Pre-Arrival Information - Welcome Letter

Prior to your arrival to Georgia Tech, we recommend that you carefully read the J Scholar Pre-arrival Guide as it provides useful information to prepare you for stay in the U.S.

Obtaining a J Visa and Entering the United States

To apply for the J-1 visa, present the DS-2019, your valid passport, proof of payment of the $180 SEVIS fee, and verification of financial support to the United States embassy or consulate. You can access the visa application procedures for particular US Embassies and Consulates at the Department of State Web site: If applying for a visa, you will need to pay for the SEVIS fee three days prior to your appointment at the US Embassy or Consulate. You can pay the SEVIS fee with a credit card Print out the receipt and take it with you when you apply for the visa. If your spouse or unmarried children (under age 21) are accompanying you to the U.S. they may apply for J-2 visas at the same time. Proof of relationship may be required. Dependents do not need to pay for the SEVIS fee. Proof of relationship may be required. Upon approval of your visa application, the consular officer should return the DS-2019 to you along with your passport containing your J-1 visa.

You have a 60 day window of opportunity to enter the US as a J-1 visa holder. You can enter no earlier than 30 days before and no later than 30 days after the start date of your DS-2019 (#3 of the form). If you will not be able to enter within 15 days of the start of your J-1 program (#3 of the form) , please contact your Georgia Tech sponsoring department immediately so your DS-2019 record can be deferred and avoid complications to your J-1 status.

Entering the United States

At the port of entry into the U.S., you will need to present your passport, verification of support, and form DS-2019 to an Immigration and Customs Protection officer. The officer will return the DS-2019 and your passport and record your arrival to the U.S. in the CBP system. The officer indicates that you have entered the country legally by stamping an admission stamp in your passport. The DS-2019 and stamped passport are your evidence of lawful admission during your stay in the U.S. and should be kept in a safe places at all times. The OIE encourages newly arriving scholars to visit to review the admission information and requires J scholars print the arrival/admission record information to upload with their J Scholar check-in materials in iStart. The DS-2019 and passport with admission stamp are proof of your legal J-1 status and you will need them for such purposes as extending your permission to stay in the U.S., re-entry to this country after temporary trips abroad, applying for a Social Security card, and obtaining a Georgia driver's license.

Canadian Exchange Visitors:

Canadian nationals entering the United States as J-1 exchange visitors do not need to apply for a J-1 visa at the U.S. Consulate before entering the U.S. At the pre-flight inspection area, proof of entry or border crossing, the Canadian national need only present a document verifying their Canadian citizenship and form DS-2019.

OIE Check-in, DS-2019 Validation and Orientation:

All J-1 visitors must complete the electronic scholar check in using iStart upon arrival to the U.S. Completing the electronic scholar check in notifies the Office of International Education (OIE) that you arrived to the U.S. to begin your J-1 program. Completing the electronic scholar check-in and attending new scholar orientation with the OIE ensures your DS-2019 record can be validated in SEVIS. You will need your passport, stamped DS-2019 form, and stamped I-94 card as well as a U.S. residence address to complete the electronic check in using iStart. In addition, you will need to certify that you have insurance already or will be in compliance with the J-1 insurance regulations.

Health Insurance Requirements

As an Exchange Visitor in the United States, under a rule effective September 1, 1994, you must carry health insurance that meets or exceeds U.S. Department of State standards for yourself and your J-2 dependents for the full duration of your J program. Government regulations stipulate that if you willfully fail to carry health insurance for yourself and your dependents, your J-1 sponsor must terminate your program and report the termination to the Department of State in Washington.

As a part of the OIE J-1 check-in, each J-1 scholar must complete a Health Insurance e-form via iStart. The e-form has two required sections and includes the ability to upload evidence of insurance and a certification of compliance with the J health insurance requirements. Individuals who do not upload evidence of insurance are sent a link to begin the process to purchase an insurance policy coordinated through Georgia Tech. After the OIE reviews and approves the New J Scholar check-in e-form, the scholar will be scheduled for a mandatory New J-1 Scholar Orientation.

Basic Requirements:
Here are the following requirements determined by the Department of State for the type and MINIMUM amounts of coverage you must carry if you hold J-1 or J-2 status:

  • Medical benefits of at least $50,000 per accident or illness.
  • Repatriation of remains in the amount of $7,500.
  • Expenses associated with the medical evacuation of the exchange visitor to his/her home country in the amount of $10,000.
  • A deductible not to exceed $500 per accident or illness.

The insurance policy must be underwritten by an insurance corporation having an A.M. Best rating of "A-" or above, an Insurance Solvency International, Ltd. (ISI) rating "A-" or above, a Standard & Poor's Claims-Paying Ability of "A-" or above, a Weiss Research, Inc. rating of "B+" or above, or such other rating services as the Department of State may from time to time specify. Insurance coverage backed by the full faith and credit of the government of the exchange visitor's home country shall be deemed to meet this requirement.

It is dangerous to be in the United States without adequate health insurance. In many countries the government bears the expense of health care for its citizens, and sometimes even for visitors, individuals and families. In the United States individuals are responsible for these costs themselves. Since a single day of hospitalization and medical treatment can cost thousands of dollars, most people in the United States rely on insurance, and you should do the same. Insurance gives you access to better and more timely health care, and provides the only protections against the enormous costs of health care that are a reality in this country.

How Medical Insurance Works:
When you pay health coverage, the money you pay (your premium) is combined with the premiums of others to for a pool of money. That money is then used to pay the medical bills of those participants who need health care. Your coverage remains valid only as long as you continue to pay your insurance premiums.

