Immigration Category Overview
The information presented here is of a general nature and is intended for the use of UT Health Science Center foreign nationals only. U.S. immigration laws are complex. For information on your specific circumstances, you should contact the Office of International Affairs (OIA) to make an appointment. Please do not only rely on immigration advice from well-meaning friends, relatives, and others.
- Important Documents for All Foreign Nationals
- LPR applicants
- Change of Visa Status
- Maintaining Legal Status
Important Documents for All Foreign Nationals
All foreign nationals who are in the U.S. should make sure to have these documents at all times:
- Valid passport: Your passport must remain valid while you are in the United States. If it will expire during your stay, you need to contact your country’s embassy or consulate in the U.S., so you can find out about the passport renewal requirements for your particular country.
- Valid I-94 Card: You should staple your I-94 card into
your passport, so you do not accidentally lose it. When you depart the U.S.,
you will need to turn in the I-94 card at the airport. Should you
lose the I-94 card, you must apply for a renewal on form I-102.
- If your I-94 card has an expiration date, you must not stay in the U.S. beyond that date — unless you have applied for an extension of stay or a change of status, which is still pending with USCIS.
- If your I-94 card has the notation "D/S" written on it, you may stay in the U.S. as long as you are complying with the purpose of your visa status (e.g. studying full time as an F-1 student or working as a J-1 researcher) and as long as you hold a valid visa document, such as an I-20 or a DS-2019.
- Note: Always check what the immigration officer at the airport/border writes on your I-94 card before you leave the immigration inspection area. Mistakes do happen, so if you are an F or J visa holder, and the immigration officer writes an expiration date on your I-94, you should politely ask why he/she did not write "D/S" instead.
- If you get to UT Health Science Center and discover that you do not have "D/S" written on your I-94 for F or J status — or that it says J-1 instead of F-1, for example — you should come to the Office of International Affairs immediately so we can assist you in attempting to correct the problem.
- Valid visa document: Visa documents issued by UT Health Science Center are I-20 and DS-2019 forms; I-797 Approval Notices are issued by the USCIS for H, O, and TN status. Make sure that your visa document is always valid during your stay in the U.S.
- It is your responsibility to keep track of your particular expiration date. As you read this, take a moment to look at your I-20 or DS-2019 or I-797 to see when it will expire.
B-1/WB Visitor for Business (Waiver for Business)
Foreign nationals who come to UT Health Science Center to take part in a conference or give a speech will often use this visa type.
B-1/WB visa holders may have expenses reimbursed and are allowed to be paid an honorarium.
To obtain B-1/WB visa status, you must get a letter of invitation from the UT Health Science Center department which has invited you.
If your country is not part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), you must go to a U.S. embassy or consulate to apply for a B-1 visa. VWP nationals do not need a visa, but must have a machine-readable passport, register in ESTA and will enter the U.S. in WB status.
Extension of Stay
Those admitted in B-1 status may extend their stay by filing form I-539 and supporting documentation with the USCIS.
Those admitted in WB status are limited to 3 months’ stay and may not apply for an extension or a change to another status.
B-2/WT Visitor for Tourism (Waiver for Tourism)
This visa type is mainly used for tourists to the U.S. You may also qualify for a B-2 visa if you are coming to the U.S. for medical treatment.
Persons in B-2/WT status may not accept payment or reimbursements of any kind.
If your country is not part of the Visa Waiver Program, you must go to a U.S. embassy or consulate to apply for a B-2 visa. VWP nationals do not need a visa, but must have a machine-readable passport, register in ESTA and will enter the U.S. in WT status.
Prospective students or exchange visitors may also obtain a B-2 visa, but it requires that they inform the consular officer of their plans to look at schools in the U.S. or show proof of admission to a U.S. institution, so that the notation "Prospective Student" or "Prospective Exchange Visitor" can be made on their visa. Without this notation, a change of status from B-2 to F-1/J-1 will be very difficult, if not impossible.
If you are coming as a prospective student or for medical treatment, you must apply for a B-2 visa because WT status cannot be changed or extended later in the U.S.
Extension of stay
B-2 visa holders may extend their stay by filing form I-539 and supporting documentation with the Immigration Service.
WT status is only valid for 3 months and cannot be extended or changed to another status.
The F-1 visa is for full-time students only.
