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DIS Title Divider About Us Title Divider FAQs
About Us
Common Questions

The information contained in our FAQ’s is tailored to the requirements and needs of the NIH community. They should NOT be taken as legal advice or used as the sole source for making immigration-related decisions. Please note that immigration rules and regulations change frequently. If you are foreign national scientist sponsored by the NIH, please contact the Division of International Services prior to taking actions that may affect your immigration status.

Click on a category to view the questions

  • 212(e) Two-year Home Residence Requirement
    • 59Q1: What is the two-year home residence requirement, also known as "212(e)"?
      • A1:   The two-year home residence requirement is a U.S. immigration rule that requires certain individuals who participate in a J-1 Exchange Visitor Program to return to their home country or country of last legal permanent residence (as indicated on their Form DS-2019) for an aggregate period of two-years upon conclusion of their J-1 program. This is known as the two-year home country physical presence requirement under Section 212(e) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. This requirement is commonly referred to as “212(e).”
         
        Review the U.S. Department of State (DOS) Exchange Visitor page for further details about this requirement.
         
    • 60Q2: What is the purpose of this requirement?
      • A2:   The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that certain J-1 Exchange Visitors fulfill the exchange nature of their program and share the knowledge gained in the U.S. with colleagues in the home country.
         
    • 61Q3: How does a J-1 Exchange Visitor become subject to 212(e)?
      • A3:   J-1 Exchange Visitors become subject to 212(e) in one of three ways:

        1. Receiving funding (direct or indirect) from either their home country government or the U.S. government. All J-1 Exchange Visitors sponsored by the NIH are subject to 212e under this basis (since the NIH is a U.S. government agency). Even if you are not directly funded by the NIH (for example, you receive funding from an outside source), indirect funds are used to support your stay at the NIH, and so you are subject.
        2. Possessing a skill that is in short supply in the home country as per the Exchange Visitor Skills List.
        3. Participating in a graduate medical education or training program sponsored by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG).

        Do not assume that the 212(e) notation on your visa stamp or Form DS-2019 is correct. Errors are common, and an individual’s circumstances may change after arrival to the U.S.
         

    • 62Q4: Are my J-2 dependents subject to 212(e)?
      • A4:   If the primary J-1 Exchange Visitor is subject, then yes, your J-2 dependents are also subject.
         
    • 63Q5: What restrictions are associated with 212(e)?
      • A5:   J-1 Exchange Visitors subject to 212(e) cannot change to another immigration status while inside the U.S. Exceptions, however, may apply when changing to an A (diplomatic) or G (international organization) status. In addition, subjected Exchange Visitors are not eligible to acquire H, L, or U.S. lawful permanent residence (immigrant) status.
         
    • 64Q6: With the restrictions associated with 212(e), does this mean that I really cannot return to the U.S. until my two years are served? In other words, what are my immigration options when subject to 212(e)?
      • A6:   Luckily, the 212(e) restrictions do not mean that you can never return to the U.S. until the two years are served – see Q5 above (What restrictions are associated with 212e?). There are some allowances while subject to 212(e), such as:

        • You may be eligible to extend or transfer your current J-1 status within the maximum duration allowed for researchers, provided there is a continuation in your research objectives.
        • You may be eligible to return to the U.S. under a new J-1 program. Certain restrictions apply, such as a limit on repeat participation. You must discuss your J-1 eligibility with your prospective J-1 program sponsor.
        • You may be eligible to return to the U.S. under the temporary visitor program for tourism (B-2/WT) or business purposes (B-1/WB).
        • You may be eligible to return to the U.S. to pursue a course of study (e.g. F-1 Student) or work in certain employment statuses (e.g. O-1 Alien of Extraordinary Ability).
        • You may be eligible to return to the U.S. OR change to A (diplomatic) or G (international organization) status.

        Note that being eligible for a certain allowance described above does not guarantee admission or approval. You must review your eligibility carefully. Final determination will be made by the Department of State (DOS) and/or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
         

    • 65Q7: How do I fulfill the 212(e) requirement?
      • A7:   You may fulfill the requirement by:
         
        (1) Returning to your home country or country of last legal permanent residence (as indicated on your Form DS-2019) for an aggregate period of two years (not necessarily continuous).
         
        OR
         
        (2) Obtaining approval of a waiver from the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), DHS. Note, however, that some waivers require an initial favorable recommendation from the Department of State (DOS).
         
        For more information about waivers, please review our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Waivers.
         
  • Before Arrival Information
    • 165Q1: What agencies are involved with U.S. visas and the U.S. immigration system in general?
      • A1: The U.S. Department of State (DOS) is the agency charged with issuing visas.  The DOS oversees the U.S. Embassies and Consulates throughout the world. 
        There are additional U.S. government agencies involved in providing immigration services or immigration-related services.  Depending on your non-immigrant classification, various agencies may be involved.  Some of the most common are:​
        • DHS - Department of Homeland Security
          • CBP - Customs and Border Protection
          • USCI​​S - United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
          • ICE - Immigration and Customs Enforcement
        • DOL - Department of Labor
          • CBP, USCIS, and ICE are agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).​

        ​​
        ​​​​
    • 166Q2: I will be arriving for the first time at the NIH. When should I book my airline ticket?
      • A2: In general, it is a good idea to wait until you receive your non-immigrant visa to book your airline tickets.  However, if you decide to book your flight earlier, it is suggested that you include the option to change your travel dates with a fee in the event that your visa is delayed.
         
        If you are "visa exempt" - that is, you are *not* required to obtain a visa before entering the United States - you can make your travel arrangements after receipt of your immigration or "enabling" document.  The "enabling" document helps define the purpose of your visit to the U.S.  Citizens of Canada, for example, are "visa exempt."
         
         
    • 167Q3: The date that I planned to arrive to the NIH has changed. What should I do?
      • A3: Please coordinate any change to your arrival date with your sponsor/supervisor and administrative staff with your NIH Institute/Center (IC).  Also notify the DIS of this change.
         
         
    • 170Q4: What is a visa?
      • A4: A visa is a document stamped or sealed into a person’s passport that enables him/her to request permission to enter the country that issued the visa.  It is commonly referred to as a “visa stamp” that acts as a travel document or entry permit.  A valid U.S. visa allows you to travel to a U.S. port of entry, such as an airport or land border crossing, and request permission to enter the U.S. from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspector.  While having a visa does not guarantee entry to the U.S, it does indicate that a consular officer at a U.S Embassy or Consulate abroad has reviewed your eligibility to seek entry to the U.S. for a specific purpose.

         

        Most individuals are issued “non-immigrant” visas.  These visas allow for a temporary stay in the U.S.  After the stay is over, the individual returns to his/her home country. 

         

        If you hold a visa valid for multiple entries (indicated by the letter “M” under “Entries” on the visa stamp), you may make repeated trips to the U.S. for travel for the same purpose, as long as the visa has not expired, and you have maintained your status while inside the U.S.  If, however, you received a specific number, you may only use that visa for the number of entries listed.  For information on maintaining status, please see our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on “General Immigration Information.”

         

        Additional visa information, including a sample visa, is available from the Department of State (DOS).

         

        NOTE: Certain individuals, such as citizens of Canada, are considered “visa exempt.”  That is, they are *not* required to obtain a visa before travel to a U.S. port of entry.  Such individuals, however, must still request permission to enter the U.S. from the CBP inspector.  If your family members are not citizens of Canada, they must apply for visas prior to entering the U.S.  Learn more about “visa exemptions” by clicking here.

         

         

    • 171Q5: How do I obtain a visa?
      • A5: To obtain a visa, submit a visa application directly to a U.S. Consulate or U.S. Embassy.  Only a U.S.  Consular Officer, Department of State (DOS), has authority to issue visas.  Consular officers are located at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide.  See the U.S. Embassy website for more information. 
         
        If you have eligible dependent family members, it is suggested that your family members apply for their visas with you; however, separate applications are permissible.
         
        When completing the visa application (or any U.S. government form), please enter your name exactly as it appears per the passport.  Having several forms with your name spelled differently can cause significant problems after your arrival to the U.S., so please be very careful!
         
        During the visa application process, the burden of proving your eligibility for the visa lies solely with you.  In some cases, you may be asked to demonstrative your intent to return to your home country after your stay in the U.S.; this is known as "non-immigrant intent."
         
         
    • 172Q6: Must I apply for my visa in my home country?
      • A6: It is recommended that you apply for your visa in your home country in case of visa processing delays (See also Q10: I have been told that I was selected for "administrative processing," which will delay me in obtaining my entry visa.  Can the NIH or DIS help expedite this process?). 

         

        If you so choose, however, it may be possible to apply for a visa when you are not in your home country.  Check with the nearest U.S. Consulate if they will accept your application as a third country national.  The U.S. Consulate reserves the right to refuse your application if you not applying in your home country.  

