Married Overseas Graduate Couples: J-1 and J-2 Visas : FAQ

This page is maintained by EV students, based upon their own knowledge and experience and the recommendations of other students. All information should be independently checked and corroborated. (The best way to start is by following the links below.) These notes are not a statement of official Stanford or Bechtel Center policy. Any mistakes and irregularities herein are our fault, not theirs.

This page is designed to help and encourage potential (Stanford and other) graduate families. However, it is only a supplementary guide to the visa information provided by Stanford's I-Center and the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service. One I-Center page you should definitely check out is the International Graduate Students at Stanford: A Policy Guide for Departments.

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Types of Visa

Overseas students at Stanford usually hold an F-1 (student) or a J-1 (exchange visitor) visa. A comparison of these visas is given by the I-Center.

If you're married and one of you is lucky enough to have been offered a place to study on a course funded by a US institution like Stanford, then your spouse should be able to come to the USA as well and be able to work here. For most people nowadays, this is critical, and not just for financial reasons. Just because one of you is clever enough to be doing a PhD it doesn't mean that the other doesn't have their own professional development to consider.

If your spouse is funded by Stanford, they should be able to get a J-1 visa. For this you'll need to get your all important form IAP-66, which gives details of how Stanford will be funding you. The spouse will be able to apply for a J-2 visa, technically as a dependent. The J-2 form is quite distressing, since every box you tick makes it sound like you've got no life or aspirations of your own. Try not to let it bother you.

J2 visas with a work permit can work anywhere!

A number of confusions about J-2 visas are common - in particular people get confused with J-1 and other visas and think that J-2's can only work on campus. So remember...

  • A J-2 visa must apply for and receive a work permit (EAD) to be able to work
  • Generally speaking, J-2's with EAD can work ANYWHERE!

There are normally NO restrictions where a J-2 may be allowed to work (other than whatever random policy may exist with a specific company or organization)... Some times however, you may find possible limitations for J-2's to work because of security reasons or because the specific employment is primarily reserved for permanent residents or U.S. Citizens. Regulations governing the J-2 permit are much different than regulations for J-1 students. J-2 visa holders can even work on-campus as long as they have a valid EAD (employment authorization document).

Arriving in the USA

You will of course need your IAP-66 with you to enter the country. It's not just for getting the visa in the first place - you need it for loads of things.

One of the first things the J-1 visa holder should do after arrival is obtain a Social Security Number, either from the I-Center at prearranged times or from the local offices in Sunnyvale or Redwood City. The J-2 visa will not be able to obtain a Social Security Number before getting a work permit. The Social Security Office will, however, issue you with letters entitling you to open a bank account and apply for a California Drivers License.

Applying for a Work Permit

After you've entered the USA, the J-2 visa holder can apply for an Employment Authorization Document, which most of us would call a work permit. Consult the INS site for full details and an application form.

Unless you are convinced that the J-2 visa holder is NOT going to want to work at all during your time in the USA, you will probably want to apply for a work permit as soon possible after you arrive.

Your application must demonstrate conclusively that the J-1 visa holder has enough funds to support him or herself. The INS are adamant that J-2 visa holders should not work in order to support their spouses.

Your IAP-66 is in theory enough to guarantee that a suitable institution like Stanford is funding the J-1 visa holder. In practice, you should supply as much additional proof of this as is possible. You also send a $100 processing fee. Keep copies of everything - you may need them if you apply for a temporary EAD later.

You should send the application by certified mail WITH RETURN RECEIPT, to the California INS office at Laguna Niguel. The return receipt has a date stamped on it which should be the same as the Receive date of the notice that arrives later. The INS will send you a `Notice of action' letter: keep it safe and take it with you / send a copy in all future dealings with the INS. They are supposed to process your request within 90 days, though it has recently been known to take Laguna Niguel at least 120.

Interim EAD (what to do if your work permit doesn't arrive)

Once 90 days have elapsed since the date on yout Notice of Action letter, you can apply in person for a temporary work permit (called `Interim EAD'). (It used to be 90 days from the Receipt date, but currently they have been counting the 90 days from the Notice date.) This process is similar to that for obtaining interim F-1 work authorization. You will need to visit the INS office in San Jose. The office opens at 7am and people are lining up well before that. To be safe you should arrive before 6.30, otherwise you might not be seen that day. Be prepared to stand out in the cold for a long time, especially in winter. Our first day we were turned away because `the person qualified to adjudicate whether we had sufficient funds to support the J-1' was not in that day. We went back the following day, this time with an appointment, and thankfully didn't have to wait in line for another 5 hours. If you are told to come back, try as hard as you can to get an appointment. This way you don't have to line up for hours all over again.

If the INS grant your request (and by now if everything is in order there's no reason why they shouldn't) they will take photographs and make your EAD card: you should not have to take green-card style photographs with you. Once you obtain this work permit, you should apply for a Social Security number as soon as possible.

Documents you should Provide

The INS and Social Security sometimes request to see more documents than their official guidelines suggest. In addition to your passport, visa, I-94 immigration card and IAP-66, you would be well advised to have with you:

  • A copy of your marriage certificate
  • A personal letter from someone at Stanford which vouches for the J-1 student's funding. We took a letter from the linguistics Tutor for Graduates saying who Ela was and that Stanford gives her such and such stipend per quarter. This smoothed things over at the INS, being much easier to follow than the numbers on the IAP-66.
  • If you have a job lined up (which you might well after 90 days), you might get a letter from your future employer which makes it clear that you'll be working for professional development rather than to support your spouse.
  • Every piece of communication you've received from the INS, especially any `Notice of Receipt' letter if applying for an interim EAD.
  • Your check book. You probably won't be charged another $100, but if Laguna Niguel have already decided to act upon your initial request, then the local office have been known to charge you the fee again because they figure that the INS have kept their side of the deal and you're asking them for an extra special service.
  • Copies of all your documents which you can give to the INS.

It is a long and frustrating process, but it can all work out in the end.

Renewing your EAD

You should reply for a new EAD well before you need it - if your old one is going to expire or if your partner's J-1 visa gets extended, you will need a new work permit. If a J-2 submits a request for an EAD extension, it should be received by the INS at least 3-4 months before the current permit expires since the INS is taking 90-120 days to process EAD extension.

Independent Travel

If you (the J-2 visa holder) want to travel independently outside the USA, you should ask the Bechtel Center to issue you a separate IAP for independent travel. Technically your spouse's original IAP-66 (or a copy) is not sufficient to guarantee you entry.

Last modified Mon, 16 Aug, 2010 at 13:06