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Types of Visas, Basic Nonimmigrant Documents, and Permission to Work

International Scholars > Visas, Documents, and Work Permission

Types of Visas

A nonimmigrant visa permits an individual to seek admission to the United States for a temporary stay. All nonimmigrant visas are designated by a letter and range in the alphabet from A to V. International faculty and researchers appointed at MIT are typically in one of the following immigration statuses.

  • J-1 Exchange Visitor in the Professor, Research Scholar, Short-Term Scholar, or Specialist category
  • H-1B for professionals engaged in temporary work in specialty occupations
  • TN for professionals from Canada or Mexico
  • F-1 student with employment authorization for Practical Training in his or her field (usually following completion of studies)
  • J-1 student with employment authorization for Academic Training in his or her field following completion of studies
  • O-1 for persons of extraordinary abiliity engaged in temporary professional work

The ISchO is the only office authorized to file petitions with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for employment of foreign nationals at MIT, and gives careful consideration to requests from departments and foreign nationals. USCIS will not accept petitions based on MIT employment if they are filed by attorneys or other individuals. Click here for more detailed information.

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Basic Nonimmigrant Documents

If you are a nonimmigrant in the United States, you will need to have the following documents:

  • Passport: Nonimmigrants are required to have a valid passport. (There are limited exceptions for Canadians entering the United States; click here for details.) Your passport must be valid for six months beyond your anticipated stay at the time of each admission to the United States. While you are in the United States, you must agree to keep your passport valid during the period of your stay. If necessary, ask officials at the consulate or embassy of your home country in the United States to extend your passport and consult them to learn what forms and fees are required. Click here for a list of consulates.
  • Admission Stamp in Passport: Given by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to most nonimmigrants entering the United States through air and sea ports. The ISchO recommends that international scholars and family members print an electronic I-94 admission record from CBP.gov/I94 every time they make an entry into the U.S. and keep it with their passport/immigration documents.
  • Form I-94: This is a small white card that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) endorses and staples into the passport of nonimmigrants entering through land crossings and, in special cases, to some nonimmigrants entering through air and sea ports. It indicates your visa classification, date of entry, and the date until which you are permitted to stay. It is this date, rather than the expiration date of the visa stamp in your passport, which indicates how long you may legally stay in the United States. The Form I-94 is an extremely important document. When you leave the United States (except for visits to Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands), this form will be taken from you. You will receive a new Form I-94 if you re-enter the United States through a land port of entry. Those admitted into the United States in F-1 or J-1 visa status should see the notation "D/S" on the Form I-94, which means "Duration of Status." For those in F-1 visa status, this means the end of their program of study or practical training authorization plus 60 days. For those in J-1 visa status, this means the period indicated on Form DS-2019 plus 30 days. People in H-1B visa status are admitted for the validity period of the Form I-797.
  • Visa Stamp: You must have a valid entry visa stamp in your passport for entry to the United States. This stamp is obtained from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside the United States. (Canadians do not need visa stamps, but are required to present the appropriate visa eligibility documents when entering the United States in order to obtain a particular visa classification.) Your visa stamp will be numbered and may be one of several classifications (e.g. J, B, H, or F). It will show the date and place of issue and the date to which it can be used (expiration date). It will indicate the number of entries for which it is valid ("multiple," "two," "single," or "one"). While you are in the United States, it is permissible for your visa stamp to expire, but your other immigration documents must be valid at all times.
  • Visa Eligibility Document: There is often a specific legal document associated with each immigration status. For example, Form DS-2019 is required for J-1 visa status, Form I-20 is required for F-1 visa status, and Form I-797 is required for H-1B and O-1 visa status. As a nonimmigrant, you need the required form to apply for a particular visa stamp and/or classification, for travel and re-entry to the United States, for verification of legal status once in the United States, and in some cases for extension of stay applications or other transactions with USCIS. Both a valid visa stamp and the document appropriate for your visa classification are required for entry and re-entry to the United States.