         

         

    • 173Q7: When should I apply for my visa?
      • A7: Apply for your visa after you receive the necessary immigration or "enabling" document(s) from the Division of International Services (DIS), NIH.  The enabling document helps to define to the U.S. Consulate the purpose of your visit to the U.S.  For example, individuals sponsored by the NIH as J-1 Exchange Visitors are issued the enabling document known as the Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status.  For H-1B Temporary Workers or O-1 Aliens of Extraordinary Ability, the enabling document is the Form I-797 Approval Notice issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
         
        After receiving your enabling document(s), check for any errors.  Carefully review your biographical information and that your name appears as per your passport.  Notify the DIS of any errors on your enabling document before traveling to the U.S.
         
         
    • 174Q8: I have heard that I do not need to pay certain fees for obtaining a visa. is this true?
      • A8: Fees vary depending upon the visa type and your country of origin.  Check with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate regarding the payment of fees.

         

        However, those sponsored by NIH as J-1 Exchange Visitors are EXEMPT from most visa fees.  Refer to our J-1 Fee Notice for more details.  Such individuals must contact the Consulate directly to make their visa appointment, such as through the Consulate’s expedite or emergency email, or visa referral system (available on the Consulate’s web site).

         

        Those sponsored by NIH as H-1B Temporary Workers are EXEMPT from the Border Security Fee under Public Law 111-230.  Refer to our H-1B Border Security Fee Notice for more details.

         

         

         

    • 175Q9: What can I expect with the timeline for getting a visa from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate?
      • A9: The Department of State (DOS) Visa Wait Times provides typical processing times both for the time it takes to get an appointment and the time it takes for the visa to be issued based on the specific U.S. consulate and the non-immigrant visa type.

         

        Occasionally, these general timelines may take longer if the consular officer feels that your application requires further review, otherwise known as “administrative processing” (See also Q10: I have been told that I was selected for “administrative processing,” which will delay me in obtaining my entry visa.  Can the NIH or DIS help expedite this process?).

         

        After receiving your visa, check to ensure that your biographical information and visa class is correctly listed.  Notify the U.S. Consulate of any errors before traveling to the U.S.

         

         

    • 176Q10: I have been told that I was selected for "administrative processing," which will delay me in obtaining my entry visa. Can the NIH or DIS help expedite this process?
      • A10: Some visa applications require further “administrative processing” due to security or technology checks, which often results in delays of 30 to 120 additional business days or more in some cases.  The time will vary based on individual circumstances of each case.

         

        Unfortunately, the NIH and/or the DIS is not able to expedite administrative processing.  Refer to our advisory for additional information on this topic.

         

         

         

    • 181Q11: How soon can I enter the U.S.?
      • A11: Once you have obtained your visa, you can make arrangements to travel to the U.S.  If you are visa exempt (such as a citizen of Canada), make your travel arrangements after receipt of your enabling document from the DIS, NIH.
         
        U.S. immigration regulations only allow you to enter the U.S. within a certain amount of time per your enabling document.  Follow the chart below per your immigration status.  Make sure that you do *not* pack your passport and enabling document in your checked luggage.  You must present them for entry into the U.S.
         
        IF YOUR IMMIGRATION STATUS IS... AND YOUR ENABLING DOCUMENT IS...
        THEN YOUR EARLIEST ENTRY DATE IS...
        J-1 Exchange Visitor
        Form DS-2019
        Up to 30 days before the start date listed on Form DS-2019
        H-1B Temporary Worker
        Form I-797
        Up to 10 days before the start date listed on Form I-797*
        O-1 Alien of Extraordinary Ability
        Form I-797
        Up to 10 days before the start date listed on Form I-797*
        TN (Trade NAFTA) Professional
        TN Letter describing activities and/or Form I-797
        Start date listed on TN Letter and/or Form I-797
        B-1/WB Temporary Business Visitor
        Letter of Invitation
        State date listed on Letter of Invitation
         
        *NOTE: H-1B and O-1 Temporary Workers who decide to enter BEFORE the start date listed on the Form I-797 cannot begin employment UNTIL the actual start date listed on the I-797.
         
         
         
    • 182Q12: What can I expect when entering the U.S. at a port of entry?
      • A12: Upon approach to the U.S., airline or border crossing officials will provide you with the Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record for you to present during U.S. immigration and customs inspections.  When completing the Form I-94, please enter your name exactly as it appears per the passport.  Having several forms with your name spelled differently can cause significant problems after your arrival to the U.S., so please be very careful!  

         

        After arrival, you and any family members will queue up for immigration and customs inspection with a Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Inspector.  Make sure to hand-carry your passport and enabling document; do not pack them in your checked luggage.  You will need to present them to the Inspector.

         

        During the inspection process, you will be asked to describe the purpose of your visit and provide documents to support your entry (See Q13: What documents should I present during the inspection process at the U.S. port of entry?).  You will also be fingerprinted and photographed under a security program through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM), formerly known as the U.S. Visitors and Immigration Status Indicator Technology (US VISIT).  Additional information about what to expect is available on the CBP web site.

         

        If you are permitted to enter the U.S., the Inspector will provide you “immigration status” by stamping your passport (andy any family member's passports) with your U.S. admission information:

        • Date of entry;
        • Port of entry;
        • Class of admission (which corresponds to your immigration status);
        • Length of stay you may remain in the U.S.; and
        • Any special conditions that may apply to your stay.

        This admission information is also used to electronically generate the Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record.

         

        Always check your admission stamp in your passport and electronic Form I-94 to ensure they are annotated appropriately based on your enabling document.  See also Q14: I just entered the U.S. and need to access my Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record.  How do I access the form? What is the purpose of this form?

        NOTE: For J-1 and J-2 Exchange Visitors, your Form I-94 will *not* have an exact expiration date.  Instead, it should be annotated as “D/S,” or “Duration of Status.”  D/S refers to the expiration date listed on the Form DS-2019.  This means that you (and any J-2 dependents) can remain in the U.S. until the expiration date on the DS-2019.

         
         
    • 183Q13: What documents should I present during the inspection process at the U.S. port of entry?
      • A13: During the customs and immigration inspection, present to the Inspector:
        • Passport valid for at least six months beyond the expiration date of your planned stay in the U.S.
          • Failure to comply may result in denial of your entry or being admitted for less than the length of your invited stay at the NIH!
        • Valid visa stamp, issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate (unless visa exempt, such as citizens of Canada)
        • Enabling document based on your visa classification (example, Form DS-2019 for J-1 Exchange Visitors; see also Q11: How soon can I enter the U.S.? for a list of common enabling documents)
        • Letter of invitation fom the DIS, NIH
        • Evidence of relationship for dependents (example, a marriage or birth certificate)
        • FOR TN (Trade NAFTA) APPLICANTS ONLY: Evidence of your educational credentials
          • Present certified copies of ALL professional degrees, evaluations, transcripts, licenses, and/or certificates.  Any foreign language document must be accompanied by a certified English translation

         

    • 187Q14: FOR TN (Trade NAFTA) APPLICANTS ONLY: I am a first time TN applicant. Is there a preferred U.S. port of entry for me to apply for TN status?
      • ​A14: The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encourages first time TN applicants to visit preferred or designated ports of entry to help ensure a more efficient application process.  The list of designated ports of entry is available on the CBP website.  Note that you are not required to go to these ports of entry, but CBP encourages you to do so to receive optimized processing.

         

    • 189Q15: I just entered the U.S. and need to access my Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. How do I access the form? What is the purpose of this form?
      • A15: The Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record is a document that allows the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to track your entry to and exit from the United States. It also serves as evidence that you have been lawfully permitted to enter the U.S. It summarizes your U.S. admission information:
        • Date of entry;
        • Port of entry;
        • Class of admission (which corresponds to your immigration status);
        • Length of stay you may remain in the U.S.; and
        • Any special conditions that may apply to your stay.
        Prior to May 2013, the form was issued as a paper document upon arrival to the U.S. and provided by the DHS Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Inspector at the U.S. port of entry during the inspections process. Now the paper form is typically no longer issued and available through a self-help website (www.cbp.gov/I94). Please review our Form I-94 Automation handout for more information about this process, including instructions to always print a copy of the electronic I-94.
         
        Whenever you must travel internationally during your stay in the U.S., you will undergo the same inspections process and a new I-94 will be electronically generated upon your re-entry to the U.S.
         
         
    • 190Q16: I have heard that I may need a "Social Security Number" during my stay in the U.S. What is this number and do I really need it?
      • A16: A Social Security Number (SSN) is an identification number used to keep a record of an individual's earnings in the U.S. It is also used for tax reporting purposes and commonly used as a national identification number. Individuals in certain visa classifications may be eligible to apply for the SSN.
         
        Please review our Social Security Number Overview handout for more information.
         
