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Is Fulbright worth it?

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Hey everyone, I posted this in the wrong place last time, I hope this is the right one.
I have been fortunate enough to be nominated for a Fulbright award but I'm slightly concerned about the J1 two-year requirement. My Fulbright is for a PhD, and although I definitely do need the money, the amount being granted is small enough I could cover it with a loan and I could get an F1 visa, which has no travel ban attached to it. The idea of being banned from working in the US for 2 years at the end of my PhD sounds really problematic to creating a career in academia, especially in the US, and my advisers at my current school have told me not take the Fulbright for that reason. But on the other hand, it's really prestigious and I don't want any more debt...

I guess this question applies to anyone who has been on a J1. Anyone been in this position / has any advice? Thanks!

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I'm on a J-1 right now. You are slightly misunderstanding the requirements. It's not a ban! 

The 2-year requirement is that after the completion of your J-1, you cannot pursue an immigration-class visa in the US until you return to your home country for 2 years. This requirement is due to the fact that you are funded by a government funds (in this case, from the Fulbright organization). Note that it does not apply to all J-1s, only those with government funding. However, if your home country approves a waiver, and the US Dept of State accepts it, this requirement can be waived.

There is another J-1 requirement that applies to all J-1 holders though. This is the "12 month bar". In addition to the above paragraph, all J-1 holders who have a PhD J-1 for more than 12 months are not allowed to go on a Research Scholar (postdoc) or Professor J-1 for 12 months following the end of their PhD J-1. 

So, with these two requirements in mind, the best steps for you depends on your home country and your future career plans. 

First: the home country. If you are from Canada or Mexico, you are eligible for TN status after you graduate because of NAFTA. So the 12 month bar is not a problem at all. You graduate with the J-1 and then you go on TN for 12 months, then you can go back on J-1 for other statuses. If you are not eligible for TN, then life is harder because you can't go on another J-1 and you can't go on H1-B since you are subject to the 2 year thing.

Second: future plans. If you plan to be in the US forever and that's the only future you want, then definitely don't take the Fulbright. Also don't say this to any visa officer ever. One of the requirements for F-1 and J-1 is that you do not plan to immigrate to the US (you can still do it later, you just can't have plans set while on F-1 or J-1). However, if you are able to do a postdoc (or take a job) in your home country or another country, then the J-1 restrictions aren't as restrictive.

Overall, if your post-PhD plan is to work in the US as a postdoc (which would put you on J-1, most likely) or in a permanent job (often H1-B if you can get a sponsor) then you will have a much easier time on F-1. But I think this is only true if the US-only path is truly the only path you want to take. Note that it is still pretty hard to get jobs in the US and stay here permanently, especially as a foreign person since you need to convince an employer to sponsor you on H1-B and Trump is already making H1-Bs harder to attain. So, you might end up giving up the $15,000 (I think that's the Fulbright value?) and still not get what you want in the end. 

If you are open to paths outside of the US after you graduate, I would advise you to take the Fulbright. Conditions/rules/governments may change by the time you graduate. If you are willing to take a risk that you will not be able to work in the US for at least 1-2 years after graduation then it's better to take the Fulbright now and worry about the restrictions in 5 years or so.

So, ultimately, you are choosing between two risks. Giving up the Fulbright means that you are risking the money, experience and prestige associated with the award for a chance at working in the US right after graduation (such an opportunity might not even exist for you in 5 years). Taking the Fulbright means that if you cannot get the waiver, you will risking your opportunity (which may not exist) to work in the US for 2 years after graduation.

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I'm also having the same dilemma! While I understand the difficulty in finding academic jobs/a visa sponsor in the US as an alien, I am very worried that, were I to take the Fulbright, I would be committing myself to returning to my home country (in my case the UK) upon immediate completion of the PhD - with or without a job in either the UK or US. This seems like an arbitrary professional interruption, particularly if I've spent years establishing myself professionally in the US during my doctorate. I'm also loathe to press pause on my professional life to return home to the UK as I do want to have a family in my thirties - taking time out to observe residency requirements is something I worry about if I also want to have kids at some stage! Similarly that fact that my PhD is in Modern European but also Jewish history has me nervous - there are far more positions in the US, particularly in the latter field, than in the UK in my areas of specialism. 

