Having a Visa
A visa is a sticker stamped on a page in your passport by a consular officer. Once you have a visa stamped in your passport, you are a visa holder. You need that stamp to enter the U.S. and the dates on the visa determine when it may be used. A visa is like a key that opens a door for a defined period of time. If you leave the U.S. and then wish to return later, you must have a valid, unexpired visa stamped in your passport to enter. If your visa has expired, you must apply for a new visa at a U.S. consular office abroad before being allowed to gain re-entry to the U.S.
Nonimmigrant J-1 status indicates a legal condition granted to a visa holder by an immigration officer at the port of entry into the U.S.. J-1 visa holders maintain this status by following DHS regulations that detail the responsibilities unique to their status. The immigration document (DS-2019) issued to you first establishes your eligibility to apply for a U.S. visa and then serves as proof of the responsibilities with which you must comply to remain legally present in the U.S. Maintaining a valid DS-2019 in your possession at all times is a significant part of maintaining status; without a valid document, you have no legal means to be in J-1 student status.
After arriving in Cleveland, there are some steps to ensure that you get off to a smooth start. These steps are mandatory in order to properly maintain your J-1 student visa status, so be certain to review them all carefully.
J-1 Student Status
J-1 students will be issued a DS-2019, either from CWRU or their sponsor, depending on the terms of their exchange program.
Whether the DS-2019 is issued by CWRU or a sponsor, a J-1 student is considered to be maintaining status if he/she:
- is properly registered in SEVIS
- is maintaining full-time enrollment status
- is making normal progress toward completing his/her course of study
- has not engaged in unauthorized employment
- maintains health insurance that meets the minimum requirements
- is not deportable on any grounds
Tips to maintain your status:
- Report your address to SIS at the beginning of every semester or whenever you move
- Keep your documents- DS-2019 and passport- current and valid at all times
- Enroll full-time every fall and spring
- Work only with proper authorization
For students who are in possession of a DS-2019 issued by CWRU, International Student Services (ISS) will be responsible for certain tasks to maintain their visa status.
For students who are in possession of a DS-2019 issued by a sponsor, the sponsor, not ISS will be responsible for certain tasks to maintain their visa status. ISS is happy to serve as a resource for all students; however, it will be necessary to consult with the sponsor on all matters pertaining to visa status such as registration, work authorization, DS-2019 extensions, etc.
Frequently Asked Questions for J-1 Students
Upon arrival in Cleveland as a new international student, you must check in with International Student Services (ISS). This process is done online and is the first step in properly maintaining your visa status.
Visit our step-by-step guide for more information on how to check in.
Upon completion of the process, ISS will be able to properly register your personal information in SEVIS and indicate to the government that you have arrived and are complying with federal regulations.
J-1 students who are continuing their education at CWRU do not need to check-in with ISS when they arrive on campus every semester. ISS ensures that you’re properly validated in SEVIS by verifying your enrollment status during subsequent semesters of study.
The only time when you would be required to submit your passport or the passport of your dependents to ISS would be if new ones are issued. ISS keeps copies of your documentation in your student file.
Again, if your DS-2019 is issued by a sponsor other than CWRU, be sure to contact them directly about their preferred processes and procedures to ensure that you properly maintain your J-1 status.
Within the first 10 days of first arriving in the U.S., you must report your address to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This is accomplished by providing your local address on Form AR-11, Change of Address Form and submitting it electronically to DHS.
After you’ve submitted your AR-11, anytime in the future that you move to a new location within the U.S., whether it be a different apartment in the same building or a whole new state, you must update the Student Information System (SIS) within 10 days of moving. The information that you log in SIS is automatically forwarded to ISS and we then use that information to update SEVIS. If SIS is not kept up to date, neither is the government. Failure to properly maintain that information with the government is a violation of your visa status.
Important points to keep in mind when maintaining/updating your address:
- Do not list CWRU’s main address or any department address as your local address. You must indicate where you are physically living.
- If you live on campus, make sure to include your box number. Only putting your street address does not tell the post office where you receive your mail. This will cause delays in receiving your mail or prevent you from receiving it all together.