         
    • 191Q17: I have just arrived to the NIH. When can I begin my research?
      • A17: Before you can begin your research, you must check-in with DIS. Our office verifies that all visiting scientists were lawfully admitted to the United States in the correct immigration status and have the proper work authorization to undertake activities at NIH.
         
        All new arrivals, both NIH employee and non-employee categories, should consult our check-in procedures" for further information.
         
  • Case Status Inquiries: Foreign National Scientists
  • Case Status Inquiries: NIH Administrative Staff
  • DIS Services: Foreign National Scientists
    • 106Q1: I have arrived at the NIH. When can I begin my research?
      • A1:   Before  you can begin your research, you must check-in with DIS. Our office verifies that all visiting scientists were lawfully admitted to the United States in the correct immigration status and have the proper work authorization to undertake activities at NIH.

        All new arrivals, NIH employee and non-employee categories, must consult our  check-in procedures for further information.

    • 107Q2: Why do I need to check-in with the DIS?
      • A2:   The DIS must verify that you were lawfully admitted to the United States and are in the proper immigration status to undertake activities at the NIH.
         
    • 108Q3: How do I learn more about my immigration status?
      • A3:   If you are in J-1 or H-1B status, the DIS will schedule you for an appropriate orientation during your check-in/EOD. At the orientation, you will learn about your immigration status and how to lawfully maintain it, as well as receive cultural information.
         
        If you are unable to attend your scheduled orientation, review our J-1 and H-1B orientation schedule and contact the DIS to schedule for another available session.
         
    • 109Q4: How do I contact DIS with questions about my immigration status?
      • A4:   There are various ways to obtain assistance from the DIS. They are:

        • Web site
        • Telephone – 301-496-6166
        • Walk-in advising
        • Appointments – contact the DIS to schedule an appointment with an Immigration Specialist.

        Due to the volume of inquiries that we receive, it may take us up to two business days to respond.  In addition, the DIS is unable to accept same-day appointment requests (except in the case of a severe emergency).

         

    • 110Q5: I am an NIH-sponsored J-1 Exchange Visitor. How do I obtain travel validation signatures?
      • A5:   Visit us during Walk-in advising.  Walk-in advising is the perfect time to obtain your travel validation signature.
         
    • 111Q6: When should I make an appointment?
      • A6:   Generally, it is best to make an appointment with questions that may require more than 15 minutes to address, such as questions about changing your immigration status or NIH designation.  Please email or telephone (301-496-6166) the DIS to make an appointment.
         
        Due to the volume of inquiries that we receive, the DIS is unable to accept same-day appointment requests (except in the case of a severe emergency).

         
    • 112Q7: How do I obtain information about U.S. income taxes?
    • 113Q8: How do I request copies of immigration documents from my file?
      • A8: Before requesting copies, carefully search your records to ensure that you do not have the originals.  In addition, check with your IC’s administrative office to see if they possess a copy of the requested document.  If you are still unable to locate the document, submit a written request with your name, date of birth, current address, signature, and date.  Your request must specify *exactly* what copies of documents are needed.  Please allow up to two (2) weeks for your request to be processed.
         
  • DIS Services: NIH Administrative Staff
  • General Immigration Information
    • 31Q1: I will be arriving for the first time at NIH, when should I book my airline tickets?
      • A1:   In general, it is a good idea to wait until you receive your non-immigrant visa to book your airline tickets. However, if you do decide to book your flights earlier, it is a good idea to have the option to change your travel dates in the event that your visa is delayed.
         
    • 32Q2: The date that I planned to arrive at the NIH has been changed. What should I do?
      • A2:   Please coordinate any change to your arrival date with your sponsor and administrative staff in the NIH Institute/Center (IC) and notify the DIS of these changes.
         
    • 33Q3: I have arrived at the NIH. When can I begin my research?
      • A3:   Before you can begin your research, you must check-in (“Enter on Duty” or EOD) with the DIS. Additional information is provided on our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about DIS Services.
         
    • 34Q4: What agencies are involved in U.S. immigration?
      • A4:   There are several government agencies involved in providing immigration services or immigration related services. Depending on your non-immigrant classification, various agencies may be involved. Some of the most common are:

        • DHS – Department of Homeland Security
          • CBP – Customs and Border Protection
          • USCIS – United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
          • ICE – Immigration and Customs Enforcement
        • DOL – Department of Labor
        • DOS – Department of State

        CBP, USCIS, and ICE are agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
         

    • 35Q5: What is a visa?
      • A visa is a document stamped or sealed into a person’s passport that enables him/her to request permission to enter the country that issued the visa. It is commonly referred to as a “visa stamp” that acts as a travel document or entry permit. A valid U.S. visa allows you to travel to a U.S. port of entry, such as an airport or land border crossing, and request permission to enter the U.S. from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border  Protection (CBP) inspector. While having a visa does not guarantee entry to the U.S, it does indicate that a consular officer at a U.S Embassy or Consulate abroad has reviewed your eligibility to seek entry to the U.S. for a specific purpose.
         
        If you hold a visa valid for multiple entries, you may make repeated trips to the U.S. for travel for the same purpose, as long as the visa has not expired and you have maintained your status (see Q15 below) while inside the U.S.
         
        Additional information, including a sample visa, is available from the Department of State (DOS) web site.
         
    • 36Q6: How do I obtain a visa?
      • A6:   To obtain a visa, submit a visa application directly to a U.S. Consulate or U.S. Embassy. Only a U.S. Consular Officer, Department of State (DOS), has authority to issue visas. Consular officers are located at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. See the U.S. Embassy website for more information.
         
        When completing the visa application form or any U.S. government form, please enter your name exactly as it appears on your passport.
         
    • 37Q7: Must I apply for my visa in my home country?
      • A7:   It is recommended that you apply for your visa in your home country in case of visa processing delays (See Q10 below -I have been told that I was selected for “administrative processing” which will delay me in obtaining my entry visa. Can the NIH or DIS help expedite this process?).
         
        If you so choose, however, it may be possible to apply for a visa when you are not in your home country. Check with the nearest U.S. Consulate if they will accept your application as a third country national. The U.S. Consulate reserves the right to refuse your application if you are not applying in your home country.
         
    • 38Q8: When should I apply for my visa?
      • A8:   Apply for your visa when you receive the necessary immigration or “enabling” document(s) from the Division of International Services (DIS), NIH. This document helps to define to the U.S. Consulate the purpose of your visit to the U.S. For example, individuals sponsored by the NIH as J-1 Exchange Visitors are issued the enabling document known as the Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status. For H-1B Temporary Workers or O-1 Aliens of Extraordinary Ability, the enabling document is the Form I-797 Approval Notice issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
         
    • 39Q9: I have heard that I do not need to pay certain fees for obtaining a visa. Is this true?
      • A9:   Fees vary depending upon your visa type and your country of origin. Check with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate regarding the payment of fees.
         
        However, those sponsored by NIH as J-1 Exchange Visitors are EXEMPT from most visa fees. Refer to our J-1 Fee Notice for more details.
         
        Those sponsored by NIH as H-1B Temporary Workers are EXEMPT from the Border Security Fee under Public Law 111-230. Refer to our H-1B Border Security Fee Notice for more details. 
         
        In addition, U.S. Government employees traveling on official business may be exempt from the Machine Readable Visa (MRV)/Non-immigrant visa application processing fee (per 22 CFR §22.1, item 22). Check with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate directly (such as through their expedite email or visa referral system) to confirm your eligibility and to schedule an appointment. Provide the Consulate with a copy of your travel authorization (obtain from your laboratory/branch's Administrative Officer). 
         
    • 40Q10: What can I expect with the timeline for getting a visa from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate?
      • The Department of State (DOS) website provides the current processing time both for the time it takes to get an appointment and the time it takes for the visa to be issued based on the specific consulate and the non-immigrant visa type.
         
        Occasionally, these general timelines may take longer if the consular officer feels that your application requires further review, otherwise known as “administrative processing."
         
    • 41Q11: I have been told that I was selected for “administrative processing” which will delay me in obtaining my entry visa. Can the NIH or DIS help expedite this process?
      • Some visa applications require further administrative processing due to security or technology checks, which often results in delays of 30 to 120 additional business days or more in some cases.  The time will vary based on individual circumstances of each case.
         
        The NIH and/or the DIS is not able to expedite administrative processing. Refer to our advisory for additional information on this topic.
         
    • 42Q12: Must I have a valid visa at all times while inside the U.S.?
      • A12: The expiration of the visa stamp does not impact the length of time you may be authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to remain in the United States. Please see Q15 (What is immigration status and what does maintaining status mean?) and Q16 (What is an I-94?) below.
         

