F-1 & J-1 Student FAQs

What is the difference between F-1 and J-1 status?

F-1 status is the primary student visa classification, regulated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). F-1 degree-seeking students are given an F-1 Certificate of Eligibility, Form I-20, to obtain an F-1 visa and enter the U.S. in F-1 status.

J-1 status is regulated by the U.S. Department of State and is designed to promote education exchange between the U.S. and other countries. One may enter the U.S. in J-1 status to pursue studies, conduct scholarly research, serve as a professor, and more. Students who are pursuing a degree in their home country and study at UNCW for one or more semesters while still maintaining ties to their home institution are issued a J-1 Certificate of Eligibility, DS-2019, to obtain a J-1 visa and enter the U.S. in J-1 status.

What is a visa?

A visa is a permit to enter the U.S. in a specific visa category, stamped into your passport. The Form I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1) is not your visa but your visa certificate that defines your program of study. Your I-20 or DS-2019 cannot expire while you are in the U.S. in your program of study.

The visa is obtained at a U.S. Embassy or consulate outside of the U.S. The visa states the period during which a student may use the visa to enter the U.S., as well as how many times the student may enter on the same visa. Your visa can expire while you are in the U.S. as it's used at the U.S. port of entry to request admission to the U.S. The visa is not authorization to remain in the U.S.

If your visa expires and you leave the U.S., you will be required to apply for and receive a new visa before being permitted to re-enter the U.S. in J-1 or F-1 status. It is not possible to apply for a visa from within the U.S.

Note: Citizens of Canada do not need a visa stamp, however they must pay the I-901 SEVIS fee.

What is an I-94 record?

The I-94 Arrival/Departure record shows the terms of your admission, including your visa status and length of time you are permitted to stay in the U.S. F-1 and J-1 students are permitted to stay for "D/S," or Duration of Status. For students arriving by air, the I-94 is an electronic record that can be accessed on the I-94 website. Students arriving at a land border will have a paper I-94 card placed in their passport.

After every entry to the U.S., it is important to immediately check your I-94 to make sure it has the correct visa type and length of stay. Select "Get Most Recent I-94" at the top of the I-94 website.

What does "D/S," which appears on my I-94  record or U.S. port of entry stamp, mean?

"D/S" stands for "Duration of Status," and means that you may remain in the U.S. for as long as you maintain lawful status.

How do I know if I'm in status?

If you are in possession of a valid passport, valid I-94, and valid I-20 or DS-2019, and as long as you are not violating any of the terms of your visa classification, you are maintaining status. At a minimum, this means being enrolled full-time if you are a student, or working only in your sponsoring department if you are a scholar, as well as not undertaking any unauthorized employment.

Immigration regulations are subject to change, so always consult with your OISS advisor before taking any actions that may impact your lawful status.

My I-20 or DS-2019 will expire soon and I have not yet finished my program at UNCW. How can I extend my stay in the U.S.?

Contact your F-1 or J-1 advisor and submit a request for a program extension. You will be required to obtain a recommendation from your academic advisor and submit new proof of financial support to cover the cost of attendance for the duration of the extension.

Can I work on campus?

F-1 and J-1 students are permitted to work on campus for a maximum of 20 hours per week while school is in session. During the winter and summer breaks (after the last day of exams in the fall or spring and before the first day of classes in the fall or spring), students can work an unlimited number of hours on campus as long as they will enroll in the next session of classes.

Review more about employment regulations for F-1 and J-1 students on the international student employment website

Can I work off campus?

F-1 students must be in active F-1 status for a continuous academic year (fall and spring semester) before being eligible to apply for off-campus employment. F-1 students must be authorized for either Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT) before beginning any off-campus work. Review the F-1 employment overview for more details.

J-1 students must be authorized for Academic Training to work off campus.

What is Practical Training (F-1 Students)?

Practical training is a benefit of the F-1 visa status that allows students to gain work experience in the U.S. directly related to their field of study. There are two types of Practical Training: CPT and OPT.

Students must receive authorization for either CPT or OPT before beginning any off-campus employment. Review the F-1 employment overview for more details.

What is Academic Training (J-1 Students)?

Academic Training is work directly related to the student's field of study. There are special procedures for J-1 "Academic Training," including a monitoring requirement. J-1 students are normally allowed up to 18 months for Academic Training.

I need to travel outside the U.S. What should I do before I leave? What do I need to take with me?

Before you leave the U.S., check your I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1) for a travel signature, valid for one year. If you don't have a valid travel signature, you will need to have your I-20 or DS-2019 signed by your OISS advisor before leaving the U.S.

To re-enter the U.S. you will need:

  • passport valid at least 6 months into the future upon arrival
  • valid I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1) with a valid travel signature
  • valid F-1 or J-1 visa stamp
  • proof of financial support and a copy of your course schedule to verify you're enrolled at UNCW

If your visa stamp will expire before you re-enter, you will need to apply for a new one at a U.S. embassy or consulate before you can re-enter in F-1 or J-1 status.

I am covered by a non-UNCW health insurance policy. Do I still have to pay the insurance fee on my student bill?

If you are covered by another health insurance policy that meets the UNCW and U.S. Department of State minimum requirements below, you can request a waiver (decline) of the UNCW StudentBlue health insurance.

Your personal insurance must meet the following minimum requirements to qualify for a waiver:

  • Medical benefits of at least $100,000 per person per accident or illness
  • Repatriation of remains in the amount of $25,000
  • Medical Evacuation coverage in the amount of $50,000
  • A deductible not to exceed $500 per accident or illness

If a student does not waive out of the StudentBlue plan by the deadline, they will be automatically enrolled in the insurance plan and the fees will be charged to their student account. Visit the Student Health website for more information about StudentBlue and the waiver process.

OISS does not manage the StudentBlue health insurance enrollment or waiver process. Please contact Student Health directly with insurance-related questions.