If this is your initial entry into the U.S. in F-1 status, then you should attend the school whose I-20 you used to obtain the F-1 visa.
To maintain legal F-1 status, students transferring from another school in the U.S. must register with the Office of International Affairs (OIA) immediately after arrival at UT Health Science Center.
You must maintain full-time student status:
- 12 hours/semester for undergraduates
- 9 hours/semester for graduate students
You must update your local home address with International Affairs within 10 days of moving.
Your length of stay is indicated on your I-20, item 5. Upon completion of studies (which is the date you complete all work for your degree, not the date of the graduation ceremony), you have a 60-day grace period. Before and up to the end of your grace period, you may apply for Optional Practical Training, and during your grace period you may travel in the U.S. or be accepted into another school or degree program. Once you have completed your studies, you may not leave and then return to the U.S. in F-1 status unless you have been admitted to a different degree program or school and are using the new I-20 for reentry.
You may work on campus 20 hours per week while school is in session; full time during official school breaks and vacations.
Dependents in F-2 status may not work under any circumstances.
Extension of Stay
Should you need more time to complete your studies beyond the date shown in item 5 on your I-20, you should request an extension from OIA at least 30 days before your I-20 expires.
To transfer your F-1 status to UT Health Science Center: you must report to the OIA within 15 days of arriving on campus to receive your UT I-20. Please bring to your previous I-20s, passport, and I-94 card.
To transfer to another school: you must notify the OIA of your intent to transfer and provide the name of the school to which you wish to transfer and the transfer release date.
H-1B Temporary Worker
An H-1B temporary worker is sponsored by a particular employer and may only work for that employer. The employer must pay the Prevailing Wage for the position and have a certified Labor Condition Application in order to file a petition for H-1B status for an employee.
The maximum length of stay in H status is 6 years. Once that has been reached, you must reside outside the U.S. for 12 months in order to return in H-1B status (unless you have a Labor Certification or I-140 pending for over 365 days or an approved I-140).
There is a 10-day grace period in which to leave the U.S. following the end date of the H approval notice. If you are terminated before the end of your H status, your employer is required to pay "reasonable cost" for transportation to your home country.
Dependents in H-4 status may not work under any circumstances.
Extension of Stay
To extend your H-1B status, you should contact your department sponsor at least 6 months prior to your H expiration date; your sponsor will then request an extension from OIA.
To "transfer" to UT Health Science Center: your UTHSC department sponsor will request that OIA initiate a petition with USCIS to change your H-1B sponsorship to UT Health Science Center from your current employer. You may begin UTHSC employment as soon as USCIS has received UTHSC’s petition.
J-1 Exchange Visitor
J-1 Exchange Visitors may come to UT Health Science Center to study, conduct research, teach or participate in graduate medical education (DS-2019 issued via the Office of Graduate Medical Education for residents and fellows).
2 Year Home Residence Requirement
Also referred to as the "212(e) Rule" or "2 Year Rule", some Exchange Visitors are subject to the 2-year home residence requirement. This requirement is "triggered" by any one of the following:
- being supported by U.S. or home country government funding for international exchange
- your field of study is on your country’s Skills List
- being an alien physician in the U.S. for medical training
If you are subject to the 2-year home residence requirement, you must:
- return to and reside in your home country for two years, OR
- obtain a waiver of the requirement
Mandatory Health Insurance
Exchange Visitors and their J-2 dependents must maintain health insurance coverage conforming to Department of State standards throughout their stay in the U.S.
Upon completion of your program objective, you have a 30-day grace period. During your grace period, you may apply for Academic Training (for J-1 students), travel in the U.S., or be admitted to another school or degree program if you are eligible.
Dependents in J-2 status may work after applying for and obtaining an Employment Authorization document from the USCIS. Contact OIA for more information.
You must update your home address with International Affairs within 10 days of moving.
Extension of Stay
If you need additional time to complete your studies your should contact OIA.
If you need more time to continue your research or training, you should contact your UT department sponsor who will then contact OIA or the appropriate J-1 sponsor.
To transfer to UT Health Science Center: OIA will contact the J-1 program sponsor at your current institution for transfer authorization. Once authorization has been received, your J-1 record will be transferred to UTHSC, and you may then start your program at UT Health Science Center.
