Fermilab Visa Office (VO) is tasked with ensuring that all foreign national employees and visitors are authorized to be in the United States. Fermilab employees and visitors hold a variety of nonimmigrant statuses in the United States.
Nonterm or “permanent” positions
Fermilab employees holding nonterm or tenure track positions usually hold the following statuses.
H-1B nonimmigrant status is a “temporary” work-authorizing status available to employees of Fermi Research Alliance LLC (FRA). It is the most common work-authorizing status. It is available to professionals working in their field of specialty, holding no less than a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) in their field.
H-1B approval is specific to the employer (the organization that filed the petition) and to the location of employment as listed in the Form I-129 petition. It is not a “general” work authorization.
You may learn more about H-1B status in general on the USCIS website.
- Offer and acceptance: Fermilab Recruitment or Directorate issues an offer letter outlining the position and term length. Foreign national accepts the offer in writing.
- Information gathering: Visa Office initiates the case in the online case management system, contacts the manager for position specifics, and prompts the foreign national to complete the questionnaire and provide supporting documents online.
- Forms: Once all of the requested information is received, Visa Office prepares and submits the LCA to the DOL for certification. Once LCA is certified, Visa Office prepares the H-1B petition package, requests any missing or updated documents, and requests a check from accounting.
- Filing: The complete H-1B package is sent to USCIS for processing. “Regular” processing takes two to seven months; “Premium” processing takes two weeks.
- Approval: If “Change of Status,” new status takes effect on validity start date listed on the approval notice; if “Consular” – must obtain a Visa Stamp and (re)enter the U.S. in new status (Visa Office will provide the visa packet to the foreign national).
- Changes: If anything in foreign national’s employment changes, the change must be discussed with the Visa Office prior to the change taking place.
O-1 nonimmigrant visas are reserved for the individuals who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics or who have demonstrated a record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.
You may learn more about O-1 Status in general on the USCIS website.
The nonimmigrant NAFTA Professional TN visa allows citizens of Canada and Mexico, as NAFTA professionals, to work in the United States in prearranged business activities for U.S. or foreign employers. Permanent residents of Canada and Mexico are not able to apply for TN visas to work as NAFTA professionals.
You may learn more about the TN status in general on the DOS website.
The E-3 classification applies only to nationals of Australia. You must be coming to the United States solely to perform services in a specialty occupation. The specialty occupation requires theoretical and practical application of a body of knowledge in professional fields and at least the attainment of a bachelor’s degree, or its equivalent, as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.
You may learn more about the E-3 status in general on the USCIS website.
Fixed-term positions and temporary visitors
Fermilab’s employees holding nonterm or tenure track positions and our many international visitors supported by institutions other than Fermilab usually hold the following statuses.
J-1 visa status enables foreign nationals to enter the United States as “exchange visitors.” Exchange Visitor Programs are supervised by the U.S. Department of State (DOS), which has authorized Fermi Research Alliance (FRA) and Universities Research Association Inc. (URA) to manage several J-1 Exchange Visitor programs at Fermilab. Please see the Department of State for further general information about J-1 Exchange Programs.
There are different types of J-1 Exchange Visitor programs at Fermilab:
- Summer students, trainees and interns program, for students and recent graduates in physics, computer science, engineering and related fields. These programs enable students to participate in structured internship and training programs at Fermilab that relate to their course of studies. The programs range from a few weeks to 18 months in duration.
- Research scholars program, which enables foreign research scholars (including our guest scientists and engineers and visiting scientists) the opportunity to engage in research, teaching and lecturing with their American colleagues, to participate actively in cross-cultural activities with Americans and ultimately to share with their countrymen their experiences and increased knowledge of the United States and their substantive fields.
- Short-term scholars program, which enables scholars to come to the United States for a period of up to six months to lecture, observe, consult, and to participate in seminars, workshops, conferences, study tours, professional meetings, or similar types of educational and professional activities.
- Specialists program, for experts in a field of specialized knowledge or skill who are coming to the United States for observing, consulting or demonstrating special skills. The maximum program duration is one year.
- Offer and acceptance: Recruitment or Directorate issues an offer letter outlining the position and term length. Foreign National accepts the offer in writing.
- Information gathering: VO initiates the case in the online case management system, contacts the Manager for position specifics, and prompts the foreign national to complete the questionnaire and provide supporting documents online. The applicant must also review and acknowledge understanding of our J-1 Orientation Presentation.
- Forms: Once all of the requested information is received, VO creates a SEVIS record and issues a Form DS-2019 (and DS-7002 for Interns/Trainees), and mails the original documents to the foreign national.
- Visa interview: Foreign national schedules a visa interview abroad (not necessarily home country), receives a J-1 Visa Stamp, and enters the U.S.
- Orientation and validation: Next day or first business day thereafter, foreign national attends the J-1 orientation with the Visa Office, which then “validates” the program.
- Extensions: It is the foreign national’s and manager’s responsibility to contact the Visa Office to initiate a J-1 program extension (if an extension is possible) or a change in status. Although the VO monitors the J-1 expiration dates, we do not solicit the division, supervisor, or foreign national for extension of programs, and the programs automatically close on the last date of validity. VO does request and collect additional required data from Interns and Trainees at the end of their programs.
- Transfers: Transfers between J-1 sponsors are allowed if the program is still valid. Please contact the VO with an institution transfer request.
- Program ending: Programs ends automatically, and it is the foreign national’s responsibility to depart the U.S. within the 30-day grace period. Programs may be ended early by the VO if requested. Programs may also be ended early by the VO for various reasons including noncompliance of program regulations.
Participation in exchange programs as a J-1 research scholar or professor for the first time or after a prior J-1 status is restricted by a “bar” (or ineligibility period). Depending on previous J-status, the period of ineligibility is either 12 or 24 months.
Eligibility for participation in J-1 categories other than research scholar or professor is not affected by these barring periods.
Some J-1 exchange visitors may be found subject to a two-year home-country physical presence requirement, which means you either have to reside in your home country OR obtain a Waiver form the Department of State before you can change status or enter the U.S. in a work-authorized or permanent resident status.
Fermilab has agreements with many US universities which allow the students to conduct their research or practical training activities onsite at Fermilab, please check with your university whether you are eligible for this kind of program.
Upon graduation, eligible foreign student may work with their school to apply for a 12-months Optional Practical Training Employment Authorization Document from the USCIS. Some eligible students may further extend this work authorization by applying for the 24-months STEM OPT extension. The Visa Office will work with you and your school to complete the OPT process.
Questions? Comments? Contact the Visa Office!