Visa Issues

There are four common visa routes by which we bring overseas academic employees to work in our department.

  • “H” visa (usually H1B) – H visas are limited by quota.  A person can spend a maximum of six years in “H” status; each new employment contract requires a new visa. The attraction for many is that there is a transition route from H visa status to permanent residency.[1] The downside is that the application process is complicated, slow, and expensive, requiring the payment by the employer of fees that may total several thousand dollars.  There are two stages to the application process: Part I which takes 8 weeks or so, and Part II which takes 4 months minimum unless one pays an additional $1000 fee for “premium processing” – then it takes maybe 4 weeks.
  • “J” visa (Academic Exchange Visa) – These are easier, quicker and less expensive to process, and there is no quota, but J visa holders are subject to the Home Residency Requirement – after the expiration of their J term they must return to their home country for two years. (A waiver can sometimes be obtained, on application, but the home residency requirement is especially applied to residents of China and India.)
  • “TN” visa – available to citizens of Canada (and Mexico too, apparently, but we have not used one in that context). Easy to obtain and has a 3-year maximum stay.
  • “Practical Training” (PT) or “Optional Practical Training” (OPT)– This is not exactly a visa in its own right, it is an extension of 12 months or sometimes longer that may be attached to an “F” (student) visa – or sometimes a “J” visa – for “practical training” in the field of study (this can be a postdoc, for instance). The university where the student held their F visa must sponsor OPT.  When OPT expires, one can apply for the H or J visa.

Other routes (e.g. O1-A Outstanding Scholar visa) are less common.

Points to Note 

  • Discussions about visa arrangements should be conducted between the visiting scholar and the relevant staff in the department head’s office.  It is important that the visiting scholar’s faculty host, who may not be fully aware of all the pertinent regulations, should refer the visitor to appropriate staff members for discussion of visa issues.  Serious misunderstandings, sufficient to jeopardize the entire visit, can arise if the faculty host unintentionally provides incomplete or misleading information to a visitor. 
  • Visa applications involve significant cost to the department.  An “H” visa application will cost upwards of $1000, and twice that if “premium processing” is involved.  It sometimes happens that faculty hosts decide that they wish to change the terms of a visitors appointment (for instance, to accommodate a summer work possibility).  When this occurs, a new visa application and a new expense are typically required.  Faculty hosts are urged to plan visits carefully so that the need for repeated visa applications is minimized.
  • In future, the department will automatically bear the cost of “H” visa applications only for standing appointments (including tenure track faculty) or fixed term multi-year (FT-M) appointments.  For one-year and shorter fixed-term appointments (FT-1 and FT-2), the cost of H visa processing will be charged to general research funds of the sponsoring faculty member. Six months notice before the employment start date is required.
  • Costs of other visas (J, OPT, TN) will continue to be borne by the department.

 JR 8/24/2010 10:56 AM


[1] This route can be followed at Penn State but only for “standing employees”, normally tenure-track faculty members.