Looking for information on setting up your life in the US? Visit our Welcome to Penn section.

Immigration Overview

ISSS assists admitted international students with obtaining the necessary immigration documents to enter the US.  You are eligible if you have been admitted to be a full time student in an approved program.  Once you have received your admission letter and the 9-digit Admission ID from the Admissions Office you are ready to proceed as follows:

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  1. Decide on F-1 or J-1 Student status.
  2. Submit your I-20/DS-2019 Application.
  3. Acquire F-1/J-1 Status by paying the SEVIS Fee and then applying for your entry visa and entering the US, or submitting a change of status application to USCIS.
  4. Check in with ISSS within 30 days of your program start date at International Student Orientation.

If you are already familiar with this process, have received your iPenn Log-in information, and want to proceed with your I-20/DS-2019 application please go directly to:

Please watch the instructional video below before you apply for your I-20 or DS-2019.

Deciding on F-1 or J-1 Student Status

Before making a decision read the descriptions and requirements from the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs:

  • Eligibility
  • All nonimmigrant students are eligible to select F-1 status.

    Eligibility for J-1 student status requires ONE of the following criteria.  In addition, students pursuing programs with clinical components are not eligible.

    1. For full-time, degree-seeking students 51% or higher of the total cost of  Penn Studies is paid by a non-personal funding source (e.g. scholarship, fellowship, grant, or assistantship). This rule does not apply to exchange students coming to campus through a Penn Abroad program. Common non-personal/family funding sources:
      • Penn, Rotary Foundation, home government, US government, international organization (US must be a member by treaty or statute), corporate sponsor
    2. Your exchange program is carried out pursuant to an agreement between the US Government and a foreign government
    3. Your exchange program is carried out pursuant to a written agreement between:
      • American and foreign educational institutions
      • American educational institution and a foreign government; OR
      • US State or local government and a foreign government

    Examples of students eligible for J-1 status:

    • Penn Abroad coordinates your exchange with Penn
    • A PhD student with a full tuition fellowship
  • Facts to Consider When Deciding Between F-1 or J-1 Status
    1. Dual major or change of major while at Penn:
      • J-1 students are generally not eligible to change major while in the United States.
    2. Spouses and children:
      • Spouses and children are eligible for F-2 or J-2 dependent status. J-2 dependents can be authorized for work. F-2 dependents cannot. More details can be found in the F-2/J-2 dependents section. 
    3. What is the J Visa Two-Year Foreign Residence Requirement, INA 212(e)?
      • This only affects certain J-1 Students. Whether one is subject to 212(e) is typically determined when the J-1 visa is issued. Reasons one might become subject: funding from the home government or US government, the country-specific Exchange Visitors Skills List, graduate medical education/training.
      • Students subject to this requirement will not be able to:
        • change status within the US
        • obtain an H-1 temporary work
        • obtain L-1 intracompany transferee visa for the US
        • obtain permanent residence in the US 
      • UNLESS:
        • spent 2 years in their home country after the end of their J-1 program OR
        • obtained a waiver of the 2-year foreign residence requirement
      • J-1 Students will be subject to this visa requirement only if:
        • you receive funding from the US government OR from your home country government for your J-1 study
        • OR if you study in a field which is in demand in your home country
      • Please visit the Exchange Visitors Visa section of the State Department's site for more information on the Two-Year Foreign Residence Requirement.
    4. Are F-1 and J-1 students eligible to work? 
      • F-1 students must be enrolled for at least one academic year in order to obtain off-campus employment authorization.
      • J-1 students may be able to participate in off-campus employment immediately following their academic program and for a period not to exceed the length of their studies.
      • Details found in the Employment section of this website.
    5. Are there health insurance requirements for F-1 and J-1 students?
      • Penn requires that all students and their dependents have comprehensive medical insurance.
      • J-1 Students are subject to additional requirements by the US Department of State. Failure to maintain medical insurance is a violation of J-1 status.
      • Learn more about Health Insurance standards required of J-1 Students in the Healthcare & Medical Insurance section of our site.
    6. Which status does the University recommend: F-1 or J-1?
      • There is no recommendation from the University or ISSS. We will process the documents you request as long as you meet the eligibility requirements.
      • Please feel free to email us if you have any questions or would like more information regarding your status. 

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What's next?

Once you have decided on F-1 or J-1 student status, you can proceed to the application process.