DS-2019 / J-1 visas vs. I-20 / F-1 visas
Visa types for high school exchanges
AFICE, the Academic Foundation for International Cultural Exchange, is designated by the United States Department of State as a J-1 Visa sponsor for secondary (high school) students. The J-1 Visa is one of two types of visas that high school students can obtain in order to participate as an exchange student. The other type of visa is the F-1 Visa.
The J-1 visa program for secondary students works by authorizing a private, non-profit organization (such as AFICE) to issue forms that enable students to obtain a J-1 visa. This form is the DS-2019 form. Each authorized organization is allotted a strictly limited amount of DS-2019 forms to use each year, and when that allotment has been used the organization can accept no more students for the year.
The F-1 visa program works by authorizing either schools or school districts (whether public or private) to issue similar forms that enable students to obtain the F-1 visa. In this case the form is the I-20 form.
*** Please note: This discussion is limited to visas for high school students. There are visas at other levels of education, but those levels do not apply here so any differences discussed may not apply to levels of higher education.***
The J-1 Visa and the F-1 visa are similar in many respects, but they also have very important differences. First of all, the two categories (J and F) are overseen by two different branches of the government. The J Visa program is authorized and regulated by the US Department of State (a.k.a. the State Department), while the F Visa program is directly under the Department of Homeland Security, also known as DHS.
Because the J-1 visa is associated with an organization that can conceivably operate anywhere in the United States, students on a J-1 visa may attend any accredited high school that will give them permission to attend. And when the students attend a public school using a J-1 visa, they do not pay any tuition to the public school. (Private schools are an option under the J-1 visa, but they will typically charge tuition to the student.)
The F-1 visa is associated with the school or district that issued the I-20 form. Because of this, students on an F-1 visa may only attend the school or district that issued the I-20 form. Additionally, students on F-1 visas are required to pay tuition to the school or district, even if it is a public school. However, the vast majority of public schools and districts do not participate in the F-1 visa program and therefore do not issue I-20 forms. This means that students who wish to attend a public school must participate in the J-1 visa program.
The J-1 visa program is considered to be a "cultural exchange" program. Therefore, many facets of placement other than just the school are considered to be important parts of the exchange. One important placement factor is that J-1 secondary students may not be placed with relatives, and there are absolutely no exceptions. They may, however, live with family friends. On the other hand, as the F-1 visa is school-centric, this restriction does not apply.
Finally, for the J-1 program, Federal regulations for J-1 visas require host families to be volunteers. But families who host F-1 students typically receive monthly compensation for hosting students. These differences mean that F-1 visa programs are typically far more expensive to students than J-1 visa programs are.
There are other differences, of course, but these are the ones that have the most impact on exchange students and their host families.
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