    • 43Q13: Can I renew my visa in the United States?
      • A13:   Unfortunately, a visa cannot be renewed within the United States. Only a U.S. Consular Officer at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate has the authority to issue visas for travel to the United States. See the U.S. Embassy website to find the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
         
    • 44Q14: What is the difference between visa and status?
      • A visa is a stamp placed in a passport by a U.S. Consular Officer that allows an individual to apply to enter the U.S. (at a port of entry) in a specific status. The visa stamp does not affect an individual’s status while in the U.S. and can expire even though the individual remains in the U.S.
         
        Status is the non-immigrant designation given to an individual by the Customs and Border  Protection (CBP)/Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector at the port of entry.  The Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record is the document that verifies an individual's status in the U.S.
         
        Please also review the answers to Q5 above (What is a Visa?) and Q15 below (What is immigration status and what does maintaining status mean?).
         
    • 45Q15: What is immigration status and what does “maintaining status” mean?
      • Status is the non-immigrant designation given to an individual by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP)/Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector at the port of entry, or by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) when the individual makes an application for a certain non-immigrant classification within the U.S. The Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record (see Q16 below) is the document that verifies an individual's immigration status in the U.S.
         
        Maintaining status means that the individual is complying with the specific requirements of the purpose for which he or she entered the U.S. For example, maintaining means that individuals should not engage in unauthorized work or outside activities. Failure to maintain status can lead to serious consequences such as inability to remain in the U.S. and ineligibility for future visas. Refer to our information on maintaining valid J-1 status or H-1B status.
         
    • 46Q16: What is the Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record?
      • The Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record is a document that allows the U.S. Department of  Homeland Security (DHS) to track an individual’s entry to and exit from the United States.  It also serves as evidence that the individual  has been lawfully permitted to enter the U.S.  It summarizes the U.S. admission information:

        • Date of entry;
        • Port of entry;
        • Class of admission (which corresponds to your immigration status);
        • Length of stay the individual may remain in the U.S.; and
        • Any special conditions that may apply to the individual's stay.

        Prior to May 2013, the form was issued as a paper document upon arrival to the U.S. and provided by the DHS Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Inspector at the U.S. port of entry during the inspection process.  Now the paper form is typically no longer issued and available through a self-help website (www.cbp.gov/I94).  Please review our Form I-94 Automation handout for more information about this process, including instructions to always print a copy of the electronic I-94.

        Whenever the individual must travel internationally, s/he will undergo the same inspections process and a new I-94 will be electronically generated upon your re-entry to the U.S.


         

    • 47Q17: Do I have to carry my immigration documents with me at all times while inside the U.S.?
      • A17:   While a law enforcement officer may ask you to present your original immigration documents, in most cases, a copy of these documents should be sufficient for your day-to-day activities.
         
        You may prefer to carry a certified copy with you on a daily basis and keep your original documents in a secured location where they are easily accessible in case of an emergency.
         
    • 48Q18: I am already at the NIH and need to travel back home or to another country. What documents do I need in order to travel internationally?
    • 49Q19: My passport has expired and I have received my new valid passport. My visa to travel to the United States is still valid, but in my expired passport. Do I need to apply for a new visa with my new passport?
      • A19:   If your visa is still valid, you can travel to the United States with your two passports, as long as the visa is valid, not damaged, and is the appropriate type of visa. Both passports (the valid and the expired one with the visa) should be from the same country.
         
        Do not try to remove the visa from your old passport and place it into the new valid passport. If you do so, your visa will no longer be valid.
         
        You should also provide the DIS with a copy of your new passport.
         
    • 50Q20: Why does the Division of International Services (DIS) request a copy of my passport admission stamp and I-94 record each time I travel?
      • A20:   Providing these copies to the DIS allows an Immigration Specialist to review the documents to make sure that you have been admitted to the U.S. in the correct status and that no errors were inadvertently made by the DHS Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Inspector.
         
        It is also useful for the DIS to retain these copies so that we can better assist you in obtaining a replacement if any of your immigration documents are damaged, lost, or stolen.
         
    • 51Q21: I did not turn in my I-94 when I left the United States. What should I do?
      • A21:   If your admission to the U.S. was under Form I-94 Automation, no action needs to be taken.  Your departure will be electronically captured to close out your visit.
         
        However, if you possess a paper Form I-94 and failed to turn it in, see the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection website for more information.
         
        If you are traveling under “automatic visa re-validation” to a contiguous territory, you should retain your paper I-94 card.  If your I-94 was processed under automation, no action needs to be taken as your electronic I-94 will be checked to make sure you meet the conditions of automatic visa re-validation.  Please see our travel advisories for more information.
         
    • 52Q22: My passport with my visa and/or Form I-94 and/or enabling document was stolen or lost. What should I do?
      • A22:   If your passport with your visa and/or paper Form I-94 is lost or stolen, you must get them replaced immediately. For more information, see Lost and Stolen Passports, Visas, and Form I-94s. Notify the DIS as well.

        NOTE: If your admission to the U.S. was under Form I-94 Automation, there is no need to apply for a replacement if you lose the print-out.  You can simply print out another copy from the self-help website (www.cbp.gov/I94).

        If your immigration/enabling document (e.g. Form DS-2019 or Form I-797) is lost or stolen, notify the DIS. We will provide instructions on how to replace it.
         
    • 53Q23: What do I need to do if my name changes?
      • A23:   Once your name change is reflected on your official passport, please notify the DIS so that we can make appropriate changes to your immigration documents. You will also need to notify your Institute or Center (IC)’s Administrative Officer.
         
    • 54Q24: I just got married and/or my family did not originally accompany me to the United States. How do I obtain an immigration document for my dependents?
      • A24:   Dependent immigration status is available to your spouse (either same-sex or opposite sex) and/or unmarried children under age 21. Family members, however, must demonstrate that a legal family relationship exists with the primary status holder (example: birth certificate or marriage certificate).  For spouses, this means that a lawful marriage took place.  For same-sex spouses, the marriage must have taken place in a U.S. state or country that recognizes same-sex marriage.  Civil unions or domestic partnerships do not qualify for dependent immigration status.
         
        NIH-sponsored J-1 Exchange Visitors must first obtain a dependent Form DS-2019 for their eligible dependents. Exchange Visitors may request a Form DS-2019 for their family member by submitting a Request for Dependent Form DS-2019 to the DIS.
         
        NIH-sponsored H-1Bs, O-1s, and TNs should provide family members a copy of their Form I-94 and/or Form I-797 Approval notice.
         
        For your dependent family members who are currently located in the United States, you may request an appointment with a DIS Immigration Specialist to discuss appropriate steps for obtaining dependent status (e.g. J-2, H-4, O-3 or TD) for your family member(s).
         
    • 55Q25: What should I do when my family members arrive separately?
      • A25:   When a family member arrives in the U.S. for the first time, please provide the DIS with copies of the family member’s Form I-94 print-out, visa, passport admission stamp, and other immigration document (example: Form DS-2019 for J-2 dependent). Also, make sure that you enroll each newly arrived dependent in your health insurance plan. J regulations require that J-2 family members enroll in health insurance within 30 days of arrival.
         
    • 56Q26: Can I work outside the NIH?
      • A26:   NIH-sponsored scientists can only work for the NIH. However, there are certain outside activities that may be appropriate provided your Institute/Center (IC) and the Division of International Services (DIS) have reviewed and approved the request. You may submit a request to participate in outside activities by completing the Request for Outside Activity form.
         
    • 57Q27: My lab wishes to retain me for additional time. How do I extend or change my status?
      • A27:   If your lab wishes to retain you for additional time, your Institute/Center (IC) will need to submit the proper request prior to the expiration of your current award or appointment. After the submission of the request, DIS will supply immigration documentation to keep you in status or make the appropriate application for your change in status or extension of status. Refer your IC’s administrative office to our Checklists for additional guidance.
         
    • 58Q28: How do I obtain a translation of my foreign language documents?
      • A28:   The NIH Library offers a translation service for documents required to carry out NIH business. You can find more information on this service here. Please note that you will need to make other arrangements for personal translations.
         
  • H-1B Temporary Worker
    • 1Q1: What is an H-1B?
      • A1:   A H-1B is a non-immigrant visa classification that allows the temporary employment of foreign national workers who will perform professional services in a “specialty occupation” for a specific employer.
         
    • 2Q2: What is a “specialty occupation”?
      • A2:   A specialty occupation is one that requires the theoretical or practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in fields of endeavor, such as physical or life sciences, medicine and health, etc. It also requires the attainment of a baccalaureate or higher degree or the equivalent in education and experience.
         
        At the NIH, however, H-1B positions require a doctoral-level degree.
         

    • 3Q3: When does the NIH sponsor H-1B temporary workers?
      • A3.   Assuming the individual meets the requirements described in Q2 above (What is a specialty occupation?) the individual must be approved by an NIH Institute or Center (IC) for an appointment to a government employee position (known as an “FTE” or full-time equivalent). Common employee positions are Research Fellow, Staff Scientist, or Investigator/Tenure-track.