- Do not list your apartment number or street number before your street name. This can cause confusion for the post office and delay delivery of your mail. In the U.S., the proper way to write your address is:
- Street Number Street Name, Apartment Number, City, State Zip
- Example: 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH, 44106 or 123 Main Street, Apt 456, Cleveland Heights, OH, 44120
A J-1 student must be enrolled full time.
The Department of Homeland Security defines a full-time course of study for undergraduate students as 12 semester credits for undergraduate study. Certain experiential learning opportunities allow for a full-time course load based on different registration requirements. Always consult with ISS about course registration to be sure that you're maintaining full-time status.
A full-time course load of nine credit hours is generally considered full time for graduate and professional programs; however, some programs do have different credit hour requirements.
Graduate students enrolled in thesis and project coursework will also find that certain courses come with full-time enrollment status even when registration is less than 9 credit hours. Always consult with ISS about course registration to be sure that you're maintaining full-time status.
Graduate students must also understand the impact that the Waiver of Registration has on their visa status. Read on to #15 for more information about this.
Part of your responsibility as a J-1 student is being registered in a full course of study during the academic year. The only time when a J-1 student is considered to be in status without being enrolled full time is during a vacation period between semesters, like summer break, so long as he or she is eligible and intends to enroll for the next semester.
Never drop below a full-time course of study during the academic year before having a conversation with ISS or your sponsor about your options. Dropping below full-time status without involving ISS or your sponsor will likely result in serious consequences that will negatively impact your visa status. If you have questions about the definition of full-time course of study, contact ISS.
If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot maintain full-time enrollment, ISS or your sponsor may be able to suggest options for you to maintain your status or will advise you about the proper steps to take if you cannot maintain status.
There are certain exceptions to the full-time course of study requirement; only ISS or your sponsor can determine if you qualify for an exception and authorize the Reduced Course Load (RCL). DHS allows individuals to be less than full time under these very specific RCL circumstances:
Valid academic reasons
There are a few valid academic reasons by which a student can maintain status without being enrolled in a full course of study. If you think you may have a valid academic reason for being unable to maintain full-time enrollment, you must discuss your situation with either ISS or your sponsor, whichever is appropriate, prior to withdrawing from coursework and provide the required documentation.
If ISS has issued your DS-2019, only ISS can determine whether or not you qualify for one of these exceptions based on the Application for Reduced Course Load that you submit.
Maintaining your status based on this reduced course load is only available once during an academic level and must be authorized by ISS or the sponsor prior to withdrawing from coursework. Without proper authorization from ISS, students are considered to be in violation of their visa status. You must resume full-time enrollment status in the semester immediately following the RCL semester.
Completing all course requirements in the current semester
Students who are completing their final semester of study may take less than a full-time course load if a lesser course load is necessary to complete the remaining program requirements during the final semester
Students requesting a Reduced Course Load in their final semester must submit this request to ISS in order to be considered for authorization.
A student who needs to drop below full time for medical reasons is considered to be in legal J-1 status during the illness if they provide documentation from U.S. licensed medical or mental health professionals to ISS. The student must be able to resume a full time course of study upon recovery. A J-1 student is only allowed to drop below a full course load for medical reasons for a total of 12 months during each academic level.
In the event that a student doesn’t qualify for RCL or have other viable options to maintain status, the student may choose to completely withdraw from the program and request authorization to do so from ISS or the sponsor. This withdrawal still results in failing to maintain status, but being authorized is better than failing to maintain status without any authorization. An authorized withdrawal provides a student with an additional period of time to arrange for their departure, while an unauthorized withdrawal doesn’t not. Based on the date the student is considered to have dropped below full-time enrollment status, and whether or not the withdrawal had been authorized, the international advisor will inform the student of how long s/he may legally remain in the U.S. and of how s/he may regain J-1 status, if desired, in the future.
Submit the Request for a New I-20 or DS-2019 Form and either email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or stop in to Tomlinson Hall, Room 143, to submit the form during walk-in hours.
Procedure for Sponsored Students
Contact your sponsor directly to discuss the specific procedure for requesting a replacement DS-2019.
