Student Visa Process

The following information outlines the visa application process when a new student comes to Harvard University from outside the United States using a student visa sponsored by Harvard University. All student visas sponsored by Harvard University require both a visa document issued by the Harvard International Office (HIO) and a visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the United States. Canadian citizens only need a visa document and do not need a visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate. The information in this section provides an overview of what to expect when requesting a visa document from Harvard University, applying for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate, and finally, entering the United States.

Admissions and Financial Certification

The first few steps of the visa process for international students coming to Harvard are managed directly by specific schools that the students plan to attend. Once a student accepts an offer of admission into a Harvard program, the admissions or financial aid office at the school requests from the students documentation regarding their financial ability to study in the United States. The financial certification process can be time consuming since the student needs to compile evidence of guaranteed funding, often from several different sources. The HIO is not directly involved in the admissions and financial certification process.

Visa Documents

Once the financial certification is complete the school's admissions or financial aid office enters the student's information into a database shared with the HIO. Until this point the HIO does not have records of new students coming to Harvard. The HIO has been designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of State to issue F and J student visa documents. In most cases once the school requests the HIO to issue a visa document it only takes a few days to prepare the Form I-20 (F-1 visa) or Form DS-2019 (J-1 visa). The HIO prepares instructional information for students regarding the next step of the process which is to apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate. The visa documents are then sent to students with instructions on what the next steps are.

Students whose visas are sponsored by another agency, such as Fulbright, LASPAU, OAS etc. receive their visa documents directly from the agency.

Choosing Your Student Visa

There are generally two visa categories for studying in the United States: the F-1 student visa and the J-1 student visa. Both allow full-time study in the United States. Under the current regulations, both allow various degrees of work permission before and after graduation. Most admitted full-time international students to Harvard University are eligible for the F-1 visa. Only some students are eligible for the J-1 student visa.

Students are only eligible for the J-1 student visa:

  • If at least 50% of the tuition funding comes from a government agency, official scholarship or an employer (student personal loans,  do not qualify)
  • If the student's government requires that s/he use the J-1 visa based on receiving a government scholarship
  • If the student's visa is sponsored by an agency such as Fulbright, LASPAU, USAID, or AMIDEAST.
  • Students who are eligible for both the F-1 student visa and the J-1 student visa must communicate to the admissions offices of their schools which visa they plan to use for their programs at Harvard. The following is a list of some differences between the two visas:

F-1 Student Visa

  • Students are eligible to work on-campus for up to 20 hours a week while school is in session as long as the employment does not interfere with their educational program.
  • Accompanying dependents (spouse and children) receive the F-2 visa and are not allowed to work.
  • Accompanying dependents may not enroll in a full time course of study in the United States while in F-2 status. However, F-2 children may enroll in primary or secondary school.
  • Optional Practical Training, defined as employment related to the student's field of study, may be authorized for up to 12 months, either during the summer, during academic years, or following graduation.
  • Off-campus employment that is not related to the course of study is restricted.

J-1 Student Visa

  • Students are eligible to work on-campus for up to 20 hours a week while school is in session as long as the employment does not interfere with their educational program.
  • Part-time off-campus employment may be permitted if there is unforeseen financial need.
  • Accompanying dependents (spouse and children) receive the J-2 visa.
  • Accompanying dependents in J-2 status may apply for work permission in the United States. Be advised that it sometimes takes several months to obtain work permission.
  • Accompanying dependents may enroll in a full-time course of study in the United States while in J-2 status.
  • Academic Training may be authorized for up to 18 months following completion of studies (not to exceed the length of the academic program). Students in doctoral programs may be authorized for up to 36 months of Academic Training.
  • Depending upon the country and funding sources, a J visa holder may be subject to the two-year home residence requirement. Students who are subject to the requirement must return home for two years before being eligible to apply for an H-1, L-1 or immigrant visa.
  • Both J-1 and J-2 visa holders are required to have comprehensive health insurance coverage in the United States.