Visa information for international scholars

The words "visa" and "lawful status" in the United States are very closely related, but are not exactly the same. Understanding the differences can be important, especially because the validity period of a visa can be either shorter or longer than the length of time a person is allowed to remain in the U.S. legally during any one stay.

What is the difference between visa and status?

A "visa" is a document allowing its holder to travel to a U.S. border or port of entry (such as an airport) and request permission from the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to enter the United States. As long as there are no other issues preventing the visa holder from entering (and the visa itself hasn't already expired), the CBP officer will grant the person lawful "status" in the United States. This "status" constitutes permission to remain for a certain length of time. So, for example, you might enter the U.S. on a B-2 visitor visa, then be granted B-2 status.

If that sounds painfully simple, realize that it doesn't always happen this way. You can gain or switch to another "status" in the U.S. after having already arrived here. For example, you could enter the U.S. on a B-2 visa, then apply to change status to F-1, in order to attend school.

Visa types overview

  • H1-B visa applicants

    To apply for an H-1B visa you must have the following documentation:

    • Original I-797 approval notice for the University of Nevada, Reno
    • Current letter from your department confirming your employment here.
    • Copy of Labor Condition Application (LCA) which you have received from OISS
    • Copies of your educational credentials

    Please note: Visa requirements vary from country to country.

    Before you leave the United States., please inquire at the American Consulate where you will be applying, what documents you need to bring to your appointment. Upon your return to U.S. please bring back the original I-797 notice and provide the Office of International Students and Scholars with copies of your visa.

  • J-1 visa applicants

    Please remember, the U.S. Department of State strongly recommends that you apply for a visa in your country of origin. However, if this is not possible, you may be able to schedule an appointment in another country. If you chose this option, you need to make sure that the U.S. consulate there will accept "third country applicants" and be prepared to wait until your visa is issued.

    View list of U.S. embassies and consulates


    In order to apply for a J-1 visa, you should have the following documentation:

    • Original DS-2019 form signed for travel
    • Letter from the department confirming the employment and type of research conducted at the University of Nevada, Reno
    • Proof of funding
    • Proof of payment of SEVIS fee (first time applicants only). The fee can be paid on line at the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) SEVIS I-901 fee processing website

    Information about visa processing times and appointments

    All applicants should try to schedule visa appointment ahead of time and allow sufficient time for security background checks carried out with every visa application. Visa processing times vary from post to post and may take anywhere from one to eight weeks.

    Additional visa resources

  • O-1 visa applicants

    O-1 status is a non-immigrant status category for aliens of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts (including the television and motion picture industry), education, business or athletics. This is an employment-related status that allows qualified aliens to live and work in the United States. O-1 petitions may only be filed by a U.S. employer, a U.S. agent or a foreign employer through a U.S. agent on behalf of the beneficiary. The O-1 visa is a dual intent visa, meaning that the beneficiary may simultaneously seek permanent resident status while in the U.S. on O-1 without worrying about preconceived intent issues.

    O status can be sought by an employer in the United States for an alien when a work related event or group of activities require he or she to travel to the United States on a temporary basis. The Code of Federal Regulations defines a qualifying event as "an activity such as, but not limited to, a scientific project, conference, convention, lecture, series, tour, exhibit, business project, academic year, or engagement." In addition, a job which may not have a specific engagement or project that exactly fits the above definition may also count, if the job is the "activity" within the alien's area of extraordinary ability. Activities such as these may include short vacations, promotional appearances and stopovers which are incidental and/or related to the event.

    Period of stay for for O status

    The initial period of stay for O status is up to 3 years. An approved O petition will have a validity period commencing with the date of approval and ending with the date requested by the petitioner. This date is not to exceed the date which U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has determined to be necessary to complete the work-related event or activity the alien is in the United States to do so. This time period will not exceed three years and may certainly be less than that. Any requests for extensions of stay will be considered by USCIS and, once they have determined the time necessary to accomplish the initial event or activity, will be granted in increments of up to 1 year.

    Types of O visas

    There are several different types of visas in the O category:

    • O-1A. Individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business or athletics
    • O-1B. Individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or the extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry
    • O-2. Individuals who will accompany an O-1 individual to assist in a specific event or performance
    • O-3. Individuals who are the spouse or children of O-1s and O-2s

    More information about O-1 Visas

Applying for a U.S. visa in Canada or Mexico

It is important that you contact the U.S. consulate you are applying to in order to verify what is needed for your Visa application. Visa forms are available on the State Department's visa application forms page.

NOTE: Effective April 1, 2002, if you apply for a visa in Canada or Mexico and are denied the visa, you will not be able to re-enter the United States under "Automatic Visa Revalidation."

To apply for a U.S. visa in either Canada or Mexico, please review the following information.

U.S. visa in Canada

You must make an appointment for an interview at a U.S. consulate by either calling 1 (900) 443-313 (the charge is approximately $2.00 per minute) or if the 900 number is not available, call (888) 840-0032.

U.S. visa in Mexico

You must make an appointment for an interview at a U.S. consulate by either calling 1-800-919-1754 ($7.00 charge per call). Please note that you cannot obtain a U.S. visa in Mexico if any of the following apply:

  • You changed status in U.S. and now seek a new visa
  • You entered the U.S. in one visa category and now seek a different visa category
  • You obtained your original visa in a country other than your legal residence
  • You have been out of status, violated the terms of your visa or overstayed
  • You are subject to National Security Entry/Exit Registration (NSEERs) or a national of North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Sudan or Iran

Change of status petitions for international scholars

In general, individuals who applied for an international scholar visa category after arriving in the U.S., or international scholars changing from one international scholar category (such as J-1) to another category (such as H-1B) cannot travel while the change of status petition is pending without canceling the petition. International scholars who applied for a change of status in the U.S. and have an application pending should not make any international travel arrangements without first discussing their options and consequences with their international scholar's adviser.

Approved change of status petitions

Once an international scholar receives a new status through a petition that was filed inside the U.S., that person can remain legally in the U.S. and accept an appointment within the parameters of the type of status granted. However, a change of status inside the U.S. will not include a new visa stamp in the passport. Therefore, international scholars who have changed status inside the U.S. will need to apply for a new visa in the passport the next time they exit the U.S. if they plan to re-enter the U.S. using the new visa type requested in the change of status petition.

Passport visa stamps and revalidation

If you are an international scholar, each time you enter the United States as an E-3, H-1B, J-1, O-1 or TN visa holder (or family members enter on the relevant dependent visa), you should have a valid visa stamp in the passport.

Automatic visa revalidation

A valid U.S. visa stamp is not required if you are going to Canada or Mexico (H and J visitors) and contiguous territories (J visitors only) for a period of less than 30 days. This is known as "automatic visa revalidation provision."

Caution:  Individuals and citizens from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea and Cuba are not eligible to use this provision. In addition, "automatic visa revalidation" does not apply if from Canada you then travel to another country (i.e., Germany and return to the U.S. via Canada).

Please keep in mind that you may need an entry visa to travel to other countries. Contact the embassy/consulate of the country you are planning to visit for the required entry documents