Obtaining a Visa to Attend USC
Understanding the difference between F-1 and J-1 visas
Students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents must have an appropriate non-immigrant visa in order to
study at USC. This process requires submission of proof of funding to USC. For details please see Submitting Financial
Documents. Most students attend USC on the F-1 student visa or the J-1 exchange visitor visa. It is important to
understand the difference between the two in order to determine which one would be more appropriate for you:
F-1 Visa: This is the most common type of student visa. In order to apply for the F-1 visa, USC will issue admitted students the I-20 Form, also known as the Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) Student. This is a three page document signed by a Designated School Official (DSO) that will certify that the student has been admitted to a full-time academic program at USC and has demonstrated adequate financial resources to meet tuition and living expenses.
Students attending USC on the F-1 visa must maintain full-time enrollment during the course of their degree program. On-campus jobs and off-campus jobs affiliated with USC may be undertaken with permission from the Office of International Services (OIS) and must be limited to 20 hours per week. Dependents of F-1 students (issued F-2 visas) may not pursue employment or academic studies in the United States.
J-1 Visa: In order to be eligible for a J-1 student visa, students must demonstrate that a majority of their financial support comes from sources other than personal funds. These may include scholarships, assistantships and fellowships from external funding sources such as government agencies, philanthropic institutions or employers. Students receiving full funding from USC may also be eligible.
For those seeking to apply for the J-1 visa, USC will issue admitted students the DS-2019 Form, also known as the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status. This is a two page document signed by a Designated School Official (DSO) that will certify that the student has been admitted to a program of study at USC and has demonstrated adequate sponsorship. Dependents of J-1 students (issued J-2 visas) can seek employment in the United States once they obtain an Employment Authorization Document from the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Restrictions may require a J-1 student to immediately return to their home country upon completing their program in the United States.
An I-20/DS-2019 will be issued only after a student has been admitted to USC and has certified their enrollment by completing the Statement of Intent form located at USConnect. Please note that certain graduate programs do not utilize USConnect to notify students of their admission status. If you have been notified of a decision but your decision letter is not available on USConnect, please contact your department directly.
Exceptions to Obtaining an I-20/DS-2019 from USC
Permanent Residents– U.S. Permanent Residents are not required to apply for a student visa.
Employment-Based Visa Holders- Students (and their dependents) already residing in the United States on work-related visas that permit study (i.e. H1B, H4) may remain on their current visa if they so choose. The student must abide by the terms of their work visa to maintain their immigration status.
Other Non-Immigrant Visas – Students already residing in the United States on other non-‐immigrant visas that permit study (L-2, O-1, etc.) may remain on their current visa should they choose. Note: B1/B2 tourist visas do not permit study in the United States under any circumstances.
Fulbright Scholars – Students receiving financial support from the Fulbright Commission as well as other agencies such as AMIDEAST and LASPAU will be issued the DS-2019 by their funding agency. A copy of the scholarship letter must be submitted to USC.
Online Academic Programs – Students enrolled in academic programs based entirely online are not eligible to apply for F-1 or J‐1 visas as per immigration regulations.
Instructions for Admitted Students Currently Attending Other U.S. institutions
Students currently attending another U.S. institution on an F‐1 will need to request their institution to transfer their SEVIS record to USC in order to begin their academic program here. Please note that USC does not require a transfer-in form to complete the process. Admitted students will be provided detailed instructions on completing the transfer process.
Instructions for Students Requesting Change of Status Visas
Admitted students will receive detailed instructions regarding the visa application process along with their I‐20/DS‐ 2019.The Office of Graduate Admission mails all I‐20/DS‐2019 forms via courier to the student’s current address; electronic copies of the I‐20/DS‐2019 will not be provided under any circumstances. I‐20/DS‐2019 related questions or documents should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org .