The period of the exchange program is given in section 3 of the DS-2019 form. To avoid a lapse in status, the student should request an extension from ISS or their sponsor, whichever is appropriate, well in advance of the ending date printed in section 3.
Procedure for CWRU Sponsored Students
You must submit a complete DS-2019 extension request 3-4 weeks (sooner is always better) before your program completion date, as listed on your DS-2019.
As part of this process, you'll be asked to identify your advisor, who will then be contacted by ISS to provide additional information about your extension request. Undergraduate students should list their Dean in Undergraduate Studies. Graduate students should list their academic advisor.
If a medical reason has caused delays in meeting program requirements, please consult with an international student advisor about how to provide documentation from a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional (U.S. credentials required) as part of your extension request.
The international student advisor will review the documentation and issue a new DS-2019 with an extended graduation date for all qualifying program extension requests. Students will be notified by email to collect the new DS-2019 when it’s ready.
Ineligibility: Students who do not meet the requirements for an DS-2019 extension are considered out-of-status and must apply for reinstatement to legal J-1 status. Consult an international student advisor about the process and any other options.
Procedure for Sponsored Students
Contact your sponsor directly to discuss the specific procedure for extending your DS-2019. Be sure to do so well in advance of the program completion date so that you’re providing yourself with adequate time to gather required materials and time for your sponsor to process your request.
If your I-94 has been lost, stolen, or the information entered into the electronic I-94 system is incorrect, call the local Cleveland Customs and Border Protection office: 216.267.3600, then press option 2.
It is extremely important that a student who has lost his or her passport report this to the police immediately. The police report will likely be required when the student applies for a replacement passport from the home government.
Obtaining a new passport is done directly with the student’s home country's embassy or consulate and does not require any documentation from ISS. Each country’s procedure is different- some may require in-person applications while others accept request by mail- so students must investigate the process. This information is generally accessible on their website.
Maintaining a valid passport at all times while studying in the U.S. is also the student’s responsibility and required to maintain visa status. For a passport to be considered valid, it must be current for at least 6 months into the future at all times. Like issuance of a replacement passport, issuance of a new passport or extending a current passport is country specific so it’s essential that a student investigate the procedure well in advance of its expiry. The website of the home country’s embassy should have instructions regarding passport renewal or extension.
Students in J‑1 status may be employed in three situations:
- As part of the terms of a scholarship, fellowship or assistantship.
- On the premises of the campus the student is authorized to attend.
- Off-campus by showing serious, urgent and unforeseen circumstances that arose since acquiring exchange visitor status.
All J-1 employment must be authorized in writing by ISS or the sponsor. Students must be in good academic standing and must continue full-time studies while working. The employment may not exceed 20 hours per week during the academic year.
For more information, visit the J-1 Students Employment and Training page.
A J-1 transfer is a very time-sensitive process and requires careful coordination between a student’s current sponsor and their new sponsor; be sure to act promptly and consult with your sponsor if you have questions.
If the program sponsor is CWRU, provide the following information to ISS:
- the admission letter from your new school
- a completed Transfer-Out Form from CWRU
- any documentation that your new school wishes to have CWRU submit to them
An advisor will review all material and if the transfer is recommended, your SEVIS record will be updated to reflect the intent to transfer to a new program. The new sponsor will be able to issue the new DS-2019 for the new program after the date when the student is released from CWRU.
If the program sponsor is not CWRU, you will have to contact the sponsor directly and coordinate the transfer with them based on their procedures.
J-1 Exchange Visitor Program regulations require that J-1 Exchange Visitors (both student and scholar) and their J-2 dependents carry health insurance meeting specific minimum standards (Code of Federal Regulations – 22 CFR 62.14. Failure to maintain the required minimum insurance coverage can result in termination of J status.
Because health care expenses in the United States are expensive, coverage in the amounts listed below may not be sufficient to cover all expenses for medical care, and higher levels of coverage may be considered.
J-1 health insurance must provide the following minimum coverage (in U.S. dollars):
- Medical benefits of at least $100,000 per accident or illness;
- Repatriation of remains in the amount of $25,000;
- Expenses associated with the medical evacuation of the exchange visitor (or accompanying spouse or dependent children) to his or her home country in the amount of $50,000;
- A deductible not to exceed $500 per accident or illness.
