VISA and Immigration Categories Supported by UAH
Currently UAH supports the following visa classifications: F, J, H1B, TN, and B1/B2. In addition, we sponsor eligible employees for employment-based permanent residency. The type of visa appropriate for an individual case depends on, but is not limited to, the purpose of the visit, length of stay, employment relationship, or citizenship of the foreign individual. Whenever possible, contact the ISSO well in advance with as many specific details as possible surrounding the invitation or hiring of a foreign national. This will ensure that UAH is able to pursue the most appropriate visa classification for the particular situation.
The University of Alabama in Huntsville is authorized to issue immigration documents (I-20 for F status and DS-2019 for J status) to foreign students admitted to UAH to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees as well as enroll in the non-degree Intensive English Program. Students will need to request additional immigration documents for dependents (spouse or children under 21) that will come to the U.S. to accompany them. All F and J students are required to pay a SEVIS I-901 fee prior to applying for a student visa. All F and J students are automatically enrolled in the mandatory UAH student insurance program each semester of enrollment at UAH.
F student status is a non-immigrant status and is the most common classification used by foreign students to pursue a prescribed course of academic study in the U.S. F1 students must obtain admission to an academic program that requires full-time enrollment in classes and are required to document access to sufficient funds to cover the cost of education and living expenses for the period of their stay in the U.S. or at minimum 12 months. Bank statements or documents indicating other immediately accessible assets from the student, family member(s) or other sponsors are accepted.
The J student category is a non-immigrant status reserved for a smaller number of students who are participating in an educational or cultural exchange program. Traditionally J students receive a majority of funding for educational and living expenses from the U.S. government or educational exchange organization, from their home country government or exchange organization, or from the J program sponsor. Foreign nationals invited to come to UAH pursuant to an exchange agreement between UAH and a foreign institution will be sponsored by UAH on a J1 student status. J1 students are not required to obtain a degree in the U.S. and can be admitted for degree seeking or non-degree seeking programs. All J1 students must be admitted to UAH through the standard admissions process.
Cultural Exchange Visitors (EV)
The J scholar category is a non-immigrant status that allows a foreign national to come to UAH to participate in an exchange objective that involves research, lecturing, teaching or other eligible academic activity. The J1 Exchange Visitor Program is designed to facilitate temporary exchanges and collaboration it is not intended for permanent or long-term employment. As a result, the J1 category is not the appropriate status for tenure-track positions.
UAH can support J1 Exchange Visitors who will be temporarily employed by UAH or in unpaid visiting positions the following subcategories: Short term scholar, Researcher, Professor, Specialist, and Student. The amount of time needed to complete the exchange activities and the purpose of the exchange objective will dictate the J1 category appropriate for a particular case. As with other categories, J1 Exchange Visitors are required to document adequate funding to cover living expenses while in the U.S. The funding for the J1 Exchange Visitor can come from UAH as the sponsor, from the U.S. government or exchange organization or from a foreign government, organization, or employer/sponsor. The minimum funding required for a J1 and any dependents (J2) is revised annually by the ISSO.
The J1 status may initiate a Two Year Home Residence Requirement 212(e) for the foreign national if the program funding is from a U.S. exchange objective government source or foreign government source or if the subject of activity is included in the "skills list". If the J1 EV program includes a 2 year home residency, the individual must commit two years in the country of residence or obtain a waiver of the residence requirement from USCIS prior to being eligible for certain immigration statuses including H1B or adjustment to Permanent Residence.
Short term exchange visitors are required to complete their academic activity in no more than six months. The benefit of the short term J1 category is the ability to return to the U.S. on an annual basis for short term exchange projects. Unlike the J1 research or scholar category, there is no bar preventing the EV from returning to the U.S. in another J1 program.
J1 researchers or professors are eligible to participate in research or teaching tied to an exchange objective that is expected to take longer than six months. The J1 program can be extended up to a maximum period of five years. A significant consideration with the J1 researcher or professor category is the 24 month bar that prevents a J1 scholar from returning to the U.S. in another J1 researcher or scholar program until at least 24 months has passed from the date of completion of the previous J1 program. Departments should consider carefully if the J1 researcher would be better suited in short term category in order to avoid the J1 24 month bar.
