Policies & Procedures


Section 1

Business and Financial Affairs

International Scholars

Sec. 718: Foreign Students and Foreign Scholars: Visa Guidelines

Responsible Office: International Center - Student Affairs
Revised: April 2023

References / Resources

Contact: International Center at (949) 824-7249 or internationalcenter@uci.edu

The UCI International Center assists departments and their prospective appointees in obtaining either temporary (non-immigrant) or permanent (immigrant) status for foreign nationals hired to fill key teaching and research positions. Each of these persons must obtain valid immigration status in order to accept employment. This status is dependent on many criteria and requires application to external agencies which may include the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Labor, and the National Prevailing Wage and Helpdesk Center (NPWHC).

The passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 make it illegal for an employer to knowingly hire an alien who is not authorized to accept employment in the U.S. An employer who hires an unauthorized immigrant is subject to fines and sanctions by the U.S. government. Additionally, Executive Order 12989 states that employers not in compliance with certain employment-related immigration and naturalization act provisions may be debarred from receiving federal contracts.

A. General Requirements

Regulations, criteria, and procedures for obtaining visas are complex and subject to change. UCI has its own priorities and internal procedures to counsel departments, review and sign documents, and secure government agency approval. The priorities are to meet the institution's need for distinguished faculty, exceptional ladder faculty, critical research and administrative positions, and temporary appointments. The International Center provides information and consultation services on the regulations and procedures governing non-immigrant and immigrant status based on UCI and affiliated institutions' appointments.

To assure compliance with campus and agency priorities and procedures, every application must be reviewed by the International Center, and signed by a designated UCI signatory. For questions on the visa status for non-immigrant employees contact the International Center by calling 824-7249 or sending a message to internationalcenter@uci.edu.

NOTE: In these circumstances, University of California policy prohibits representation of the University by a private attorney.

B. Non-Immigrant Visa Classifications - Chart of Non-Immigrant Visa Classifications

The International Center should be contacted for forms, specific regulations, and current information on all visas. The following overview of non-immigrant visas is general and subject to change.

  1. Temporary visitors for business or tourism (B-1, B-2 or W/T, W/B)

    Temporary visa holders may be eligible, under the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998, to receive payment of honoraria and associated incidental expenses related to academic activity not exceeding nine days. A Certificate of Academic Activity must be submitted with requests for honoraria or requests for advances or reimbursements for travel. B visa holder issues should be discussed with Accounting and Fiscal Services prior to submitting requests for payment.
  2. Student Visa (F-1)

    The F-1 visa is restricted to bona fide students who have been admitted to a full-time course of study leading to a degree or specific educational objective.

    1. The student must present a completed SEVIS I-20 "Certificate of Eligibility" to obtain an F-1 visa. The SEVIS I-20 is issued to the student by the International Center after they have been academically admitted to the University, met minimum English requirements, and satisfied financial criteria.
    2. UCI F-1 students may work 20 hours or less per week on campus during the academic year, and up to 40 hours per week during vacation and holiday periods. Off-campus employment is strictly limited by F-1 visa regulations.
    3. F-1 status is granted for the length of time needed for completion of the degree or academic program. F-1 students must be enrolled full-time and be making normal progress toward completion of degree or specific educational objective.
    4. F-1 students may be eligible for a total of 12 months of "practical training" for work experience in a field related to the student's academic major. An additional 24-month extension may be possible for STEM degree students.
  3. Exchange Visitor Visa (J-1)

    The J-1 visa is intended for persons coming to the University for research and/or teaching and, in some cases, for study if the person has been admitted as a full-time student or is participating in an exchange program. This visa is currently under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of State.

    1. The Exchange Visitor must present to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate a completed SEVIS DS-2019 "Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status" to obtain the J-1 visa. The SEVIS DS-2019 is issued by the International Center upon the request of an academic unit and satisfaction of financial and other criteria.
    2. A UCI J-1 visa holder is eligible for employment as indicated on the SEVIS DS-2019. A J-1 visa holder at UCI must have an official University appointment and must be employed either with or without salary. A UCI J-1 visa holder may be compensated by honoraria as well as reimbursed for travel and subsistence expenses, authorization from the International Center is required.
    3. There are several limitations and restrictions for some J-1 visa holders. Some J-1 visa holders are required to return to their country of permanent residency for at least two years before re-entering the U.S. as an immigrant or temporary worker. There are limitations on who may receive J-1 sponsorship from UCI.
    4. It is important to allow a minimum of 3 months processing time prior to the applicant's departure for the U.S.
    5. J-1 Visa holders must report to the International Center by the program start date for validation of the SEVIS DS-2019, or have notified the International Center of their delay.
  4. Temporary Worker Visa (H-1B)

    The H-1B visa category is a temporary non-immigrant visa status, that allows an employee to work temporarily for a specific employer in a "specialty occupation". H-1B visas are "employer specific"; therefore, an H-1B visa is not transferable; each employer must obtain individual visa approval for he employee. Departments should contact the International Center 6 months prior to the requested H-1B start date to begin the filing process.

    Since the requesting department must provide a salary and make certain serious commitments on behalf of the non-immigrant employee, consultation with the International Center as to the appropriateness of this visa type is required. Instructions, application forms, sample forms and detailed information are provided in the H-1B section of the International Center website.

    The University of California, Irvine is not able to sponsor, for H-1B visas, physicians who are graduates of foreign medical schools (FMG's) and wish to engage in medical training.