        Additional information about the use of the H-1B at NIH is available here.

        • Note 1: Visiting Fellows at the NIH are not employees, and are therefore, ineligible for NIH H-1B sponsorship.
        • Note 2: Individuals subject to 212(e) (i.e. the J-1 Exchange Visitor two-year home country physical presence requirement) are also ineligible for an H-1B until they satisfy this requirement.  Review our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the two-year requirement for more information.
           
    • 4Q4: How do I obtain a full-time equivalent (FTE) position so that the NIH can sponsor me for an H-1B?
      • A4:   Check with your NIH sponsor/supervisor or your administrative office for available FTE positions within your IC. Additional guidance can be found here
         
        Once the FTE appointment has been approved, the IC must send a request or case to the NIH’s Division of International Services (DIS) to obtain H-1B sponsorship. There are a number of steps involved in the sponsorship process that include outside government agencies, such as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To learn about these agencies and processing times, click here. Please note that these times provide only an estimate. Processing times are very erratic and can change without notice. Each case is unique, so times will vary.
         
    • 5Q5: I am a Visiting Fellow sponsored by the NIH as a J-1 Exchange Visitor. Can the NIH sponsor me for an H-1B?
      • A5:   H-1B sponsorship is not available to Visiting Fellows (since fellows are not NIH employees). 
         
        You could be eligible for H-1B sponsorship, however, if you are approved for appointment to an FTE position and meet H-1B eligibility. You must also satisfy the 212(e) requirement before you are eligible for H-1B sponsorship.
         
    • 6Q6: My Institute/Center has approved me for an FTE. What documents must the IC send to the DIS for the approved FTE case?
    • 7Q7: What documents do I need to submit with the FTE case?
      • A7:   Work with your IC’s administrative office on the required documentation. Primarily, you will need to complete the H-1B Petition Worksheet, which you will provide to your IC for inclusion with the FTE case (see Q6 above).
         
    • 8Q8: My IC sent the approved FTE case to the DIS. How long does it take to process/obtain an H-1B?
      • A8:   To learn about processing times, click here. Please note that these times provide only an estimate. Processing times are very erratic and can change without notice. Each case is unique, so times will vary.
         
        In general, however,processing times for an H-1B case typically involve:

        • IC processing times = varies (dependent upon your IC’s delegations
        • DIS processing times = 45 days (or less)
        • Department of Labor (DOL)
          • Prevailing Wage Determination = 1 to 60 days
          • Labor Condition Application = 7 business days
        • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) = varies (see links below)
        • Department of State (DOS)
          • Visa application (if abroad)
          • Waiver of two-year home residence requirement (if applicable)

        DIS recommends that the ICs submit H-1B sponsorship cases approximately 6-8 months prior to the prospective start date.
         

    • 9Q9: Does being subject to the J-1 two-year home residence requirement affect the time it takes to process an H-1B?
      • A9:   Yes.  The scientist must satisfy this requirement before eligible for the H-1B.  Most scientists satisfy this requirement by obtaining a waiver.  The scientist should initiate a waiver of the J-1 two-year home residence requirement at least 4-6 months prior to the date that the DIS must file the H-1B petition with the USCIS.
         
    • 10Q10: I heard there is a limit on the number of H-1B visas. Is this true?
      • A10:   Yes – there is a limit on the number of H-1B visas available each fiscal year (which runs from October 1 to September 30). This is known as the “H-1B Cap.”
         
        Luckily, the NIH is not subject to the H-1B cap. H-1B regulations exempt certain organization, such as governmental research organizations, from the cap.
         
    • 11Q11: What are the fees involved with the H-1B?
      • A11:   The USCIS charges filing fees for the H-1B application or I-129 petition. Check with the DIS to confirm the current rates.
         
    • 12Q12: Can the H-1B process be expedited (“premium processing”)?
      • A12:   Yes – the USCIS offers an expedited service known as “Premium Processing” for a special fee payment. If premium processing is being considered, please consult with the DIS.
         
    • 13Q13: Who pays for the USCIS premium processing and H-1B filing fee?
      • A13:   At the NIH, these fees are paid by the H-1B beneficiary.

        Upon special approval by the NIH Office of Intramural Research (OIR), the USCIS premium processing fee could be paid by the NIH Institute/Center (IC) if there is a well-documented, urgent scientific need for the premium service.  The IC must describe the urgent scientifc need and extenuating circumstances that warrant the premium processing fee payment in a memorandum signed by the IC's Scientific Director.  Requesting approval for premium processing is only used for urgent, scientific reasons; administrative reasons are not grounds for approval.

        The IC must submit the signed memorandum to the OIR for review, along with the H-1B beneficiary's CV.  If the OIR approves the request, the IC may then pay the fee.  However, the IC must first consult with the DIS about the fee payment before preparing the actual check. 

        Note that payment of the premium processing fee only expedites USCIS processing.  It does not expedite the DIS processing nor other government agencies involved in the process.

         

    • 14Q14: Can I travel internationally while my change of status to H-1B is pending with the USCIS?
      • A14:   Travel is not recommended in this situation. If you must travel during this time, consult with the DIS.
         
    • 15Q15: I have been offered H-1B sponsorship at the NIH. What do I need to do for my family members?
      • A15:   Family members are eligible for H-4 dependent status. Family members are defined as your spouse and/or unmarried children under age 21.
         
        Provide your family’s information to your IC’s administrative office so that their information is included with the approved FTE case sent to the DIS. Be sure to fully answer item “E. Family Information” on the H-1B Petition Worksheet, which you will provide to your IC for inclusion with the FTE case (see Q6 above - My Institute/Center has approved me for an FTE. What documents must the IC send to the DIS for the approved FTE case?).
         
    • 16Q16: Do my family members have to be in H-4 status?
      • A16:   Family members can have their own independent status if they qualify for it. Keep in mind, however, that your dependents must always maintain a lawful status while in the U.S.
         
    • 17Q17: Can my H-4 dependents work in the U.S.?
      • A17:   Immigration regulations prohibit employment by H-4 dependents.
         
    • 18Q18: Can my H-4 dependents attend school?
      • A18:   H-4 dependents may study part- or full-time. However, some schools may have special requirements, such as changing to a student visa classification. Contact the school for more information.
         
    • 19Q19: Can my H-4 dependents volunteer at the NIH?
      • A19:   Depending on the type of activity, the H-4 dependent may or may not be able to volunteer at the NIH. Permissible volunteer activities for H-4 dependents are ones that are recognized volunteer activities. That is, they are open to any person who wants to volunteer and would not displace a U.S. worker. For example, volunteering with the NIH Clinical Center’s Patient Volunteer Ambassador Program would be a permissible, recognized volunteer activity.
         
        HOWEVER, H-4 dependents cannot be “Special Volunteers” at the NIH. Special Volunteers do*not* fit the above description because they provide a service to the NIH, such as research services, direct patient care, clerical support, technical assistance, or any other necessary service for the NIH. The NIH receives a benefit from the unpaid service. Such service requires permission to work.
         
    • 20Q20: How do I apply for an H-1B visa?
      • A20:   Information on visa application is provided on our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about General Immigration Information. 
         
        NOTE: If you were previously subject to the J-1 two-year home residence requirement, your application must also include evidence that you have satisfied this requirement.
         
    • 21Q21: I have been approved for H-1B status. What rules must I follow? In other words, how do I maintain my H-1B status?
      • A21:   Details on maintaining H-1B status are available here.
         
    • 22Q22: I have been approved for H-1B status. Can I travel internationally?
      • A22:   Yes - please review our H-1B Travel Advisories for guidance.
         
        While an H-1B petition is pending with the USCIS, travel can be complicated. See Q25 and Q26 below (Can my H-1B be renewed? AND Can I travel internationally while my change of status to H-1B is pending with the USCIS?).
         
    • 23Q23: How long can I remain in H-1B status?
      • A23:   H-1B status is valid for the duration listed on the H-1B approval notice (either on the Form I-797 or Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record).  Please review our Form I-94 Automation handout with information on how to access your I-94 information. 
         
        Typically, the H-1B status has a maximum duration of six years.  However, the length of your H-1B sponsorship at the NIH is dependent upon how long your IC can sponsor you (see Q25 below - Can my H-1B be renewed?).
         
    • 24Q24: I heard that an H-1B can be extended beyond six years. How do I qualify for this?
      • A24:   If you have filed for lawful permanent residence (LPR), such as a Form I-140 Immigration Petition or a Labor Certification, and the application has been pending for 365 days, you may qualify for this type of extension. Alternatively, it may be possible to “re-capture” time you spent abroad (other than short vacation or meetings) to “extend” your H-1B status. Discuss eligibility for these types of extensions with the DIS.
         