All J1 Exchange Visitors are required to pay a SEVIS I-901 fee prior to applying for the J visa each time they participate in a new exchange program. In addition, all J1 exchange visitors are required to maintain appropriate insurance coverage for the entire duration of the J1 program.
The U.S. Department of State requires all J1 Exchange Visitors to have insurance coverage that meets or exceeds minimum standards throughout their stay in the U.S. To ensure full compliance with the Department of State law, UAH has arranged an insurance policy that J1 exchange visitors, not employed in a full-time benefits position, must purchase upon arrival to the U.S. J1 Exchange Visitors who are covered by the UAH employee policy as a part of their employment benefits must purchase Medical Evacuation and Repatriation insurance annual as it is not included in the standard employee insurance policy .
Short term business or consulting
B1/B2 visitor visa or the visa waiver program is appropriate for an individual who will visit UAH to conduct business activities such as participate in contract negotiations, observe research, conduct a lecture, or attend a conference. There are significant limitations regarding the amount of time a B1/B2 visitor can stay in the U.S., the type of payment or reimbursement, and the types of activities eligible for this status. B1/B2 visitors cannot be paid to work but can be reimbursed for expenses or given an honorarium for a professional activity.
The University of Alabama in Huntsville International Student and Scholar Office (ISSO) coordinates immigration related petitions necessary to employ a foreign national at UAH. Hiring departments should include the ISSO in the interview process of all candidates that may require UAH sponsorship. Hiring departments are encouraged ask potential employees if they have authorization to work in the U.S. as a routine part of the selection process. Candidates who indicate they do not have authorization to work in the U.S. or that they have temporary authorization should be scheduled to meet with the International Student and Scholar Office as a part of their interview.
By including the ISSO in the interview process, the hiring department is helping to ensure that employment authorization can be facilitated once a foreign national employee is offered a position. The ISSO will provide guidance to the hiring department about options for sponsorship and determine the most appropriate immigration category.
H1B temporary worker is used for longer-term employment in teaching, research, and limited types of staff positions. H1B is a "dual intent" status in that the foreign national is not required to document non-immigrant intent to be eligible for the status or visa. The H1B status is granted for one to three years at a time, depending on the availability of funding for the position. H1B status is only available for a maximum period of six years. H1B status can provide a transition to employment based permanent residence or "green card" for qualified foreign nationals. The H1B process involves U.S. Department of Labor and USCIS review and processing and substantial processing fees. Dependents of an H1B are eligible for H4 status. H4 dependents are eligible to study but are not eligible to work while in the U.S.
H-1B petition fees, including the I-129 filing fee, the Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee, and dependent I-539 change of status filing fee, must be paid by the employing department. If the petition must be filed using expedited processing then an additional $1000 "premium processing" fee must be paid by the department unless the foreign national has chosen to expedite the petition for personal benefit. Part-time employment is appropriate only in unusual situations. Departments that decide to hire a foreign national part-time must agree to closely monitor hours worked and provide the ISSO a copy of bi-weekly timesheets as required by the Department of Labor.
TN temporary worker was established, through NAFTA, as non-immigrant status for Canadian and Mexican professionals to work temporarily in the U.S. The classification is only available to qualified members of certain pre-determined occupations and allows for expedited entry of these professionals. TN is reserved for professional positions (normally non-tenure). Dependents of a TN employee are eligible for TD status. TD dependents are eligible to study but not work while in the U.S.
Lawful Permanent Residence (Green Card)
Lawful Permanent Residence is an immigrant classification that allows a foreign national to remain indefinitely in the U.S. with legal, unrestricted work authorization. The University of Alabama in Huntsville sponsors certain employees for an employment based (EB) immigrant visa. The employment based sponsorship process requires the employer file an I-140 indicating eligibility for an immigrant visa. The employee may concurrently file an I-485 application requesting adjustment of status to U.S. Permanent Resident. This two part process is managed differently depending on factors including, but not limited to, preference category of the EB filing, family considerations, and visa availability. If a UAH Department or Research Center is interested in investigating options to sponsor an employee for Lawful Permanent Residence, the supervisor in the Department or Center should contact the ISSO. We will discuss possible options and timelines for the particular employee to be eligible for UAH sponsorship.