Immigration Rights and Responsibilities of Students in J-1 “Exchange Visitor” Status


The information on this page has been prepared by the International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO) to summarize some of the important rights and responsibilities you have as a J-1 exchange visitor in relation to regulations of the U.S. Department of State (DOS) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It also identifies some of the situations for which you should seek assistance from the International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO). It will not, however, provide you with information on the procedures required to take advantage of some of your benefits and fulfill some of your responsibilities.

The ISSO staff will be pleased to offer additional information as well as counseling and assistance on all federal regulations and procedures related to your lawful status. This “Rights and Responsibilities” addresses regulations and procedures at the time of the writing of this document. Please note, however, that regulations and procedures continue to change. The ISSO will inform you of substantial changes via electronic communication or on the ISSO web site.

We strongly advise you to contact the ISSO any time you have a question or any time you intend to travel and re-enter the United States.

SEVIS – Electronic Reporting System

The U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) utilize an electronic database and reporting system called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to “track” international students and exchange visitors. All U.S. schools are required to use this system to report information on J-1 students, scholars and their J-2 dependents through secure, encrypted internet transmissions.

Boston University reports to the government only the information required by federal law. This includes all the information on your Form DS-2019 and information on “reportable events” that affect your immigrant status. These events include but are not limited to:

  1. U.S. residential address changes
  2. J-2 Dependent information
  3. Completion/termination of your studies/research/teaching/consulting activities
  4. Transfer to a new program sponsor (school)

Since SEVIS is an electronic reporting system, it is very important that your information on record at the ISSO and in the University Information System (UIS) remain completely up-to-date. The ISSO will report information about your status from the University’s records to DHS through SEVIS.

Failure to maintain accurate records with the University may result in technical violations of your status.

If you fall out of status, and your violation is reported to DHS, your J-1 status could be immediately invalidated and you may lose all J-1 status benefits.


Program Sponsor

Your program sponsor is the institution listed in item #2 of your Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status (Form DS-2019). The program sponsor has legal authorization to grant you certain benefits, assist you in applying to the DOS or DHS for other benefits, and assist you in fulfilling your responsibilities.

Note: The information on this web page is written with the assumption that Boston University is your program sponsor. If Boston University is not your program sponsor, you should substitute the name of your program sponsor each time you read “ISSO” throughout this page. Nonetheless, ISSO staff can advise, counsel, and assist you to take advantage of your rights and fulfill your responsibilities.


Your J-1 program category appears in item #4 of your Form DS-2019 and should be marked as “student.”

Subject/Field Code (also known as your Program Objective)

The subject/field code, found in item #4 of the DS-2019, specifies the degree program and area in which you came to the U.S. to study. It is also known as your program objective because it indicates the primary purpose for which you came to the U.S. The activities you engage in while in this country must be directly related to your program objective.

You are not ordinarily allowed to change your category or program objective once you have entered the country in J-1 status. Such changes require significant time and effort, are considered only under extraordinary circumstances, and are rarely approved by DOS.

Immigration Documents

The following documents are very important and you must maintain their validity at all times in order to maintain lawful J-1 status:

  • Passport (should be valid for a minimum of 6 months into the future)
  • Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status)
  • Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record (a white card usually stapled in your passport)

You should keep these documents in a safe place. We strongly recommend that you make photocopies of these documents and store them in a location separate from the actual documents. If any of these documents is damaged, lost or stolen, you must have it replaced as quickly as possible. Please keep in mind that the J-1 visa stamp in your passport does not need to be valid at all times; but it must be valid when you re-enter the United States after traveling outside the country. You should contact the ISSO if you have any questions about the documents or if you need to have them replaced. Please bring the above-mentioned documents with you each time you visit the ISSO.

When to Contact the ISSO

To ensure that you maintain lawful immigration status, you must contact the ISSO:

  • If there is a change to your legal name, U.S. address, country of citizenship, immigration status, expected date of completion of your J-1 activities, information on J-2 dependents, or source of funding.
  • If you intend to travel outside the U.S. and need a travel signature from an ISSO staff member on your Form DS-2019 or if you will apply for a new visa before re-entering the U.S.
  • Any time you or your J-2 dependents obtain a new Form I-94 upon re-entering the U.S.
  • If you receive a Form I-515A upon entry to the U.S.
  • Whenever any of your immigration documents is lost or stolen
  • If you intend to change your immigration status
  • If you intend to transfer to another program sponsor
  • If you want to have your dependent spouse and/or children join you in J-2 status
  • To apply for employment authorization for either on- or off-campus employment, even if the employment is considered a requirement of your academic program.