Specific J Categories
- Must pursue full-time studies (see description under F-1 above). Length of stay is indicated on your DS-2019 form, item 3. Should you need more time to complete your studies, you should contact the OIA at least 30 days prior to your DS-2019 expiring.
- Any employment requires written permission from the J-1 sponsor (OIA):
- You may work on campus 20 hours per week when school is in session and full-time during official school breaks.
- You may also apply for other types of work authorization as a J-1 student, but your total weekly limit on employment is 20 hours while school is in session.
- You are eligible for Academic Training.
- Research Scholars
- Exchange Visitors in the Research Scholar category are limited to a 5-year stay.
- 12-month bar: After more than 6 months in the U.S. in any J status, you must spend 12 months outside the U.S. before you can return to the U.S. to begin a new program as a J-1 Research Scholar or Professor.
- 2-year bar on repeat participation: If you have completed a program as a J-1 Research Scholar or Professor as well as a J-2 dependent in these after November 18, 2006, you may not start another J-1 program as a Research Scholar or Professor until 24 months have passed.
- Contact your J-1 program sponsor (OIA) for permission to accept incidental employment such as lecturing or consulting engagements elsewhere in the U.S.
- Short-Term Scholars
- Exchange Visitors in the Short-Term Scholar category may only remain in the U.S. for a total of six months. No extension of stay is possible for Short-Term Scholars.
- Short-Term Scholars may also accept incidental employment while in the U.S., but only with written authorization by the J-1 sponsor.
- Alien Physicians
- UT Health Science Center is home to several J-1 Alien Physicians who are sponsored by ECFMG. Locally, the program is administered by the Office of Graduate Medical Education. For information about extension of stay, travel endorsement, etc., please contact that office.
- For employment opportunities after your training, see the F-1/J-1 Employment section.
LPR (Green Card) Applicants
People who qualify for and have applied for adjustment of status to that of Permanent Resident may be employed at UT Health Science Center while awaiting adjudication of the petition as long as they possess a valid Employment Authorization document (EAD card) or as long as their H-1B or O-1 status with UT Health Science Center is valid.
You may apply for the EAD card with your permanent residence petition or anytime after its submission.
If your permanent residence petition is based on employment, and UT Health Science Center is NOT the sponsoring employer, you should remain employed with your sponsor. You may "moonlight" at UT Health Science Center if you have an EAD card. Similarly, if you are sponsored for a green card by UT Health Science Center, you may "moonlight" at a second employer using an EAD card.
You may also apply to the USCIS for permission to travel abroad while your petition is pending. This permission is called Advance Parole. If you travel abroad without approved Advance Parole, you are usually considered to have abandoned your permanent residence petition.
- New USCIS regulations, effective July 1, 1999, state that H-1B visa holders being sponsored for Permanent Residence by their H-1B employer do not need to obtain an EAD or Advance Parole to travel as long as they maintain their H-1B status and do not work for another employer. They may travel abroad and reenter the U.S. in H-1B status during this time and still preserve their LPR applicant status.
- If you do apply for and use an EAD card, however, you MUST apply for Advance Parole to travel without abandoning your green card application.
O-1 Alien of Extraordinary Ability
A person in O-1 status is sponsored by a particular employer and may only work for that employer.
O-1 status is valid for 3 years initially, with extensions in 1-year increments possible.
Dependents in O-3 status may not work under any circumstances.
Extension of Stay
Contact your UTHSC department sponsor who will then contact OIA.
To "transfer" to UT Health Science Center: your UTHSC department sponsor will request that OIA submit a petition to the USCIS requesting transfer of your O-1 status to UT Health Science Center. You may not begin working at UT Health Science Center until USCIS has approved our petition.
TN (Treaty NAFTA) Temporary Worker
A TN temporary worker is sponsored by a particular employer and may only work for that employer. Only certain occupations are eligible for TN status, and only Canadian and Mexican citizens are eligible for TN status.
There is no maximum length of stay in TN status; however, since it is a temporary worker status, the USCIS may begin to question extension petitions for employees who have been in TN status for several years.
Dependents in TD status may not work under any circumstances.
Extension of Stay
Contact your UTHSC department sponsor who will then request an extension from OIA.
