What is F-1?

  • F-1 is an immigration status available to international students wishing to pursue full-time academic studies and/or language training programs in the US.

What is J-1?

  • The purpose of the J-1 Exchange Program is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the US and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchanges.
  • You are eligible for J-1 status, if one of the following criteria is met:
    • At least 51% or higher of the total cost of your studies at Penn is paid by a scholarship, fellowship, grant, or assistantship from a non-personal/family funding source.
    • Your exchange program is carried out pursuant to a written agreement.

You can maintain your status by:

  1. Following the instructions found on Page 2 of your I-20/DS-2019
  2. Familiarize yourself with the policies and regulations outlined below:

The information below is separated into 3 categories: Maintain Full-Time Enrollment & ProgressPoints on Maintaining Your Status, & SEVIS Reporting Requirements. Please read through this page carefully as some information varies between F-1 & J-1 Statuses


Maintain Full-Time Enrollment & Progress

  • Undergraduate Students
  • You must be enrolled for and complete a minimum of four course units (CUs) each semester. This does not include audits, withdrawals, or incompletes.

    NOTE: Undergraduate students includes students enrolled in post-baccalaureate programs.

  • Graduate Students
  • You must be enrolled for and complete a full-time course load as defined by your academic program. For most programs this means a minimum of three course units (CUs); other programs may require more CUs. You must check with your school or department for any necessary clarification for the definition of a full-time student and consult an ISSS advisor if there is any discrepancy. Full-time enrollment does not include audits, withdrawals, or incompletes. Once you have completed your coursework and are working on the thesis or dissertation, you must maintain full-time status by enrolling for master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation registration and continuing to work on completing your thesis/dissertation.

  • J-1 Only Status Regulations
  • Maintain Required Health Insurance

    Federal regulations require you to have comprehensive medical insurance covering yourself and all your dependents. Failure to maintain the required medical insurance is a violation of J-1 status.  

    DOS required insurance coverage must meet the following:

    • Medical insurance must cover the entire period of participation in the Exchange Visitor program.
    • Medical benefits must provide a minimum of $50,000 per accident or illness.
    • Medical evacuation must be covered in the amount of $10,000, minimum. (Medical evacuation is emergency medical transportation to the home country.)
    • Repatriation must be covered in the amount of $7,500, minimum (In the unfortunate event of death, repatriation is the transportation of remains back to the home country.)
    • The deductible must not exceed $500 per accident or illness.

    Most J-1 students will enroll themselves and their families in the University of Pennsylvania's Student Health Insurance Plan. Failure to secure or maintain adequate health insurance will result in termination of the J-1 program participation.


    Do Not Change Your Academic Major

    You may not change your major as J-1 exchange visitors are to maintain original program objectives.   At this time, US Department of State does not allow this provision.  If you plan to change your major you will be required to leave the US and re-enter with a new DS-2019 with the new major specified on the DS-2019. Please see an advisor at ISSS before proceeding with a change of major to discuss options and timing.

  • Important Reminders
    • No more than one (1) course unit (CU) or equivalent of online or distance education per semester may count toward full-time enrollment for F-1/J-1 students.  
    • You are also required to make normal progress towards completing the course of study. The measure of normal progress is the rate at which a full-time student in your school or department normally advances toward his or her degree or program objective.
    • Working to complete courses designated from previous semesters is not maintaining normal progress. If you find yourself in this situation, you should consult with an ISSS advisor immediately.
    • Annual vacation term:  During an annual vacation term (normally in summer), you are not required to enroll in classes as long as you are going to register full time in the immediately following fall semester.  If you do not intend to enroll in the following fall semester, or no longer eligible to enroll in the fall semester, you must enroll full time even during summer.

    Any student considering, for any reason, to drop a course that will cause his/her enrollment to drop below full-time must consult with an ISSS advisor before doing so. Dropping below full-time enrollment prior to obtaining written authorization from an ISSS advisor will jeopardize the student’s legal ability to remain in the US.

    Even if you need less than a full course load in your last semester of coursework you must complete the Reduced Course Load Request procedures by the first week of classes to verify that you will complete the degree/program requirements in that semester.

Points to Maintaining Your Status

  • Maintain a valid Passport and I-94
    • If your passport will expire within 6-12 months, or if you need to replace a lost or stolen passport, you should contact your embassy or consulate in the US for instructions on obtaining an extension or new passport. Federal regulations require you to maintain a valid passport at all times. For more information on replacing a lost or stolen passport please see Replacing Documents.
    • Your I-94, paper if you entered by land or electronic if you entered by sea or air, should contain your date of entry, a place of entry, your immigration status (F-1 or J-1), and “D/S” as an immigration status end date. 
    • For more information on your I-94 please see the I-94 Process in the Travel section of this site.
    • Should your I-94 card do not contain “F-1 or J-1” and “D/S,” please meet with an ISSS advisor as soon as possible.
  • Obtain Proper Employment Authorization before Beginning Any Work or Internship
    • DHS considers working without proper authorization as one of the most serious violations of a nonimmigrant’s status. 
    • It is illegal to begin any work before obtaining written permission first even if the student has applied for work authorization and is anticipating approval:
      • this includes J-1 Students in on-campus employment at Penn
      • BUT there is an exception for continuing Penn F-1 students in the case of on-campus work
    • Refer to the Employment section for detailed information on employment opportunities and procedures to obtain approval. 
    • Pay special attention to deadlines and processing times! 
    • When in doubt, consult an ISSS advisor before accepting an offer of employment or beginning any work.
  • Check for Valid ISSS Signature and Proper Documentation before Traveling Outside US
  • ISSS strongly recommends you to meet with an ISSS advisor prior to traveling outside the US. 

