International Postdoc Handbook

Immigration Information
As international postdocs fulfill their appointments, they will be required to comply with various U.S. government regulations. The Office of International Student and Scholar Services (OISSS) is available to assist all international postdocs with this compliance by providing them with information and advising.

Glossary of Terms
U.S. immigration law is complex and various U.S. government agencies have control over various steps of the immigration process. As such, international postdocs may have interactions with officials from different U.S. government agencies throughout their studies.

U.S. Department of State – The U.S. Department of State (DOS) is the agency that issues visas in all nonimmigrant categories, and also has responsibility for the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program. Individuals in J-1 status are usually governed by regulations issued by the Department of State, rather than the Department of Homeland Security.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has jurisdiction over the administration of U.S. immigration law at the ports of entry and once inside the U.S. F-1 regulations are issued by the Department of Homeland Security. The three departments of DHS that have immigration responsibilities are listed below.

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for the admission of foreign nationals into the U.S. at the ports of entry. A postdoc typically meets a CBP official when he/she steps off the plane. They endorse the postdoc’s immigration status and the length of his/her stay.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS): CIS is responsible for the adjudication of immigration benefits inside the U.S. A postdoc may file various applications for benefits with CIS during the course of his/her appointment.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the enforcement area of DHS responsible for implementing U.S. immigration laws, including oversight of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

Post-docs do not, generally, need to worry about the jurisdiction of these various government agencies as OISSS provides guidance and assistance.

Passport – Passports are documents issued by a postdoc’s home country establishing identity and citizenship. Immigration law requires that a postdoc’s passport must be valid for 6 months into the future. Postdocs should be careful of the expiration date of their passports, and should contact their consulate or embassy for further information on obtaining an extension or new passport. Should it be necessary, the respective Dean’s Office can provide a letter certifying your post-doctoral status.

Visa Document – The visa document establishes the who, what, when, where and how of immigration.  In general, a post-doc who is coming to the U.S. specifically for the purpose of a post-doctoral appointment is given a DS-2019 form for a J-1 visa.  Some post-docs, who have recently received their doctorate from a U.S. institution, will be in the U.S. in F-1 status with Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization.  Both the DS-2019 and I-20 contain information about how long the post-doc may remain in the U.S. and what activities are allowed.  Some information on J-1 regulations is included elsewhere on this website and on the OISSS website.  Post-docs in a period of F-1 OPT should access the resources of the institution listed on their I-20 for immigration information.

Visa – A visa is the passport stamp issued U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. The visa serves only one purpose: it allows an individual to travel to the United States to request admission into the U.S. in a particular immigration status. The visa has no bearing on the length or validity of a postdoc’s legal stay in the U.S. A valid visa is required for readmission to the U.S. after a temporary absence, except in certain limited circumstances. Canadian/Bermudan citizens are exempt from visa requirements. The visa will indicate the number of entries allowed on the visa (1,2, or M for multiple) and the expiration date. The number of entries and the validity of the visa are determined by reciprocity agreements between the U.S. and individual foreign countries.

Immigration Status – An individual’s immigration status is indicated by an entry stamp received at the border that gives both the classification (F-1, J-1, etc.) and length of authorized admission.  For both F-1 and J-1 postdocs, the expiration date will be “D/S” (Duration of Status) which  means that a postdoc can legally remain in the U.S. for the period of time specified on his/her I-20 or DS-2019, provided that he/she continues to engage in activities that are in keeping with the intent of the status, and are in compliance with the regulations which govern that status.