Student Visa FAQs

Frequently asked questions about student and exchange visas (F, J, and M):

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.

Without the original I-20/DS-2019 form, you will not be able to apply for a visa.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The start and end date are determined by the Program Start and Program End Date listed on the DS-2019 or I-20 form.

No. The “Grace Period” is intended only for domestic travel and/or to prepare for and depart from the U.S.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.