Once you purchase insurance, the company will provide you with an insurance identification card for use as proof of your coverage when you are seeking health care from a hospital or doctor. The company will also provide written instructions for reporting and documenting medical expenses (filing a claim). The company will evaluate any claim that you file, and make the appropriate payment for coverage under your particular policy. In some cases the company pays the hospital or doctor directly; in others the company reimburses the policy- holder after he or she has paid the bills.

Georgia Tech employees: 

Ask your department to see if health insurance is a part of your employee benefits package from the Georgia Institute of Technology. If so, you will learn about the insurance options by attending a benefits orientation at the Office of Human Resources as soon as possible after your arrival. Work with your sponsoring department HR administrator to schedule the HR new employee orientation or visit the OHR website. If you are eligible for GT employee benefits, you will still need to purchase Medical Evacuation and Repatriation coverage to be in compliance with Department of State regulations. The OIE has limited information about Medical Evacuation and Repatriation plans. Scholars are recommended to refer to the Pre-arrival guide health insurance section or email

Non-Georgia Tech employees or Georgia Tech employees who are not eligible for insurance benefits:

You will be eligible to enroll in the GT student health insurance plan (SHIP) upon arrival to the U.S. Enrollment and payment for the GT student and scholar insurance will occur directly with the insurance provider. 

To be eligible to purchase the Georgia Tech SHIP voluntary insurance plan you must:

  • arrive to the U.S.
  • visit your sponsoring department to obtain your Georgia Tech log-in and password
  • complete the electronic New J-1 Scholar Upload to check-in with the OIE using iStart
  • complete the BCBS web form using the link shared by the OIE upon approving your New J-1 Scholar Upload e-form
  • mail the pre-populated BCBS enrollment form and payment to BCBS that you will receive via email from BCBS

Refer to the BCBS Student Blue eligibility and enrollment process handout (download here) for additional detail. More information about the BCBS voluntary plan benefits is available on the Stamps Health Center website. DO NOT enroll in the Student Voluntary plan, as this enrollment page caters to students and will require purchase of a full academic semester.

A pre-populated enrollment form including monthly premium rates will be provided to you from BCBS after you complete the BCBS web form. The link to the on-line interest form will be shared with a J scholar after arriving to the U.S. and after completing the New J-1 Scholar upload to check-in with the OIE using iStart. Failure to comply with the Department of State J-1 insurance requirements will produce serious consequences and is a violation of J-1 immigration regulations.


The Office of International Education offers a mandatory scholar orientation. After completing the electronic check-in using iStart, an advisor will review the immigration documents used to enter the U.S. and email scholars regarding the orientation date they have been scheduled to attend. Note that this orientation is separate and different than the new employee orientation that some exchange visitors will attend at the Office of Human Resources. The Office of International Education phone number is 404-894-7475 if you need assistance with locating the Savant Building. When you come for orientation, please bring your passport, DS-2019 form, I-94 record and evidence of health insurance that was submitted to the OIE when you completed the electronic check-in via iStart in case you have questions we can answer about the documents.

Transferring from One J-1 Program to Another Within the United States

If you will be traveling outside the United States between J programs:

Use the new Georgia Institute of Technology DS-2019 form, along with your valid J-1 visa in your passport to re-enter the U.S. in J-1 status. If your J-1 visa has expired, you must obtain a new and valid J-1 visa from the closest U.S. embassy or consulate. The change of program will be noted at the port of entry.

If you will NOT be traveling outside of the United States between programs:

Within the 30 days before completion date of your exchange visitor program at your current university, you must communicate your interest in transferring to Georgia Tech with the Responsible Officer of your current program and ensure you follow their establish process to request your DS-2019 record be released in SEVIS from their program to Georgia Tech. You will be able to pick up the completed DS-2019 from Georgia Tech upon arrival in Atlanta from the Office of International Education, Savant Bldg, Suite 211.

24 Month Bar preventing repeat participation:

The 24 month repeat participation bar affects J-1 Research Scholars and Professors upon completing their J program.

The two-year bar goes into effect in these two circumstances:
•    If the J Professor or Research Scholar completes a full five years of program participation with one or more sponsors;

•    If the J Professor or Research Scholar completes a particular exchange visitor program, and the SEVIS record becomes Inactive before the full five-year period is over. In this case, the five-year window is “closed,” the J Exchange Visitor is not eligible to access the remaining unused time, and must wait for 24 months before beginning a new program as a J Professor or Research Scholar.

Social Security Administration rules and information can be found here.

J Scholars should not visit the Social Security Administration to apply for an SSN until after they have attended New J-1 Scholar Orientation AND have been in the U.S. a minimum of 10 business days. The process to apply for the SSN will be discussed in the orientation and ensuring a minimum of 10 business days passes from the date of arrival to the U.S. will help with ensuring the SAVE database records reflect the validated J record.

Two-Year Home Residence Requirement 212(e)

Some, but not all, exchange visitors are subject to this requirement. Through this provision, the Department of State helps ensure that your home country benefits from your educational and cultural exchange activity upon your return from the U.S. If you are subject to this requirement, you will not be able to change from J-1 status while in the U.S. You will not be eligible for an H1-B visa, L visa, or immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate until you have physically resided in your country of residency for two years. For the terms of the requirement, please review item 1a on the back of your DS-2019 form. If you have any questions about the two year home residency requirement, including whether or not you are subject to it, please ask the U.S. Consular officer when you apply for your visa, or ask our office during new J Scholar Orientation.