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


Visa processing updates

Updates to visa processing
Visa type/category Previous OISS role Change
J1 Provided general recommendations, reviewed documentation, issued DS-2019, scheduled events to meet cultural visitation requirements. This will continue through the OISS office.
H-1B Provided general recommendations, reviewed documentation, secured prevailing wage information, processed Labor Condition Application, prepared and filed I-129 OISS will continue to process H1B scholar information that is received prior to November 24th
Permanent resident or green card Provided general recommendations, reviewed documentation, filed documentation and application throughout the process. Moved to an attorney referral process. OISS will continue to work on the ones in process.

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