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Student Visa & Entry into the United States

Student Visa Overview

Congratulations on being admitted to UC Davis, we look forward to working with you. Most international students need either an I-20 Form or DS-2019 Form to apply for a student visa. You must be first admitted to UC Davis, and indicate that you plan to attend the University before SISS can prepare your I-20 or DS-2019 form. You will need to decide whether to apply for an F-1 or J-1 visa. 

The information below should address many of your questions about preparing to come to Davis, including how to obtain your student visa. The International Student and Scholar Handbook also provides useful information for students.

Which visa type is more appropriate for me, F-1 or J-1?

Most students coming to UC Davis use the F-1 visa. This is the most common visa for international students studying in the United States. The J-1 visa is used by students coming for educational exchange programs.

F-1 Status J-1 Status
Most common visa for International Students studying in the United States Known as the Exchange Visitor Visa. Used by students in educational exchange programs, which include the UC Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) and MBA exchange students in the GSM program.
Any type of financial support is acceptable Must have a majority of financial support from non-personal sources. Students with government funding are sometimes required by the government to use the J-1 visa.
Limited on-campus employment does not require work authorization. All off-campus employment requires authorization from SISS or USCIS. All employment, both on-campus and off-campus work, requires work authorization from SISS.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) after program completion is available for 12 months, with a 24-month extension possible for STEM majors. A job offer is not required for initial OPT, but there is a limit to the amount of time that a student can remain unemployed. Students must apply to US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) for OPT work authorization. Approval can take several months, and there is a USCIS fee for submitting the I-765 form. Academic Training (AT), a type of employment, is available for up to 18 months of AT. Non-degree students (i.e., EAP, Flossfeder) may be eligible for a maximum of 12 months or duration of program, whichever is shorter (i.e., 3 months of program = 3 months of Academic Training). You must have a job offer to apply for AT. Students apply to SISS for work authorization. There is no SISS fee for this service.
F-2 dependents are not allowed to work. An F-2 spouse may not engage in full-time study, and F-2 children may only attend Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade full-time. Study which is avocational or recreational is allowed J-2 dependents may work after obtaining work authorization and may attend school full-time or part-time.
There is no 2-Year Foreign Residence Requirement J-1 and J-2 dependents may be subject to the 2-Year Foreign Residence Requirement


What if I'm already in the U.S., but not in F-1 or J-1 status?

Some other visa categories allow for studying in the U.S.  A tourist visa (such as B-2) is not one of them.  If you have questions about whether or not you are allowed to study, please contact SISS.

Where to find information about applying for a visa*

The U.S. Department of State– Bureau of Consular Affairs has several guides about how to apply for a visa:


*Canadian nationals do not need an F-1 student visa to enter in student status; however, a Canadian passport and valid UC Davis I-20 is required.

Applying for Your U.S. Visa

The only place to obtain a U.S. visa is at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Follow the instructions on the website for the US Embassy or Consulate at which you will be applying. Additional information on visas can be found on the U.S. Department of State website. There you will find specific information for both the F-1 and J-1 student/exchange visitor visas.