Frequently asked questions about student and exchange visas (F, J, and M):
I am a student and urgently need a visa because my studies/internship will start soon.
If you have to travel urgently and are unable to obtain an appointment before your planned travel date, please read our Emergency Appointment Information. Before requesting an Emergency Appointment, make sure you have all necessary documents, including the original DS-2019 or I-20 form. You need this form to receive a visa. You cannot travel on the visa waiver program for study, to participate in an exchange program or for an internship.
I will not receive my I-20/DS-2019 from before the start of my program. What should I do?
Without the original I-20/DS-2019 form, you will not be able to apply for a visa.
I am applying for a J-1 visa as a research scholar, exchange student or short term scholar. The DS-160 Confirmation page states that I need a DS-7002 form.
The DS-7002 form must only be submitted if you are applying for a J-1 visa in the internship or traineeship category. Your sponsor organization should have sent the DS-7002 to you.
How many days before the start of my program can I travel to the U.S. on a F-, J- or M-Visa? („Grace Period“)
F-, J- and M-Visa holders can enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the start of the program start date as given on the DS-2019/I-20.
I would like to enter the U.S. more than 30 days before the start of my program (F-, J- or M-Visa). Can I enter under the Visa Waiver Program or do I need an additional visa?
If you want an earlier entry in the U.S. more than 30 days prior to the course start date, you must qualify for, and obtain a visitor visa. If you travel to the U.S. on a visitor visa, before beginning studies or an exchange program, you must obtain a change of visa classification from the B status to that of J. You must file Form I-539, Application for Change of Nonimmigrant Status, with application fee and the required Form I-20/DS-2019 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. See http://www.uscis.gov/USCIS/Resources/C2en.pdf (PDF) for further information. Please be aware that you cannot start your studies of exchange program until the change of status is approved, and therefore in view of the processing time to your change status in the U.S., you may be in danger of missing your entire exchange program waiting approval of change of status.
How long can I stay in the U.S. after my program ends (F-, J-, M-Visa) („Grace Period“)?
If you have an F-1 visa you may remain in the United States for up to 60 days at the end of your studies; if you have an M-1 visa you may remain for up to 30 days, or in total one year from your date of admission, whichever is shorter. Holders of J-1 visas may remain for up to 30 days. If you wish to remain longer, you will be required to apply for an adjustment of status from F-1/M-1/J-1 to B-2 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
I would like to stay more than 30/60 days after the end of my program to travel in the U.S. and take short trips to Canada/Mexico/Caribbean. Do I need a new visa?
How do I determine the start and the end date of the „grace period“?
The start and end date are determined by the Program Start and Program End Date listed on the DS-2019 or I-20 form.
Can I do an internship or work during the ”Grace Period”?
No. The “Grace Period” is intended only for domestic travel and/or to prepare for and depart from the U.S.
I have been studying in the U.S. and will shortly be going to the U.S. to start or resume my one-year of post-school Optional Practical Training. I have received an Employment Authorization Card from USCIS. Do I need a new visa?
Yes. If your original student visa has expired you will need a new student visa to enter the U.S. to begin or resume your Optional Practical Training, even if the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has already issued you an Employment Authorization Card.
I am a high school student and would like to do an internship required by my school in the United States (“Betriebspraktikum"). I will stay less than 90 days. Do I need a visa?
Internship in the U.S. always requires a visa, independent of length or the fact that a salary is not paid. Visas for internships (J-Visa) can only be applied for by university students after the first year of studies or applicants with a non-academic degree (Abgeschlossene Berufsausbildung). Therefore, it is not possible to do a “Betriebspraktikum” in the U.S.
I would like to write my Bachelor/Master/Diploma thesis in the U.S. Do I need a visa if I stay less than 90 days?
Please submit a short overview of the planned research or activities.
I was issued a visa valid for five years, but spent only one semester in the States. Can I travel with the visa for additional studies? Can I travel to the U.S. as a tourist with that visa?
