Types of Student Visas

International students can apply for a visa in the F-1 or J-1 category.

All full-time, admitted students are eligible for the F-1 visa, as long as they are proficient in English and can show proof of funding for at least the first year of study. Most Northwestern University international students have this visa status.

However, some students may also be eligible for a J-1 student visa.

Who is eligible for a J-1 student visa?

J-1 eligible students are either part of an established exchange program OR receive at least 50% of their funding from a source other than personal or family funds.  This may come from a scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship from an external source, such as Northwestern University, your home government, a corporate sponsor, etc. (Please note that funding through loans of any kind, including NU loans, are considered personal funds and do not qualify.)

These students may choose between F-1 or J-1 visa status. 

Choosing between F-1 and J-1 status

Aside from the funding differences, these visas carry restrictions that may impact your eligibility for on- and off-campus work, your spouse’s ability work and/or study in the United States, and more.

J-1 eligible students can use the table below to understand the key differences between the two visas.

J-1 students may also be subject to the Two Year Home Residency Requirement, often referred to as the 212(e). While we may make a determination based on funding, the Department of State determines who is subject at the time of visa application. If subject, a 212(e) J visa holder and his/her dependents must physically reside in their last country of legal permanent residence for two years before s/he may return to the U.S. as an H-1B visa holder, L visa holder, K visa holder or as a permanent resident. There are also possible restrictions on a J-1 student changing to another J category such as research scholar or professor.

212(e) status does not prevent a visitor from returning to the U.S. in another visa status such as F-1 student, B1/B2 as a tourist or for business or under the visa waiver program. Returning to the U.S. in one of these categories may postpone your Two Year Home Residency requirement, but will not eliminate it.

There are three reasons a J-1 visitor may be subject to the 212(e) requirement:

  • J-1 program is funded in part or wholly by the United States government, the visitor's government, or an international organization.
  • The J-1 is engaged in one or more of the skills listed on the Exchange Visitor Skills List for his/her country.
  • the J-1 visa holder is receiving graduate medical education or training.


Please refer to the Department of State website for more information.


Differences between F-2 and J-2 visa status.
F-1 Visa J-1 Visa
Off-campus work restrictions The International Office may authorize up to 20 hours/week of Curricular Practical Training (CPT) while school is in session so long as other criteria is met. U.S. Customs and Immigration Service may also authorize employment for up to 12 months after graduation through Optional Practical Training and an additional 24 months for a STEM extension in certain circumstances. The International Office may authorize up to 20 hours/week of Academic Training (AT) while school is in session. The maximum permitted employment length ranges from 3 months to 3 years, depending on academic degree and program length. Employment after graduation requires a job offer.
On-campus work restrictions Both are eligible for up to 20 hours/week of on-campus work while school is in-session. (Without prior authorization from the International Office.)
Spouse work restrictions F-2 spouses cannot work or attend school full-time. The U.S. Immigration Service may authorize J-2 spouses to work. J-2 spouses can attend school full- or part-time.
Immigration Document I-20 DS-2019