I also am very aware that I don't know what the next few years of my life holds - I don't know what I'll want in seven or so years, professionally or personally. So taking the Fulbright, not being able to go on to another J-1 postdoc in the US and having to observe the two-year residency requirement in the UK after graduating seems to me like I'd be making a decision that might not be what's right for me later down the line. Am I better to keep my options open rather than setting myself on a path to returning to the UK - or is it better to commit to that and be able to prepare for it adequately over the next few years? (I'm of course worried about the impact of Brexit on positions in UK higher education by the time I've finished the PhD - the thought of coming back to that diminished UK academic job market is a bleak one). 

I'm fortunate to have full funding for my PhD, so while the Fulbright money would be a wonderful thing to have, I'm not dependent upon it. The prestige, however, is something I can't quantify (it doesn't help that Fulbright as a name doesn't carry much weight in the UK). My advisors were sceptical that it would be something that would get me a job in future, but I also don't want to close a door if it's going to be a game-changer professionally. 

The information about the "12 month bar" is very helpful - I didn't know about that. I understand this can't be waived, but does anyone know how often waivers are granted for J1 residency requirements? Does it depend on the home country?


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Just to clarify one more time: The two year home residency requirement does not mean you must return home for 2 years immediately after graduation. The requirement is that you must be in your home country for 2 years before you can apply for another immigration-class visa to the US. So, here are some example scenarios where the 2 year thing won't affect you at all (not counting waivers):

1. You finish your US PhD, take a job anywhere else in the world and never immigrate to the US. You do not have to take a job in the UK. You can never ever return to the UK if don't want to (say you get a job in Canada or France or Russia and stay there forever...that's fine!). Note that it's not the UK requirement that you must return home, it's only a requirement enforced by US Immigration.

2. You do a postdoc anywhere else in the world, then you do a postdoc in the UK, then you get a permanent job in the US.

3. You do a postdoc anywhere else in the world, then you return to the US on another J status (non-immigration class) and then you find a permanent job anywhere else.

4. You can extend your J-1 status after graduation and go on "Academic Training" (AT; the equivalent of OPT for J-1 holders). This means you stay on the same J-1 as your PhD so you can actually work for some period of time after graduation in the US. I know that the rules for this differ in STEM (we get 36 months of AT) than other fields though. After this AT period is over, then you are subject to all the J-1 restrictions.


As for J-1 home residency requirements and waivers, yes it depends on the home country and the reason why you are subject to the requirement. My understanding from talking to my school's international office is that for western countries like Canada and the UK, it's pretty easy to get them waived. But since I ended up with a job in Canada, I guess I won't be testing this theory.

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I'm on a Fulbright in the US. I personally prefer the financial benefits and prestige because I don't mind restricting my options for just two years. 

TakeruK, since you seem to know a lot about this, do you know what the process is like for applying for a J1 for PhD after you were on J1 for MA? Someone at IIE told ke that there is a short waiting period unless the new program agrees to take over as sponsors from the old J1, meaning that so long as you stay in the country you're fine. But I'm not sure where to look to verify this.

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3 hours ago, WildeThing said:

TakeruK, since you seem to know a lot about this, do you know what the process is like for applying for a J1 for PhD after you were on J1 for MA? Someone at IIE told ke that there is a short waiting period unless the new program agrees to take over as sponsors from the old J1, meaning that so long as you stay in the country you're fine. But I'm not sure where to look to verify this.

I did my Masters degree in Canada (I'm Canadian) so I didn't need any visa or anything for my Masters.

I do know that if the PhD school can take over the sponsorship of J1 from the MA school, that is the ideal situation. My friend is doing something similar where he is transferring from one J-1 postdoc to another without having to leave the country (or having being subject to the 12 month bar since it's the same J-1 visa) [my friend was on F-1 student status]. Sorry I can't help further though, your PhD school's international office should be able to help you.

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