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Visa Eligibility Documents

  • F-1: Form I-20 with a signature authorizing travel and an EAD (employment authorization card) for those on practical training. Consult the office that issued your I-20 for details.
  • J-1: Form DS-2019 issued by your J-1 program sponsor (MIT, Fulbright, etc.). When you enter the United States with a new DS-2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stamps the DS-2019 and returns it to you. You must then report to your program sponsor so that your J-1 record can be "validated" in SEVIS (the government tracking system). You may travel and re-enter the United States with the DS-2019, provided that you have obtained a travel signature from your J-1 Responsible Officer, you have a valid J-1 visa stamp in your passport (or will obtain one prior to re-entry), and you are returning to the United States during the period of validity of the DS-2019 and the period of validity of the signature. If you need a new DS-2019 (for example, if your DS-2019 is about to expire), you must request a new DS-2019 from MIT or the appropriate J-1 sponsor.

    Each J-2 dependent needs a separate DS-2019. Request this form from the ISchO or the appropriate J-1 sponsor. Please contact the ISchO at least four (4) weeks in advance if you need a new document.
  • H-1B or O-1: Original Form I-797 (the H-1B or O-1 Notice of Approval), a brief letter verifying your employment at MIT, and a copy of your H-1B or O-1 petition (and LCA, if H-1B) for visa application purposes. Scholars in H-1B status should consult more detailed information here.

    H-4 or O-3 dependents should have proof of the family relationship (such as a marriage certificate) in addition to the Form I-797. Since USCIS will not issue duplicate forms without a fee, it is important to retain the original. The ISchO may have asked USCIS to cable notice of your H-1B or O-1 approval to a particular U.S. Embassy or Consulate at the time of your initial application.
  • Scholars in TN and other immigration statuses should consult the ISchO for guidelines.

Special Notes: The following are exceptions to the requirements listed above:

  • Canadian citizens need only to show a valid passport along with the appropriate visa eligibility document. No visa stamp is required.
  • Permanent residents of the United States are required to have a valid passport and Form I-551 (stamp in the passport or the Alien Registration card or Permanent Resident card, known as the "green card").
  • Applicants for permanent residence in the United States may need to apply for Advance Parole and should consult the ISchO for further information.

Before traveling, please come to the ISchO to verify that you have the correct documents to return to the United States and consult our latest travel advisory.

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Permission to Work

The following is a brief list regarding nonimmigrant visas and possible work authorization.

  • B-1/WB Temporary Visitor for Business
    May have unsalaried appointment; reimbursement for reasonable travel and living expenses or subsistence allowance per diem for expenses permitted.
  • B-2/WT Temporary Visitor for Pleasure ("Tourist Visa")
    No appointment, salaried or unsalaried, is permitted.
  • F-1 Student on Optional Practical Training (OPT)
    Permitted to work in field of study. Those in F-1 status need work authorization from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  • F-2 Spouse or Dependents of F-1 Student
    Not permitted to work.
  • H-1B Temporary Worker
    Authorized to work only for the institution listed on the approval notice (Form I-797).
  • H-4 Spouse or Dependent of H-1B, H-2, H-3
    Not permitted to work.
  • J-1 Student on Academic Training
    Permitted to work in field of study with authorization of sponsoring institute.
  • J-1 Exchange Visitor
    Authorized to work only for the institute indicated on Form DS-2019 or by approval of the J-1 program sponsor.
  • J-2 Spouse or Dependent of J-1 Exchange Visitor
    May work with authorization from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  • O-1 Individual of Extraordinary Ability
    Authorized to work only for the institution listed on the approval notice (Form I-797).
  • TN Canadian or Mexican Professional
    Employer-specific work authorized under the terms of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).
  • TD Spouses or Dependents of TN visa holders
    NOT permitted to work.

In some cases, a foreign national may apply for work authorization or change from a visa classification which does not permit employment to one which does. MIT employees should discuss such changes with a staff member in the International Scholars Office. MIT students should discuss these matters with staff members in the International Students Office.

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Last Updated: May 2013

77 Massachusetts Ave, Room E38-219, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307 | Telephone: (617) 253-2851 | Fax: (617) 253-6624 | E-mail: iso@mit.edu