken by the school against a student as a result of conviction of a crime
  • Any other notification request made by SEVIS with respect to the current status of the student
  • Any commencement of a full course of 
study after an approved reduced course load. (The initial request to drop below full-course status must be entered in SEVIS prior to a student dropping below full-time.)

Reportable events relating to registration information during each quarter and no later than 30 days after the start of the quarter:

  • Whether the student has enrolled at the school, dropped below a full course of study without prior authorization from the I-Center, or failed to enroll
  • The current address of each enrolled student
  • The start date of each student’s next session or term (quarter or semester)
  • Administrative correction of a student’s record (if originally done in error)

Because Stanford must comply with SEVIS, it is very important for international students to understand their obligations in maintaining their student status. You must attend a mandatory “Maintaining Your Legal Status Workshop” upon arrival in the U.S.

Full Course of Study

International graduate students must be enrolled for and complete at least 8 units each Autumn, Winter, and Spring quarter. Students must also comply with any larger unit requirement by their department. The Bechtel International Center is required to notify SEVIS whenever a student drops below the minimum number of units without prior authorization by the I-Center. See the Full Time Enrollment requirement.

Dependents (F-2 and J-2 Visas)

It is important that you remember to request the dependent I-20/DS-2019 at the same time as your initial request is submitted to Graduate Admissions. After receiving these documents, F-1/J-1 and their dependents should apply for the visa at the same time from a U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country. Immigration regulations state that “the F-2 spouse and child may engage in study that is vocational and recreational in nature.” In other words, your dependents may pursue a hobby or study of an occasional, casual nature. However, F-2 dependents must change status to an F-1 visa in order to attend school full-time. An F-2 child is allowed to attend school full-time only if “the study is in an elementary or secondary school (kindergarten through twelfth grade).” J-2 visa holders are allowed to attend school full-time.

Change of Name or Address

SEVIS requires that Stanford maintain current home country and local addresses for all F and J visa holders.You must report a name or address change to the Bechtel International Center within 10 days of the change.

Requesting a Visa Certificate of Eligibility

To receive a Certificate of Eligibility for an F-1 or J-1 visa, you must have done the following:

  • Accept the offer of admission online indicating intention to enroll.
  • If you are an F-1 student, verify adequate funding for at least nine months of graduate study by filling out and submitting the online I-20 Request. The estimated budget for the 2014-15 year should be used to calculate the amount of funds you must verify. If you have an award from Stanford or from another source, you must provide verification of support for any difference between your award and the estimated budget. Personal funds must be verified 
by a bank statement issued within 90 days of your I-20 request or by a letter of support from another scholarship source. (Do not submit original bank statements, but photocopies, since you will most likely be asked to provide the original documents at the time of your visa interview.)  
  • If you are a J-1 student, verify adequate funding for the full period of your stay in the U.S. by filling out and submitting the online DS-2019 Request
  • You must have submitted evidence of adequate English proficiency to start graduate study at Stanford.

Certificates of Eligibility for visas are processed starting in early May, and continuing throughout the summer, for the following Autumn Quarter. It is very important that you allow sufficient time for the preparation and mailing of the I-20 or the DS-2019. Warning: Do not make flight arrangements to travel to the U.S. without having received your F or J (certificate of eligibility) visa document. I-20s and DS-2019s are issued by the Bechtel International Center at the request of the Graduate Admissions Office.
Students attending Stanford’s Summer English Program must inform the Graduate Admissions Office of this intention as soon as possible in order to facilitate the issuance of one I-20 or DS-2019 that will reflect the total period of study.

Students wishing to attend Stanford’s Summer Session must send an email to gradadmissions@stanford.edu and put “Intent to Enroll in a Summer Program” in the subject line. List your name exactly as it appears on your passport and include your student ID number. After sending the email, immediately submit your I-20 or DS-2019 request online. Be sure to complete the Summer Session application at http://summer.stanford.edu. It is important to note that if you enter the country early for the purpose of summer enrollment and subsequently fail to complete the summer study, your student visa will be subject to the consequences of being out of status.

If you have further questions regarding your visa status, contact the Bechtel International Center, 584 Capistrano Way, Stanford, CA 94305-8245, U.S.A.; phone (650) 723-1831; fax (650) 725-0886; email internationalstudents@stanford.edu. The International Center cannot return international phone calls.

Changing to a Student Visa

Do not enter the United States on a WT or a WB visa (visa waiver program) or B-1/B-2 tourist visa. It is impossible to change to a 
student visa and you will have to return to your home country and re-enter the U.S. with the proper F-1/J-1 visa.