An insurance policy secured to meet J-1 coverage requirements:
- May require a waiting period for preexisting conditions, which is reasonable as determined by current industry standards;
- May include a provision for co-insurance under the terms which the exchange visitor may be required to pay up to 25% of the covered benefits per accident or illness;
- Shall not unreasonably exclude coverage for perils inherent to the activities of the exchange program in which the exchange visitor participates.
Any policy, plan or contract must, at minimum, be:
- Underwritten by an insurance corporation having an A.M. Best rating of “A−” or above; a McGraw Hill Financial/Standard & Poor’s Claims-paying Ability rating of “A−” or above; a Weiss Research, Inc. rating of “B+” or above; a Fitch Ratings, Inc. rating of “A−” or above; a Moody’s Investor Services rating of “A3” or above; or such other rating as the Department of State may from time to time specify; or
- Backed by the full faith and credit of the government of the exchange visitor’s home country; or
- Part of a health benefits program offered on a group basis to employees or enrolled students by a designated sponsor; or
- Offered through or underwritten by a federally qualified Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) or eligible Competitive Medical Plan (CMP) as determined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In addition to being a federal requirement for J-1 students, having proper medical (or health) insurance is a requirement for all CWRU students. CWRU provides a student medical plan for all students (also available to their dependents for an additional cost) that meets all of the above listed criteria. The university conveniently bills the cost directly to students’ accounts so that they’re fully covered year-round.
There are many options for medical insurance; however, not all plans are equal. If you choose to waive CWRU’s student medical plan because you either already have insurance or have purchased another insurance plan, you must prove, in a timely manner and as described by University Health Service, that your plan meets the same level of comprehensive coverage that CWRU’s student medical plan provides. If the other plan does not meet CWRU standards, the CWRU student medical plan fee is reapplied to the student account and coverage goes into effect.
Some J-1 exchange visitors are required to return to their home country for two years at the completion of the J-1 program as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 212(e). This requirement is imposed for one of four reasons:
- The country and field are listed on the Exchange Visitors Skills list (a list of skills needed in the student’s home country).
- The exchange visitor has been funded by the U.S. government.
- The exchange visitor has been funded by the home country government.
- The exchange visitor has participated in a medical education training program sponsored by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.
The J-1 exchange visitor may not change to another status in the U.S. if he or she is subject to this requirement. In some circumstances a waiver is possible. For more information about applying for a waiver of the two-year home-country physical presence requirement, visit this website.
It is extremely important to maintain your legal status in the United States. The Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 imposes certain penalties on those who overstay their status in the United States and those who are “unlawfully” present for certain periods of time. DHS has published guidelines to outline these definitions- overstay and unlawfully present- as well as the penalties.
The visa of an individual who stays beyond the period authorized is automatically considered void (although it may appear to be valid as it is stamped in the passport). All subsequent nonimmigrant visa applications must be made in the country of nationality—applying for an In-Country Change of Status is not possible—unless the circumstances have been defined as “extraordinary” by the Department of State. If an individual has been unlawfully present in the United States for more than 180 days and less than one year, the individual is not eligible to be admitted to the U.S. for three years from departure from the U.S. Those who have been unlawfully present for more than one year are not eligible to be admitted to the U.S. for 10 years from departure from the U.S.
Immigration authorities have stated that an overstay and unlawful presence occurs when the date on the I‑94 has expired, or an immigration judge or immigration officer determines that a status violation has occurred. Students are advised to pay close attention to the dates on the I‑94, especially if they’ve been admitted on an I-515A with a specific ending date (usually 30 days) and must have their status returned to F-1. Failure to renew the I‑94 in time will cause an overstay and unlawful presence. Those with “Duration of Status” (D/S) can also be ruled to have violated status and will be considered an overstay and unlawfully present.
Failing to maintain visa status can have a significant impact on your plans to study at CWRU and long-lasting consequences that can affect your ability to obtain another visa status in the future. It is extremely important to maintain status at all times.