    • 25Q25: Can my H-1B be renewed?
      • A25:   It may be possible to renew or extend your H-1B. Discuss renewal with your IC. Please note that any renewal is contingent upon the H-1B maximum duration (see Q23 above - How long can I remain in H-1B status?) and NIH policy duration limitations. If approved for renewal, your IC must send the DIS a renewal FTE case (by following the Visiting Scientist (FTE)” checklist).
         
    • 26Q26: Can I travel internationally while my H-1B extension is pending with the USCIS?
      • A26:   Generally, yes, but certain conditions apply. If you must travel during this time, consultwith the DIS.
         
    • 27Q27: Can I switch to another laboratory/branch within the NIH?
      • A27:   It may be possible to switch to another laboratory/branch after the DIS reviews and approves the switch. The new laboratory/branch must send a “transfer” FTE case to the DIS (follow theVisiting Scientist (FTE) checklists). The DIS reviews the case to see if an amended H-1B petition is necessary before you can move.
         
    • 28Q28: Can I engage in outside activities while under NIH’s H-1B sponsorship?
      • A28:   You will need approval from the NIH Ethics Program for any outside activities, as well as DIS approval, before beginning such activity. Provide the details of your planned activity to your Ethics office.
         
        Provide the details to the DIS by submitting our “Request for Outside Activity” form. The form must be submitted before beginning the activity.
         
        Please note that H-1B regulations prohibit you from receiving payments from other organizations (unless you receive USCIS approval to work in H-1B status for that organization).
         
    • 29Q29: Can I transfer my H-1B to another employer?
      • A29:   It is possible to have another U.S. employer become your H-1B sponsor. Work with your new employer on your eligibility for H-1B sponsorship by them before resigning your current position. In some situations, it may be possible to begin your employment with the new employer under H-1B portability provisions.

        • Coming to the NIH: Carefully determine a start date with your current employer, your new NIH supervisor/sponsor, and the DIS. The DIS, however, must first receive the documents from your Institute/Center to initiate this action. Once notified by the DIS, complete the separation paperwork with your current employer. Your current employer would then withdraw their H-1B sponsorship effective your resignation date.
        • Leaving NIH: Carefully determine a start date with your new employer and your current NIH supervisor/sponsor. Once notified by your new employer, complete the NIH separation paperwork with your IC’s administrative office and have a termination notice sent to the DIS. Upon receipt, the DIS will withdraw NIH’s H-1B sponsorship effective your resignation date. Review our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Leaving the NIH for further details.
        • H-1B Portability: Your new employer can choose to begin your employment by “porting” your current H-1B approval. Certain conditions apply to invoke portability, such as the new employer must first timely file a non-frivolous petition with the USCIS to become your new H-1B sponsor (which should be filed before you resign from your current position). If you are coming to the NIH, the DIS will notify you if you are eligible for H-1B portability.
           
    • 30Q30: I am coming to the NIH under my current H-1B approval (“H-1B portability”). Can I travel internationally while the NIH’s petition is pending with the USCIS?
      • A30:   Generally, yes, but certain conditions apply. If you must travel during this time, consult with the DIS.
         
    • 163Q31: Can I apply for a “green card” while sponsored by the NIH as an H-1B?
      • A31:   The H-1B allows “dual” intent, which means that you can pursue U.S. lawful permanent residence (LPR)/”green card” while maintaining H-1B status. Please see our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Lawful Permanent Residence for more information on this topic.
         
        Contact the DIS before taking any action that may affect your immigration status (such as applying for a green card). Please note that the NIH has Ethics policies that may limit certain letters in support of a self-petitioned LPR petition.
         
  • J-1 Exchange Visitor
    • 66Q1: What is a J-1?
      • A1:   A J-1 is a non-immigrant visa classification used to invite foreign nationals to participate in an exchange program with a United States (U.S.) host institution. The purpose is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and foreign nations. 
         
        There are 13 subcategories of J-1 Exchange Visitors, from Au Pairs to Professor and Research Scholars. The purpose of the Exchange Visitor Program at the NIH is to support biomedical research training. As such, the NIH can sponsor scientists in the following three subcategories:

        1. Short-Term Scholar (for research awards/assignments less than six months)
        2. Research Scholar (for research awards/assignments six months to five years)
        3. Government Visitor (for influential or distinguished individuals engaged in consultation, observation, training or demonstration of special skills)

        Due to the importance of cultural and educational exchange, all Exchange Visitors sponsored by the NIH are required to return to their home countries for two years to share the knowledge and experience gained while at the NIH. Review our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about this requirement [known as "212(e)"] for more information.

        Additional information about the J-1 program is available on the Department of State (DOS) J-1 Visa web site.  Be sure to also review their Welcome Brochure.

         

    • 67Q2: How does a scientist qualify for J-1 sponsorship by the NIH?
      • A2: In order for the NIH to provide J-1 sponsorship, the scientist must be approved by an NIH Institute or Center (IC) for a fellowship award or assignment. In addition, eligible scientists must possess:

        • At least a Masters-level degree from a U.S. or foreign college or university. Depending upon the terms of the NIH award or assignment, a doctoral-level degree may be required;
        • Basic knowledge/experience in the specific scientific field of endeavor;
        • Adequate funding to financially support yourself and any dependents (at least $25,000 on an annual basis);
        • Proficiency in English. 
    • 68Q3: How do I obtain a fellowship award or assignment so that the NIH can sponsor me for a J-1?
      • A3:   Information on finding such opportunities is available here.

        Once the award or assignment has been approved, the IC must send a request or case to the NIH’s Division of International Services (DIS) to obtain J-1 sponsorship - see Q4 below (My Institute/Center has approved me for an award or assignment. What documents must the IC send to the DIS for the approved award or assignment?) for the required documents. There are a number of steps involved in the sponsorship process that may include outside government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of State (DOS) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To learn about these agencies and processing times, click here. Please note that these times provide only an estimate. Processing times are very erratic and can change without notice. Each case is unique, so times will vary.
         
    • 69Q4: My Institute/Center (IC) has approved me for an award or assignment. What documents must the IC send to the DIS for the approved award or assignment?
      • A4:      Your IC must send us the documents listed on the appropriate checklist that fits your NIH designation.
         
    • 70Q5: What documents do I need to submit for the approved award or assignment?
      • A5:   Work with your Institute/Center (IC)’s administrative office on the required documentation.
         
    • 71Q6: My IC sent the approved case to the DIS. How long does it take to obtain a J-1?
      • A6:   To learn about processing times, click here. Please note that these times provide only an estimate. Processing times are very erratic and can change without notice. Each case is unique, so times will vary.
         
    • 72Q7: What is SEVIS?
      • A7:   SEVIS stands for the “Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.” It is an internet based program used to track and monitor schools and programs, students, exchange visitors, and their dependents throughout the duration of their stay in the U.S. All details of a student’s and exchange visitor’s stay are entered into SEVIS (such as dates, funding, research area, U.S. residential address, etc.). The J-1 Form DS-2019 (see Q8 below - What is the Form DS-2019?) is produced from SEVIS.
         
        SEVIS is managed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but is accessed by the host institution and other U.S. government agencies, such as the Department of State (DOS). At the NIH, only the DIS has authorized access to SEVIS. Additional information about SEVIS is available here.
         
    • 73Q8: What is the Form DS-2019?
      • A8:   The Form DS-2019 is the “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status.” It is the document that allows you to obtain a J-1 visa (and any J-2 visa for dependents) when abroad and J-1 status once inside the U.S. All J-1 and J-2 Exchange Visitors must possess his/her own Form DS-2019. The form provides the details of your program while in the U.S.
         
    • 74Q9: What are the fees involved with the J-1?
      • A9:   As participants in a government sponsored (G-3) Exchange Visitor program, NIH-sponsored J-1 Exchange Visitors and any J-2 dependents are exempt from most visa fees. Refer to our J-1 Fee Notice for more details.
         
        If you are inside the U.S. and changing your status to J-1 (and J-2 for any dependents), the USCIS charges filing fees for the change of status application. Check with the DIS to confirm the current rates.
         
    • 75Q10: I have been offered J-1 sponsorship at the NIH. What do I need to do for my family members?
      • A10:   Family members are eligible for J-2 dependent status. Family members are defined as your spouse and/or unmarried children under age 21. Each family member must possess his/her own Form DS-2019.
         
        Provide your family’s information to your IC’s administrative office so that their information is included with the approved case sent to the DIS - see Q4 above (My Institute/Center (IC) has approved me for an award or assignment. What documents must the IC send to the DIS for the approved award or assignment?).
         
        If you are currently at the NIH and now want your family members to join you (or you recently got married), you can request a Form DS-2019 for your dependent (s) by submitting our Request for Dependent Form DS-2019 to the DIS. After your dependent(s) arrives to the U.S., notify your IC and the DIS. They must be added to your health insurance as soon as possible due to J-1 requirements – see Q18 below (Am I required to have health insurance?).
         
