Legally married, opposite sex spouses and unmarried children under 21 may qualify for dependent visas and immigration status. (Unmarried or same-sex spouses cannot qualify for J-2 or F-2 status, but may be granted long term status as a visitor. Contact OIS for more information.)

A postdoc in J-1 status must notify OISSS once he/she decides that he/she would like to bring a spouse and/or child to the U.S. OISSS will require evidence of financial support, currently $3500.00 U.S. dollars per dependent, in order to issue a DS-2019 for the dependents. F-1 postdocs on OPT must contact their recommending school for the dependent I-20 forms.

Employment and Coursework

F-2 Dependents: Individuals in F-2 status may not accept employment or engage in business under any circumstances. F-2 spouses may not engage in a full-time study nor in any academic part time study. F-2 children may only engage in full time study at the primary and secondary level. F-2 children must change to F-1 status in order to pursue university study. An F-2 spouse may engage only in study that is considered recreational in nature. If the F-2 wishes to engage in study full time, then a change of status to F-1 status is required.

J-2 Dependents: Individuals in J-2 status can apply for work authorization. OISSS will assist the dependent by reviewing their application before submitting it for adjudication. J-2 dependents are allowed to engage in study at all educational levels.

Public Charge

International postdocs with families often experience financial difficulties that are no different from those experienced by American postdocs with families. Although the U.S. government has benefit programs designed to assist low-income families living in the U.S., such programs are available only to U.S. Permanent Residents. Non-immigrants on F or J visas are generally not eligible. Unfortunately, administrators of many public assistance programs rarely have the expertise to assess eligibility based on immigration status. Overlapping government regulations and eligibility standards – particularly when benefits are requested on behalf of children who are U.S. citizens- compound the confusion.
When a postdoc applies for a non-immigrant visa he/she has to demonstrate to the Consular Officer that he/she has the means to support, not only him/herself, but dependents, as well. Acceptance of public assistance can be a violation of an immigration status under the “public charge” ground of exclusion. “Public charge” is a term used by DHS and the State Department to classify persons who have become dependent on federal or state assistance programs. If DHS, Consulate or Embassy finds that a person has become a “public charge” because he/she has accepted public assistance, that student could be denied reentry to the U.S. after a trip home. The non-immigrant visa could even be canceled. Such a finding is extremely difficult to overcome or reverse.

Examples of public assistance programs not open to non-immigrants are:

  • Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC);
  • Medicaid, which provides reimbursement for medical care to low–income persons;
  • Food stamps, which provide low-income families with coupons to buy foods;
  • Some federally funded medical and housing programs.

Even if the administrator of a benefit finds a graduate student eligible for support and encourages that person to apply for benefits, he/she may not understand that acceptance could affect the immigration status.

Medical Insurance

The importance of adequate medical insurance for international postdocs and their families cannot be overstated. Family health and the ability to continue an educational program depends on it. J-1 students are required by law to maintain health insurance for themselves and their dependents throughout their stay in the U.S. At Johns Hopkins University, all students are required to have health insurance coverage while pursuing studies. For services information go here.