Your UTHSC department sponsor will request that OIA initiate a petition to "transfer" your TN status to UT Health Science Center. An easy and quick alternative for TNs is to travel home and come back to the U.S. while submitting proof of a job offer at UT Health Science Center, proof of Canadian or Mexican citizenship, and educational credentials at the border.
Change of Visa Status
The process of changing your visa status from one classification to another while in the U.S. varies depending on your current visa status and the status you wish to obtain.
In many cases, a change of status may be obtained by filing form I-539 and supporting documentation with the USCIS. You should know that it can take several months to process these applications. Therefore, if you have maintained legal immigration status, it may be advantageous to leave the U.S. and apply for your new visa abroad (including Canada or Mexico; although we do recommend that you apply in your home country, to avoid being stuck in Canada or Mexico due to a security check before your visa can be issued).
Change to: submit form I-539 and fee to USCIS to change to B-1/B-2 status; or leave the U.S. and apply for the visa.
Change from: persons in WB or WT status (Waiver for Business or Waiver for Tourism) may not change status within the U.S. They may apply for a different visa outside the U.S.
Persons in B-1/B-2 status may apply for a change to another status but it might not be granted since they indicated to the consular officer that they only intended to temporarily visit the U.S. when they obtained their B-1/B-2 visa. They must be able to prove that they did initially come to the U.S. for business or tourism.
Change to: obtain an I-20 from the school that has admitted you. Submit form I-539 and fee to USCIS; or leave the U.S. and apply for the visa.
Change to: employer submits form I-129 to USCIS for H-1B status.
Change to: submit form DS-2019 from school or sponsor along with form I-539 and fee to USCIS; or leave the U.S. to apply for the visa.
Persons who have not met the 12-month and/or 24-month bar for the Research Scholar/Professor categories may not apply for a change of status to J-1 in those categories.
Change from: J-1 visa holders who are subject to the 2-year home residence requirement are not eligible for a change of status to F, H, L or LPR. They may, however, obtain F or O status by applying for the visa outside the U.S. The home residence requirement will still apply, though.
Change to: a petition for permanent residence must be submitted to USCIS on your behalf. Eligibility includes employment, marriage to a U.S. citizen or winning the Visa Lottery.
Change to: employer submits form I-129 to USCIS for O status.
Change to: employer submits form I-129 to USCIS; or leave the U.S. and reenter with documentation for job.
Maintaining Legal Visa Status
A condition of your stay in the U.S. in any non-immigrant visa status is that you maintain that status. This means you should learn what your rights and your responsibilities are in connection with your particular visa status.
- If your visa status does not allow employment, don’t work.
- Never work without first obtaining authorization.
- Always enroll full time if you're an F-1/J-1 student (unless it’s your last semester or you are writing your dissertation or thesis).
- Always process extensions, transfers, changes of status on time.
- Don’t stay beyond your F or J grace period or beyond the expiration date on your I-94 card.
Being aware of the regulations governing your visa status will save you a lot of worrying and potential problems. Please ask questions of the Office of International Affairs BEFORE you do something that may become a big immigration problem later — or if you think you may have an immigration problem that could get worse with time.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA) put in place some harsh penalties for people who do not maintain legal immigration status:
If you have an I-94 card with an expiration date (this is called a "date-certain" or "date-specific" I-94), and you stay in the U.S. beyond this date, you are unlawfully present.
If you have an I-94 with a "D/S" notation, your unlawful presence starts on the date an immigration judge or USCIS or adjudicator determines that you have violated your immigration status (for example by dropping below full time or engaging in unauthorized employment).
If you are unlawfully present for 180 days or more, you may be barred from reentering the U.S. for 3 years
If you are unlawfully present for 365 days or more, you may be barred from reentry for 10 years.
Days of unlawful presence are counted separately for each visit.
You are a visa overstay if you stay in the U.S. beyond your I-94 expiration date.
If your I-94 has the "D/S" notation, you will be an overstay from the date an immigration judge or USCIS adjudicator determines that you have violated your immigration status (for example by dropping below full time or engaging in unauthorized employment).
Once you are an overstay, your visa automatically becomes invalid (even if it appears to have an expiration date several years from now). All future U.S. visas can then only be obtained in your country of citizenship or permanent residence.
Office of International Affairs
Johnson Building, Suite 205K
847 Monroe Avenue
Memphis, TN 38163
Hours of operation:
8 a.m. to 5 p.m., M-F