Length of Time You May Remain in the United States

You may stay at Boston University until you complete your program of study or until the end date in item #3 of your Form DS-2019, whichever occurs first. If you need more time than allowed by your Form DS-2019, you must contact the ISSO before the expiration date in item #3 to request an extension of your Form DS-2019. Extension request applications are available at the front desk at the ISSO and on-line.

Click here for more information on extensions.

Registration, Attendance and Course of Study Requirements

Registration and Attendance.

You must register for classes and attend school each fall and spring semester. You do not have to enroll during the summer unless summer is your first term of enrollment or you are completing your program of study during the summer.

Course Load.

You must register for a full course load unless:

  1. You need less than a full course load to complete your studies by the end of that school term.
  2. You have obtained approval by the ISSO staff (recorded in SEVIS) in advance, a reduction in course load due to a medical condition or academic difficulty.
  3. You are authorized for — and working — in a period of “Academic Training” after completion of your program.

Undergraduate Students

While you have the right to register for as many classes as Boston University policy allows, you must register for at least 12 credit hours each fall and each spring semester.

Graduate Students

While you have the right to register for as many classes as Boston University policy allows, you must register for at least 12 credit hours each fall and each spring semester. Exceptions are made for graduate students receiving a graduate assistantship or fellowship requiring 20 hours of work per week. In this case, your academic department must officially certify you “full-time.” Failure to be certified full-time in a timely manner will jeopardize your immigration status.

Graduate Students Who Have Completed All Required Course Work

If a thesis or dissertation is required for your program of study and you have completed all required course work, you may register for the number of credit hours of thesis or dissertation research as required by your academic department, provided you are officially certified “full-time”.

Non-Degree Students

If the “program objective” in item #4 of your Form DS-2019 is not an academic degree from Boston University, you must be engaged in a “prescribed course of study” as defined and approved by the ISSO. You are limited to a maximum of twenty-four months as a non-degree exchange visitor student.

Interruption of Study

If you fail to register for or withdraw from a fall or spring semester, you are no longer in lawful J-1 status and are not eligible to remain in the United States. Applying for and obtaining an official “leave of absence” from Boston University does not preserve your lawful J-1 status. Please contact the ISSO immediately if you believe you must interrupt your studies. The only interruptions which are permitted by the Department of State regulations are those which are due to a medical condition which prohibits continued study, and they must be approved by the ISSO.

Medical Insurance

You are required to maintain health insurance which covers you (and your spouse and children if they are in the U.S. in J-2 status) for illnesses and accidents during the time you are at Boston University or under its J-1 program sponsorship. Coverage must meet both Department of State and Boston University requirements.

Study at Another School

Temporary Study at Another School

If you wish to study temporarily at a different school, you should consult with an advisor at the ISSO to determine if any special procedures must be followed to authorize this study. Activities not specifically noted on your Form DS-2019 usually require special written permission.

Transfer to Another School

If you wish to cease enrollment at Boston University and transfer your program sponsorship to a different school, you must obtain ISSO permission and follow proper immigration transfer procedures before you begin studies at your new school.

Click here or more information about SEVIS transfers.

Holidays and Vacations

You may remain in the U.S. and will be considered to be maintaining J-1 status during holidays and vacation periods observed by Boston University, including summer, provided:

  • You are eligible and intend to continue your studies for the next school term, and
  • The end date in item #3 of your Form DS-2019 will not be reached before you resume your studies.



You must have written authorization in order to be lawfully employed. If you have permission to work, you may not be employed for more than 20 hours each week during fall and spring semesters unless authorized for more under Academic Training. During Boston University holidays and vacation periods, including summer, you may be employed for more than 20 hours per week. Both on- and off-campus employment will be authorized in SEVIS.

On-Campus Employment

You have the right to be employed on the Boston University campus provided (a) the employment is approved in SEVIS and (b) you complete a Form I-9 (Certificate of Employment Eligibility) at the ISSO prior to or within three days of the start of your employment.

Click here for more information about on-campus employment.

Off-Campus Employment Due to Economic Necessity

You are eligible to apply to the ISSO for off-campus employment authorization if you suffer from an unforeseen economic hardship and have an urgent financial need to work. You may not be employed off campus without first obtaining written authorization from the ISSO.

Academic Training Employment Authorization

“Academic Training” authorization is given for work which is directly related to your major field of study. It may occur either before or after completion of your studies, may be either part-time or full-time, may be performed anywhere in the U.S., and may occur for a maximum period of 18 months. (Postdoctoral students may have up to 36 months.) Before you can begin work, you must apply to and receive written permission from the ISSO.