    • 76Q11: Do my family members have to be in J-2 status?
      • A11:   Family members can have their own independent status if they qualify for it. Keep in mind, however, that your dependents must always maintain a lawful status while in the U.S.
         
    • 77Q12: Can my J-2 dependents attend school?
      • A12:   Yes. J-2 dependents may study part- or full-time. However, some schools may have special requirements, such as changing to a student visa classification. Contact the school for more information.
         
    • 78Q13: Can my J-2 dependents work in the U.S.?
      • A13:   Yes. J-2 dependents may apply for permission to work from the USCIS. Guidance on this topic is available here. Please note that your dependent cannot work until s/he receives the work permission card from the USCIS (known as the Employment Authorization Document or EAD).
         
    • 79Q14: Can my J-2 dependents volunteer at the NIH?
      • A14:   Depending on the type of activity, the J-2 dependent may or may not be able to volunteer at the NIH. Permissible volunteer activities for J-2 dependents are ones that are recognized volunteer activities. That is, they are open to any person who wants to volunteer and would not displace a U.S. worker. For example, volunteering with the NIH Clinical Center’s Patient Volunteer Ambassador Program would be a permissible, recognized volunteer activity.

        HOWEVER, J-2 dependents can only be “Special Volunteers” at the NIH provided they have received a valid Employment Authorization Document from the USCIS (see Q13 above - Can my J-2 dependents work in the U.S.?). Special Volunteers do *not* fit the above description because they provide a service to the NIH, such as research services, direct patient care, clerical support, technical assistance, or any other necessary service for the NIH. The NIH receives a benefit from the unpaid service. Such service requires permission to work.
         

    • 80Q15: How do I apply for a J-1 visa?
    • 81Q16: I have been approved for J-1 status. Can I travel internationally?
      • A16:   Yes – review our J-1 Travel Advisories for guidance.

        Please note that travel while a change of status to J-1 is pending with the USCIS can be complicated. If you must travel during this time, consult with the DIS.
         

    • 82Q17: I have been approved for J-1 status. What rules must I follow? In other words, how do I maintain my J-1 status?
      • A17:    Details on maintaining J-1 status are available here.
         
    • 83Q18: Am I required to have health insurance?
      • A18:   Yes. J-1 regulations require that each J-1 exchange visitor (and J-2 dependents) must have insurance for sickness or accident at all times during the J-1 program. See item 5 on the following guidance for maintaining your J-1 status for the specific insurance requirements. You may also visit the DOS website for additional information on this requirement.
         
        For NIH Visiting Program participants, the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences (FAES) offers health insurance that meets J-1 requirements. Check with your Institute/Center (IC) about eligibility for this insurance. Information on FAES insurance is available here.
         
    • 84Q19: How long can I remain in J-1 status?
      • A19:   J-1 status is valid for the duration listed on the Form DS-2019 (see “Section Three” on the DS-2019 for the dates). Depending upon your J-1 category - see Q1 (What is a J-1?) above. The J-1 has a maximum duration of:

        1. Short-Term Scholar Maximum Duration - Six months;
        2. Research Scholar Maximum Duration - Five years**;
        3. Government Visitor Maximum Duration - Eighteen months.

        Note, however, that the length of your J-1 sponsorship at the NIH is dependent upon how long your IC can sponsor you - see Q4 above (My Institute/Center has approved me for an award or assignment. What documents must the IC send to the DIS for the approved award or assignment?).

        **Under limited circumstances, extensions beyond the maximum duration for a J-1 Research Scholar may be possible on a case-by-case basis.  For more information, see the DIS Guidance for Extensions Beyond Five Years for J-1 Exchange Visitors (Research Scholar Category) in the G-7 Program.

         

    • 85Q20: Can my J-1 be renewed?
      • A20:   It may be possible to renew or extend your J-1 status. Discuss renewal with your IC. Please note that any renewal is contingent upon the J-1 maximum duration- see Q19 above (How long can I remain in J-1 status?) and NIH policy duration limitations. If approved for renewal, your IC must send the DIS a renewal case (by following the documents listed on the appropriate checklist).
         
    • 86Q21: As a J-1, can I switch to another laboratory/branch within the NIH?
      • A21:   It may be possible to switch to another laboratory/branch after the DIS reviews and approves the switch. The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program allows for such movement as necessary to facilitate the J-1’s research objectives.
         
        The new laboratory/branch must send a “transfer” case to the DIS (by following the documents listed on the appropriate checklist). In addition, the new laboratory/branch must include a signed Inter/Intra IC Transfer Request, which certifies that the research at the new IC is a continuation of the research started at the current IC. The DIS reviews the case to see if the move is permissible.
         
    • 87Q22: Can I transfer my J-1 to another institution?
      • A22:   It may be possible to transfer your J-1 sponsorship to another institution after the DIS reviews and approves the transfer. The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program allows for such movement as necessary to facilitate J-1 research objectives. 
         
        Work with your new host institution on your eligibility to transfer before leaving your current position. Whether you are coming to the NIH or leaving the NIH, the DIS will review your eligibility for transfer, which typically should occur by the end of your 4th year of J-1 status.

        • Coming to the NIH: Carefully determine a start date with your current host institution, your new NIH supervisor/sponsor, and the DIS. The DIS, however, must first receive the documents listed in at Q4 above (My Institute/Center has approved me for an award or assignment. What documents must the IC send to the DIS for the approved award or assignment?) to initiate this action and work with your current host institution for their approval of the transfer. Once notified by the DIS, complete the separation paperwork with your current employer. Your current host institution will update SEVIS with the effective date of your transfer to the NIH. Your new Form DS-2019 with the NIH will be generated on the effective date of the transfer.
        • Leaving NIH: Carefully determine a start date with your new host institution and your current NIH supervisor/sponsor. To consider a transfer, send the DIS the completed J-1 Transfer OUT Request form. In addition, complete the NIH separation paperwork with your IC’s administrative office and have a termination notice sent to the DIS. If approved for transfer, the DIS will update SEVIS with the effective date of your transfer from the NIH. Your new Form DS-2019 with your new host institution will be generated on the effective date of the transfer. Review our Leaving NIH guidance for further details.
           
    • 88Q23: Can I participate in outside activities while under NIH’s J-1 sponsorship? For example, I am a Post-doctoral Visiting Fellow and would like to take a class or teach a course at FAES.
      • A23:   Regulations limit J-1 Exchange Visitors to outside activities that are merely incidental to their primary research objective. You will need review and/or approval from your IC, as well as the DIS, before beginning such activity. Provide the details of your planned activity (such as taking or teaching a class) to your IC. Provide the details to the DIS by submitting our Request for Outside Activity form. The form must be submitted before beginning the activity.
         
        For guidance on permissible activities, please see the NIH Guidelines for outside activities, which applies to fellows (trainees) and other non-NIH employees.
         
    • 89Q24: I have completed my J-1 program at the NIH as a Research Scholar. Can I return to the U.S. on another J-1 program as a Research Scholar?
      • A24:   Unfortunately, this is not possible. Once you have completed your program (whether on time or early), you are subject to a 24-month bar on repeat participation. Under this bar, you must wait 24-months before you are eligible to begin another new J-1 program as a Research Scholar(or Professor). This applies whether you want to return to the NIH or to another host institution in the U.S.  This bar also applies to your J-2 dependents (meaning that your dependents are also not eligible to begin a new program as a J-1 Research Scholar or Professor for a period of 24 months).

        Do not confuse this bar with the two-year home residence requirement. Review our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the two-year requirement [known as "212(e)"] for more information.
         

  • Leaving the NIH
  • LPR: After Obtaining LPR Status
  • LPR: Definition and NIH Sponsorship Requirements
    • 117Q1: What is Lawful Permanent Residence (LPR)?
      • A1:   Lawful permanent residence is granted to individuals who intend to make the U.S. their principal place of residence, legally affording them the privilege of residing permanently in the U.S. as an immigrant. It allows unrestricted employment; protection under local, state, federal laws; and in general, the ability to apply for United States citizenship after five years. It also imposes new obligations: the individual must pay taxes on worldwide income, and males ages 18 to 26 must register with the US Selective Service System. Lawful permanent residents are typically not able to vote.
         
        Individuals who have obtained lawful permanent residence (LPR) are also commonly referred to as “green card” holders.
         
    • 118Q2: What is the immigration process to obtain LPR status?
      • A2:   The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), must determine that an individual is eligible for an immigrant visa, for example, as the beneficiary of a Family-based (Form I-130) petition or an Employment-based (Form I-140) petition.
         
        Once the individual is deemed eligible for an immigrant visa, there are two ways to obtain lawful permanent residence:
        1. By filing the Form I-485 application to adjust status within the U.S., or
        2. By obtaining an immigrant visa overseas from a U.S. Embassy/Consulate and applying at the port of entry for admission as a lawful permanent resident.