If you have failed to maintain your status, you must consult with an international student advisor immediately to evaluate your situation and be advised about any options for reinstatement. The standards for reinstatement are very high, so it is advisable for students to maintain status.
If you are a graduate student submitting a Waiver of Registration for this semester, it is essential that you understand the impact of this decision on your visa status. The Waiver of Registration is an administrative process of the university, but does not fulfill federal regulations that stipulate a requirement to be properly registered at all times. Proper registration is required to maintain your visa status and if you are not properly registered, you need to take other steps to maintain your visa status.
Keep in mind:
- By virtue of submitting a Waiver of Registration, ISS is obligated to shorten the length of your DS-2019 to reflect the Drop/Add deadline. Your legal status in the US actually becomes shorter because it is now based on this Drop/Add deadline rather than your future intended graduation date.
- In order to maintain your visa status after submitting a Waiver of Registration, you must, either apply and be authorized for Academic Training before the Drop/Add deadline or make arrangements to begin a new academic program.
Academic Training applications must be submitted to ISS at least 2 weeks before the DS-2019 end date and authorized before that end date. Don't forget, it takes ISS 3-5 business days to review and authorize an Academic Training application. If you wait too long to apply, you're not likely going to be authorized and you will fall out of status.
If you intend to begin another academic program, to maintain your current J-1 status (and SEVIS record), ISS must carefully coordinate the release of your SEVIS record with your new institution. Please contact your advisor in ISS to discuss all of this before you submit the Waiver of Registration.
If you do not intend to maintain your status either through Academic Training or continued education, you are required to leave the United States within 30 days of the Drop/Add deadline. Remaining in the US beyond the 30 day grace period can have extremely negative consequences such as fines and being barred from the US in the future.
Please get in touch with ISS if you have additional questions or concerns. We are here to help!
**For Fall 2020: Students who had an Active J-1 SEVIS record prior to Fall 2020 may enroll in more than 3 credit hours of online coursework towards maintaining their status. Students who have an Active J-1 SEVIS record starting Fall 2020 are not eligible to enroll in coursework that is entirely remote.**
J-1 students are eligible to enroll in online classes. Up to 3 credit hours can count towards maintaining full-time enrollment during a semester. Here are some examples to better explain.
For the sake of these examples only (check with ISS whenever you have questions about your enrollment requirements!), we’re going to state that full-time enrollment to maintain status is 12 credit hours
- Student is enrolled in 3 classes for 9 credit hours. These 3 classes meet on campus. Student enrolls in another online class for 3 credit hours. The total credit hours is 12 and the student is properly maintaining enrollment. If the student decided to engage in additional online coursework, that would be permissible; however, only one of those online courses counts towards maintaining visa status and the 12 credit hour requirement.
- Student is enrolled in 3 classes for 9 credit hours. These 3 classes meet on campus. Student enrolls in 2 online class for 6 credit hours. Total enrollment is 15 credit hours. Student decides to drop one of the courses that meets on campus. Student is still enrolled in 12 credit hours; however, only one online class can count towards maintaining full-time enrollment. That means that the student is only in 9 credit hours (6 credit hours on campus and 3 credit hours online) that can count towards maintaining status. This is a violation of status.
Whenever you’re considering enrolling in online coursework, consult with ISS to ensure that you’re properly maintaining status.
Whether you’re moving down the hall from your current apartment or to another state, you always need to make sure that you’re properly reporting your address. This is essential for maintaining your visa status and regulations state that students are required to report any change in personal contact information within 10 days of the occurrence.
As an enrolled student you are expected to promptly update your contact information using the Student Information System (SIS). Instructions about how to do this can be found on the Registrar’s website. The information that you update with the Registrar is provided to ISS through an electronic interface and then ISS passes this information along to SEVIS.
As you’ll see when looking at the Registrar’s instructions, there are multiple types of addresses to maintain. Keeping this information up to date in SIS is the best way to ensure that the university can reach you (either in-person or by mail) with important information.
Students who have graduated from CWRU and are authorized for Academic Training are also required to report on any changes in personal contact information within 10 days; however, the method through which that is done is different. Please email email@example.com to report your personal contact information updates.