Visas are issued for a specific purpose. Student and exchange visitor visas are only valid with a current DS-2019 or I-20 form. Even if the student visa has been issued for a longer time period, it can only be used to enter the U.S. as long as the DS-2019/I-20 is valid and for the purpose and institution stated on the form. It cannot be used for travel to the U.S. as a tourist.
I have family/friends in the U.S. and would like to attend a U.S. high school for a few weeks/month or a year. What are the requirements and which visa category should I apply for?
You will need a F-1 student visa, even if you plan to spend less than 90 days in the U.S. Information on attending school in the U.S. and the visa requirements is available at http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/study-exchange/student/foreign-students-in-public-schools.html.
I want to attend a U.S. high school with an exchange organization. I was told that I have to be at least 15 years of age. Is that true?
No. U.S. exchange program regulations state that students participating in a high school exchange program must not have completed more than eleven years of study or must be at least 15 years of age at the time of the “program start date” listed on the DS-2019.
Can I change my visa category after entering the U.S. (for example university study followed by an internship, Au Pair followed by full-time university studies)
I fall under the „Two Year Physical Home Country Requirement“. Does that mean I am not allowed to enter the U.S. for two years after the end of my program?
No. If an exchange visitor is subject to the two-year home-country physical presence (foreign residence) requirement, he or she cannot change his/her status to that of H, L, K, or immigrant lawful permanent resident (LPR) until he or she has returned to his/her home country for at least two-years or received a waiver of that requirement. It is possible to enter the U.S. as a tourist, student or intern during that time. Visit http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1267.html for more information.
I have just finished high school (gymnasium) and would like to spend my gap year in the United States. What do I need to know?
Unfortunately, there are few good options for German citizens who wish to spend a gap year in the United States after high school and before starting university. A recent high school graduate could travel to the United States for an extended holiday, but it is illegal to perform any type of work on a tourist (B2) or business (B1) visa or if traveling on the Visa Waiver Program. It does not matter if you are paid for the work or not. In addition, recent high school graduates do not qualify for exchange visitor (J-1) visas for internships, trainee programs, or Summer Work and Travel programs.
There are a few opportunities for a recent high school graduate to work legally in United States. These include working as an Au Pair (http://j1visa.state.gov/programs/au-pair), working as a Camp Counselor (http://j1visa.state.gov/programs/camp-counselor), and participating in a Voluntary Service Program.
To legally participate as a volunteer, the host organization must be a recognized religious or other non-profit charitable organization and must issue a letter to the traveler outlining the terms of the volunteer arrangement prior to travel. In addition to details of the assignment, the letter must include the volunteer’s name and date and place of birth; the volunteer’s foreign permanent residence address; the name and address of the initial destination in the United States; and, the volunteer’s anticipated duration of assignment. The traveler must present that letter when applying for a visa, or to the immigration officer upon entry if traveling visa Waiver.
Can I do temporary/unpaid work or odd jobs while in the U.S. on a B1/B2 visa or the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA)?
No. Regardless of one’s situation, a German traveler must have a work visa in order to work for an employer in the United States. A B1/B2 visa does not authorize an individual to work in the United States. Under U.S. law, it does not matter if one is being paid or not. That includes work in exchange for lodging and/or other benefits. Informal arrangements like farm stays or informal child care, where room and board is offered in exchange for work, are not allowed. Volunteering is only allowable under limited circumstances, and it must be done with a recognized religious or non-profit charitable organization.
If found working illegally, the Department of Homeland Security can deport you. If the immigration officer at the airport believes you intend to work and you don’t have the proper visa, you may be sent back to Germany immediately. In either case, you will not be able to use the Visa Waiver Program to travel to the U.S. and will have to apply for a visa. If deported, you will be ineligible for a visa for several years. A history of working illegally in the United States will also make you less believable if you later apply for a visa.
What kinds of programs are available after I have started studying at university?
Once a German citizen is enrolled in university and has completed one semester of studies, many more opportunities become available. The best place to find more information about work opportunities for university students is http://j1visa.state.gov. The critical requirement is that the J-1 applicant must have completed one semester of university study and continue to be enrolled at university. Internships and Summer Work Travel fall into this category.