    1. After consultation with the International Center to determine if an H-1B is the appropriate visa type, the requesting department follows the provided guidelines and submits completed forms to the International Center with the appropriate fees, which are variable depending upon the circumstances of the employee.
    2. The International Center reviews the forms and files them with the appropriate governmental agencies. This visa type requires approval of several agencies including USCIS and the U.S. Department of Labor. USCIS mails notification of approval to the International Center and the U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad, if appropriate.
    3. Positions eligible for H-1B sponsorship must be full-time positions that are 100 percent supported, with benefits, for a duration of at least one year.
    4. An H-1B position must be in an academic unit or directly related to research or teaching in an academic unit. For staff positions, approval from Human Resources is needed to proceed with the H-1B sponsorship.
    5. The International Center should be consulted for H-1B extensions of stay and visa renewals at least 6 months prior to current expiration date.
  5. Person of Extraordinary Ability (O-1)

    The O-1 classification applies to an individual who has extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim. The O-1 classification also includes individuals of extraordinary achievement in motion pictures or television. The standard of "extraordinary ability" is defined as "a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who have risen to the very top of their field of endeavor."

    To demonstrate qualification for the O-1 visa, an employer must obtain an advisory opinion from a peer group with expertise in his or her area. Also, documentation of acclaim and recognition in at least three of the nine areas designated for specific types of evidence must be presented. In place of these types of evidence, documentation of a major international award, such as the Nobel Prize, may be submitted.

    1. Eligibility for sponsorship: UCI will provide sponsorship for O-1 status for an individual
      • who has been offered a full-time position as a faculty member, researcher or other professional staff member;
      • is critical to UCI's academic or research mission; and
      • is not eligible for H-1B or other employment status.
    2. Limitation of stay: O-1 status is employer-specific. There is no maximum limit for O-1 status. It may be approved for an initial period of three years, and extended for as long as necessary to complete the assignment, one year at a time.
    3. Use of private attorney: UCI policy requires that the immigration law firm currently under contract with the University be retained to assist with O-1 cases.

    No department, other University unit, individual or attorney may initiate the procedure of obtaining O-1 status based on a job offer from UCI without prior approval by the International Center or Office of Academic Personnel.

  6. Trade NAFTA (TN)

    TN visa classification is part of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The TN allows citizens from Canada and Mexico to enter the United States to engage in professional business activities on a temporary basis. The TN visa status is employer specific.

    The following eligibility requirements have to be met:

    1. The applicant is a citizen of Canada or Mexico;
    2. The position is for a profession on the NAFTA list; the minimum qualification is a baccalaureate degree or appropriate credentials demonstrating status as a professional;
    3. The Canadian or Mexican applicant is to work in a prearranged full-time or part-time job for a U.S. employer. Self-employment is not permitted;
    4. The professional Canadian or Mexican citizen has the qualifications of the profession.

C. Immigrant (Permanent Residency) Status

UCI sponsorship of an employee for permanent residency requires final approval by the Vice Provost. Because the University must make long-term commitments to both the U.S. government and to the beneficiary of the permanent residency petition, it is reserved for those individuals holding academic titles at certain levels.

  1. The campus will sponsor employment-based permanent residency petitions for individual in the following academic titles:
    1. Regular Rank Faculty
      • Acting Assistant Professor
      • Assistant Professor
      • Associate Professor
      • Professor

      These petitions should be filed within 18 months of the job offer letter. If the 18-month timeframe has elapsed, the applicant must have three years of teaching or research experience to file a petition.

    2. Other eligible academic appointees
      • Associate and full Professors In Residence
      • Associate and full Professors of Clinical "X"
      • Associate and full ranks of the Adjunct Professor series
      • Associate and full ranks of the Clinical Professor series
      • Associate and full ranks of the Professional Research series
  2. The processing time for permanent residency petitions are variable and, in some cases, may exceed three years.
  3. All permanent residency applications must be approved by the Vice Provost.
  4. Only the Vice Provost or a designee may sign documents related to permanent residency.
  5. Instructions for processing a permanent residency application (academic appointees or regular rank faculty) can be obtained from Academic Personnel.

D. Responsibilities of UCI Departments Sponsoring International Scholars

Departments initiating the sponsorship of international employees or fellows should:

  1. Consult with the International Center in a timely manner to ensure that a foreign national will have eligibility for the non-immigrant classification necessary to start the appointment for its full term.
  2. Allow adequate time to complete all request forms and documentation required for the visa. Processing times vary for different types of visas.
  3. Consult with the dean, director's office, Academic Personnel, and/or other UCI offices as necessary to ensure accurate and thorough completion of required forms, and to obtain required approvals. Commitments involving UCI employment and immigration status should not be made without all necessary approvals. University employees should not sign any documents relating to immigration matters until after consultation with the International Center.
  4. Pay the required U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services fees for filing the University's portion of petitions.
  5. Comply with federal law by assigning the international visitor only those functions and responsibilities which are consistent with the appointment and authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Department of Labor, and other agencies.
  6. Comply with UCI procedures and federal law as noted in instruction and application packets for non-immigrant sponsorship, particularly as they apply to employer or visa sponsor responsibilities.
  7. Ensure that no prospective employees begin performing services until they have obtained all necessary Federal and University approvals to be employed in the appropriate status at the University. Unauthorized employment, which includes payment of honoraria and travel expenses, is forbidden by Federal regulations.
  8. Ensure that international employees have adequate health insurance coverage for themselves and for any visa dependents they have in the U.S. Visas).
  9. Notify the International Center when non-immigrant employees terminate a program and/or leave UCI.