Dependent Employment

Dependents in J-2 status may apply to the USCIS for employment authorization. ISSO staff would be pleased to offer information, guidance and assistance to dependents interested in this benefit.


Travel Within the U.S.

You may freely travel within the U.S. provided you maintain your lawful J-1 status and have the following valid documents in your possession:

  • Passport
  • Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status)
  • Form I-94 (Departure Record)

Travel Outside the U.S.

You may leave the U.S. at any time. If you leave, you may be allowed to return if you have the proper, valid documents including an unexpired J-1 visa in your passport. If you travel to Canada, Mexico or certain islands adjacent to the U.S., you may be eligible to re-enter the country even if the J-1 visa in your passport has expired, provided your visit does not exceed 30 days. You should consult with the ISSO before making any trips outside the country.

Form I-515A issued at the Port of Entry upon entry to the U.S.

If a Customs and Border Protection Officer determines your documentation is incomplete when entering the U.S., you may be issued a Form I-515A and a date-specific I-94 card. These documents will grant you temporary admission to the U.S. (generally for 30 days). You must submit the required response and documents to the Form I-515A prior to the expiration date of your I-94 card to prove that you entered the U.S. lawfully. If you receive a Form I-515A, you must contact the ISSO immediately to ensure that proper procedures are followed in a timely manner. Failure to submit the proper original documentation prior to the expiration date of your I-94 card will result in termination of both your J-1 student status and your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.

Click here for more information on traveling to Canada, Mexico and the adjacent islands.

Before Completion of Studies

Procedures for returning to Boston University are distinct from those for returning to attend a different school, as follows:

  • If you wish to return to Boston University, you should contact the ISSO at least two weeks before you plan to travel and request travel authorization.
  • If you wish to return to study at a different school, you must notify the ISSO and you must obtain a Form DS-2019 from your new school before you re-enter the U.S. Entering this country using a Form DS-2019 from a school where you do not intend to study can cause serious immigration problems.

After Completion of Studies.

The date you officially complete your studies (see “Completion of Studies” section below) is very important to your ability to travel and re-enter the U.S. If you attempt to return to the U.S. using your current Form DS-2019, you may be denied the right to re-enter the country unless you have been authorized to engage in “Academic Training” employment. Upon your arrival back in the country, you must present to the CBP inspector a valid Form DS-2019 which has been (1) issued to you by the ISSO for the purpose of engaging in “Academic Training” and (2) endorsed for travel by the ISSO.

We also recommend that you travel with an offer letter from your employer and the Academic Training authorization letter issued by the ISSO.

Note: If you travel outside the country and return to Boston University, please bring your passport, Form DS-2019 and Form I-94 to the ISSO so that we may update your records. It is very important that we maintain current copies of your documents.

Dependents and Other Family Members

If you are married, you may be eligible to have your spouse (husband or wife) and/or children (under the age of 21) visit you or join you for the duration of your studies. Please contact the ISSO for more information.

Other members of your family (parents, siblings, etc.) may also be able to visit you during your studies. ISSO will be pleased to issue a Letter of Invitation to assist with their visa application.

Completion of Studies

Department of State regulations state that your lawful J-1 status automatically ends thirty days after you officially complete your studies unless you take some action to remain lawfully in the U.S.

Undergraduate Students and Graduate Students Who are not in Thesis or Dissertation Programs.

You officially complete your studies on the day of the graduation ceremony which is held at the end of your last semester of enrollment.

Graduate Students in Thesis or Dissertation Programs.

Your official date of completion will be the the day of the graduation ceremony of the semester in which you submit your thesis/dissertation. You must be enrolled in that semester, as well.

Prior to the expiration of your Form DS-2019, you must

  1. Apply, if eligible, for “Academic Training” employment authorization
  2. Apply, if eligible, to move from one program to another at Boston University or transfer to another institution
  3. If eligible, change to a different immigration status

After completing your program of study, if you do not plan to remain in the United States by following one of the procedures above, you must depart the U.S. within 30 days of your DS-2019 program end date.

Failure to Comply with Responsibilities

If you fail to comply with your responsibilities under Department of State and DHS regulations, you may face severe penalties based on the immigration laws of this country. You should work closely with ISSO staff to make certain that you comply with all J-1 regulations.

Further Information

The staff of the ISSO will be pleased to provide you with additional information, counseling and assistance so that you may achieve your educational goals while at Boston University.