Student Visa Options: J1 versus F1 Visa

Accepted into school in the US? Be aware of your student visa options.

F1 vs J1 Visa
F1 vs J1 Visa

The F visa, the more common one, allows foreigners to pursue education in the US. The second one, the J Visa, is more known as a cultural exchange visa. It is common only for those that get sponsored. What few people know is that the J has one very interesting benefit: it allows the spouse to work.

Disclaimer: This article was written by MBA graduates, not lawyers. We strongly recommend not relying only on the advice below and consulting with a lawyer before going forward. The purpose of the article is to lay out the options that past MBAs have taken.


But how can I qualify for the J Visa?

In order to qualify for a J Visa, the student needs to be sponsored by either a university, the private sector or a federal program. Given the flexibility of this requirement, even the support from a family business is sufficient to qualify an individual. We have heard from many friends that the process is quite straightforward. The first step is to get a sponsor letter – template available here. We do, however, recommend talking to a lawyer.


What else should I know about the J Visa?

When comparing the two student visa options, you should be aware that the J has its setbacks. If you intend in staying in the US, careful because some categories of the J1 visa might require you to go back to your home country for 2 years after you complete your studies. Most of our friends on J1 visas were able to get a waiver and hence were not obligated to fulfill this requirement. Nevertheless, they did need to secure a job before graduation in order to apply for 18-months work authorization.

The F1 Visa, on the other hand, allows students to apply for the Optional Practical Training (OPT) before getting a job offer. Students could stay in the US up to 3 months after graduation looking for a job. This can definitely help reduce some of the pressure of finding a job. But keep in mind that over 90% of MBA students will graduate having an offer in hand. Important note: the 3 months post graduation counts towards your 12 months OPT period.


OPT duration and Taxes for both student visa options

Another important difference between both student visa options refers to the grace period and the duration of the OPT. Under the J1, the duration of the work authorization is of 18 months versus 12 months under the F1 OPT. On one hand, those extra 6 months can be an extra breather as you try to figure out a permanent work visa option. However, once the OPT period is over, the F1 visa holders have 60 days to leave the country while J1 visa holders have only 30 days.

But the extra 6 months in OPT duration has one other big advantage: taxes. Under a student visa (both student visa options – F or J), visa holders are exempt from paying Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes for Social Security and Medicare. This means you could stay an extra 6 months paying approximately 8% less in taxes.


Getting the H1B or a Green Card

Above all, choosing between the J or F student visa options does not affect your ability to get a H1B or a Green Card.  Both student visa options allow for a change of status, meaning that you may apply for a different visa type from within the United States, without having to return to your home country first.

Interested in being able to have your spouse get a job while you are living in the US? Read more about the J1 Visa here and talk to a lawyer to understand what is the best student visa option for you.


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