    • If you will travel outside the US, you must have a valid US Entry Visa and a valid travel signature on the I-20/DS-2019
    • Each signature is valid for one year (365 days) while you are a full-time student
      • 6 months for F-1 students on post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT)
    • F-1 students on post-completion OPT should seek advice from ISSS before traveling
    • Signatures can only be obtained by an ISSS official
    • For more information see the Travel section for instructions
  • Making Good Academic Progress
  • In order to maintain valid F-1/J-1 status, you must be in good academic standing, making normal progress.  Failure to maintain good academic standing may lead to immigration problems depending on the nature of the academic problem.

  • Do Not Stay in the US beyond the Grace Period
  • F-1 Students:

    • You are allowed a 60-day grace period to stay in the United States after the completion date of his/her studies or post-completion OPT.  

    J-1 Students:

    • You are allowed a 30-day grace period to stay in the US after the completion date of his/her studies or post-completion Academic Training.  

    During this time, F-1/J-1 students may not work. Do not remain in the US beyond the grace period without taking appropriate steps to maintain some kind of legal status in the US.

  • F-2 Dependents May Not Work or Study
  • If you have a spouse or children in F-2 dependent status, they may not work in the US under any circumstances and may not study except for classes that are avocational or recreational. The only exception is for minor children studying through 12th grade.

  • Read E-mails from ISSS
  • ISSS usually sends at least one email message per semester to international students.  Some are simply announcements about upcoming events, but others contain important immigration information to help you avoid serious immigration problems.  Students who do not receive regular messages should notify ISSS.

SEVIS Reporting Requirements

  • Update Address, Legal Name, or Major within 10 Days of a Change
  • As F-1/J-1 students federal regulations require you to report any change of US address, legal name, or major (F-1 ONLY) to your sponsoring institutions within 10 days of the change. At Penn, F-1/J-1 students are only required to enter the current address where physically residing in the US through Penn InTouch.

    Should your Penn InTouch not work, send your address change to ISSS.

    F-1 ONLY: If you change your major, the information is updated through Penn’s Student Records System (SRS). ISSS receives the address and major changes from Penn InTouch on a daily basis and transmits them to DHS through the Student and Exchange Visitor System (SEVIS), as required.

    If a student or F-2/J-2 dependent changes his/her legal name, consult an ISSS advisor to make the changes.

  • Obtain Program Extension to Continue Study beyond End Date on I-20/DS2019
  • In order to remain in the US to complete the program of study beyond the date authorized on the I-20/DS-2019, you must request a program extension through ISSS.

    • Apply at least 30 days before the expected completion date noted on your I-20/DS-2019.
    • There must be a valid academic reason for extending the time necessary to complete the program.
    • If you fail to have your I-20/DS-2019 extended prior to the expiration date of the document you are considered out of status and may need to apply for reinstatement to regain student status.
  • Transfer F-1/J-1 SEVIS Record when Changing Schools
    • In order to transfer from Penn to another school in the US, as an F-1/J-1 student you must meet with an ISSS advisor to discuss your plans.
    • At your written request, ISSS must do the following before you can attend another school:
      • Confirm that you maintain valid F-1/J-1 status
      • Release your SEVIS record AND
      • Check the original program objectives (J-1 only)
    • You must then complete the F-1/J-1 transfer procedures with a Designated School Official (DSO) for F-1 or Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO) for J-1 at the new school.
  • Obtain a new I-20/DS-2019 to begin New Degree Program
    • If you want to continue at Penn in a different academic level (e.g., bachelors to masters or masters to doctorate) or, if you want to change to a new degree program at the same level after completing a degree, you must apply for a change of program, which will extend your F-1/J-1 study at Penn.
    • You must verify admission to a new program and your ability to finance the program, then submit the eform for “Application for I-20 or DS-2019” through iPenn.
    • ISSS will issue a new I-20/DS-2019 indicating your new program.  
    • Please consult an ISSS advisor for information and instructions.
  • Obtain permission before departing or withdrawing from Penn
    • Students planning to withdraw from Penn or take a leave of absence should consult an ISSS advisor prior to making official action; otherwise they may jeopardize their F-1 or J-1 status.
    • F-1 students taking a leave of absence or withdrawing may have a grace period of 15 days to leave the US after obtaining written authorization from ISSS. 
    • A student who is asked to withdraw from classes or leave Penn for any reason must immediately consult an ISSS advisor.