        Additional information is available from the USCIS.

    • 119Q3: What are the requirements for NIH sponsorship of LPR?
      • A3: In order to be considered for NIH sponsorship, a scientist must hold or be approved for a permanent/indefinite Full-time Equivalent (FTE) appointment. Visiting Fellows and Research/Clinical Fellows are not eligible for NIH LPR sponsorship. The NIH Institute/Center may request LPR sponsorship when the following conditions are met:

        • There must be an expectation for long-term employment with at least two years remaining at the NIH at the time of filing
        • Staff Scientists/Clinicians or their extramural equivalents must have been in the relevant designation for six months. The time-in-designation requirement does not apply to more senior positions such as Tenure-Track or Tenured Investigators

        Note: LPR sponsorship will not be started within six months of another major filing such as O-1 or IGA.​
    • 120Q4: What are the credentials required for NIH sponsorship of LPR status?
      • A4:   The DIS/NIH generally files Employment-based LPR petitions under the basis of the scientist possessing Extraordinary Ability in the Sciences (First Preference Category), which is limited to a small percentage of those who have risen to the very top of their field. When the DIS receives an approved sponsorship request from the NIH Institute/Center (IC), the DIS will evaluate whether the scientist’s record is sufficient to support this type of petition. In addition, final approval of the petition is determined by the USCIS.
         
    • 121Q5: Can the NIH sponsor an I-140 petition under other categories, e.g. EB-1/EB-2 “Outstanding Researcher” or “National Interest Waiver” (NIW)?
      • A5:   Since the NIH is not an academic, non-profit or private research institution, we cannot sponsor individuals under the “Outstanding Researcher” category.
         
        In limited circumstances and if approved by the IC Director, the DIS will consider pursuing an “NIW” petition.
         
    • 122Q6: How does an Institute/Center (IC) start the LPR process?
      • A6:   The IC starts the process by appointing a scientist to a permanent/indefinite Full-time  Equivalent (FTE) appointment. The IC must then complete an LPR sponsorship request form. An IC Administrative Officer or Key Contact can e-mail DISLPR@mail.nih.gov to obtain the request form.
         
    • 123Q7: How long does it take to get LPR status (“green card”) via NIH sponsorship?
      • A7:   Processing times can vary based on the circumstances of a specific case. In general, however,processing times to receive LPR typically involve:

        • IC submission of request form = varies (dependent upon your IC’s delegations)
        • Scientist submission of evidence = varies (dependent upon how quickly the scientist gathers the evidence)
        • DIS processing times = 75 days AFTER receipt of ALL evidence (or less). This time does not include additional evidence that may be requested by the DIS from the IC and/or scientist
        • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services = varies (see links below)
          Regular processing – I-140 & I-485;
          Premium processing – I-140 only; available in limited circumstances.
           
    • 124Q8: When should an IC start the process?
      • A8:   The IC should start the process as soon as it determines the need to retain a scientist permanently. IC's are encouraged to work with the DIS for a case-by-case determination based on factors such as remaining eligibility for nonimmigrant status, other nonimmigrant options, dependent children “aging out” (i.e. turning age 21), etc.
         
    • 125Q9: While the I-140 is pending, should the scientist maintain an underlying non-immigrant status, e.g. H-1B, O-1? Additionally, can the scientist travel internationally?
      • A9:   In general, the DIS recommends that a scientist maintain an underlying nonimmigrant status while the I-140 petition is pending. However, the DIS will review this with the scientist on a case-by-case basis.
         
        Regarding international travel, the scientist should consult with the DIS before leaving the U.S. Travel is possible while maintaining certain underlying nonimmigrant statuses, or with “Advance Parole”, if an I-485 and I-131 have been filed.
         
  • LPR: Other Paths to Permanent Residence
  • United States Income Taxes
    • 130Q1: How can I obtain tax advice?
      • A1:   Procedural advice, literature, and information tailored to the various NIH Visiting Program awards and appointments are available at the DIS website.

        Your tax liability is a personal matter between you and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Division of International Services (DIS) neither prepares individual returns nor represents individuals before the IRS or state tax authorities. If you require these services, we encourage you to consult with a professional tax advisor of your choice who has expertise with foreign national tax issues.
         
    • 131Q2: Am I required to attend a Visiting Program Nonresident Tax Orientation?
      • A2:      Upon checking-in with the DIS after your arrival to the NIH, you will be scheduled to attend the next available nonresident tax orientation. Although attendance is not required, tax guidance for foreign national individuals is a very specialized area in which not all tax professionals have the necessary expertise. The DIS highly recommends your attendance, as the nonresident tax orientation provides an overview of a very complex system to help you become familiar with applicable tax requirements during your stay in the United States.
         
    • 132Q3: What is the difference between a "Nonresident Tax Orientation" and a "Tax Preparation Workshop"?
      • A3:   Visiting Program Nonresident Tax Orientations provide a general overview of tax related information pertinent to those researchers who are new to the NIH.

        Tax preparation workshops NIH Visiting Program participants with the preparation of annual federal and state income tax returns (typically due April 15).
         
    • 133Q4: When are Nonresident Tax Orientations and Tax Preparation Workshops held?
      • A4:   Visiting Program Nonresident Tax Orientations are held monthly for newly arrived foreign national researchers. If you cannot attend your scheduled nonresident orientation, you can attend a future orientation. The schedule can be accessed at the DIS website.

        Tax preparation workshops are held each year in the weeks preceding the April 15 filing deadline. The schedule can be accessed at the DIS website.
         

    • 134Q5: Must I file a federal and state income tax return?
      • A5:   Generally, Yes. Anyone who works and receives income in the United States must file an annual income tax return for federal and state taxes, regardless if you are exempt from taxes based on a tax treaty. Even if you do not receive income from a U.S. source, it may be possible that you could still be taxed on your world-wide income.
         
    • 135Q6: If a tax treaty applies to me, do I still need to file a tax return?
      • A6:   Yes. Even if you are exempt from taxes based on a tax treaty, you must still file an annual tax return to report this exemption.
         
    • 136Q7: If a tax treaty applies to me, do I still need to pay state taxes and file a state tax return?
      • A7:   It depends on the state. Each state has a different tax authority than the federal system. Therefore, many states, including Maryland, do not recognize federal tax treaties as applicable to their states.
         
    • 137Q8: Why are there more tax treaty benefits for Visiting Fellows than for employees (full-time equivalents)?
      • A8:   Tax treaties are very specific regarding the type of income that is eligible for a tax treaty benefit. Many of the treaties have benefits available for “grant” or “stipend” recipients, but not for individuals earning “salaries” or “wages.”
         
    • 138Q9: My country has a tax treaty, but I do not see it detailed on the DIS website. Why is my country missing?
      • A9:   Although tax treaties exist with many countries, tax treaties are very specific regarding the type of income that is eligible for a tax treaty benefit. The tax treaties detailed on the DIS web site have been determined to apply to individuals participating in the NIH Visiting Program.
         
    • 139Q10: I am from a country that is listed as having a tax treaty, but the DIS has indicated that I am not eligible for the benefit. How is this possible?
      • A10:   In addition to the type of income, tax treaties are also based upon the country where you last had “tax residence.” The country of “tax residence” is not simply your country of citizenship; rather it is the country where you last paid income taxes before arrival to the NIH. Establishing “tax residence” is generally based upon your “habitual residence” or “center of life” just prior to your arrival to the NIH. Residency status for tax purposes is entirely different than residency status for immigration purposes.
         
    • 140Q11: What if I disagree with the determination regarding my tax treaty eligibility?
      • A11:   The DIS staff does their best to ascertain the facts to determine tax treaty eligibility. If you disagree, contact the DIS to provide additional details regarding your specific situation. The DIS will then request a review from the DIS tax consultant. The determination from the DIS tax consultant is final. The NIH must withhold taxes as necessary under all applicable tax laws and will do so in situations where treaty exemption is not clearly evident.

        Ultimately, taxes are a personal matter between you and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Therefore, if you feel that the tax treaty benefit does apply to you, and the NIH has withheld taxes, you are welcome to file for the benefit along with your annual tax return. If the IRS accepts and processes the return, you will receive a refund of the taxes that were withheld by the NIH. However, you should be prepared to substantiate your treaty claim in the event of an audit; the DIS is unable to assist with these claims.
         

    • 141Q12: When will I receive my year-end tax earnings statement?
      • A12:   Employees will receive a Form W-2 by the end of January. Fellows either receive a Form 1042S or Form 1099 by the end of March. Additional information is available on the DIS website
  • Waiver of the Two-year Home Residence Requirement


 

If the above common questions do not help and if you would like to contact DIS, you can send an email to our Customer Service Team at dis@mail.nih.gov

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