Initial Publication Date: March 14, 2007

International Scholars

If you are not a United States citizen, but you would like to stay in the U.S. as a faculty member, you will face several choices and challenges. The resources below will help you to figure out what your options are, so that you can choose the course of action that best suits your needs.

Note: because the laws governing citizenship and immigration are subject to change, you should verify all information on this page with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. You may also wish to hire an immigration lawyer. We are not experts on immigration; they are.

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For information on other topics, such as meeting the challenges you face as a person of international origin teaching, doing research, and adjusting to cultural norms in the U.S., see the pages of resources for International Faculty Members on our Early Career Geoscience Faculty website.

Types of visas

As a student or postdoc in the U.S., you have a non-immigrant visa. Students generally have F-1 visas, whereas postdocs and visiting scholars generally have J-1 visas. One major difference between F-1 and J-1 visas is that the spouse of a J-1 visa holder can get a J-2 visa, which allows them to apply for a work permit and then to work. F-2 visa holders can not work (but can be full-time students).

As a faculty member, you will need an H1-B visa. This is important because with a J-1 visa you are extremely unlikely to meet the criteria for immigration (see below) via your employer or as an 'alien with extraordinary ability.' You can read more about immigration classifications and visa categories on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Foreign residency requirement

Fulbright scholars (and anyone else on a J-1 visa) are required to return to their native country for two years prior to re-entering the U.S. The purpose of this law is to promote a cultural exchange, with scholars returning home to share what they've learned. However, it is possible to apply for a waiver if you wish to stay in the U.S. without returning home first.

The 2-year requirement is automatically waived for many students, depending on their country of origin and source of funding. In gnereal, European students funded by their advisor's grants or by university appointment (teaching or research assistantships) are usually not subject to the 2-year limit. If the 2-year limitation was applied when your J-1 visa was issued, it will be extremely hard to waive it, even with a job offer from a major US university.


Immigration is the process of becoming an immigrant: a non-citizen who can lawfully live and work in the US. To become a legal immigrant, you need to apply for "lawful permanent residence" (also known as a "green card"). (If you decide to become a US citizen, you will need to be a lawful permanent resident for five years first.) Be forewarned: the immigration process is both time-consuming and expensive.

Employment authorization

If you are not yet a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the U.S., you need to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (also known as a "work permit") to prove that you are allowed to work in the U.S.