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Guidelines for Non-U.S. Citizens

U.S. citizenship is not required for participation in some of the Science Education Programs at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (Some ORNL postings may require U.S. citizenship, even if the overall program does not require it.) If you do not have a current status that permits participation, we may be able to file for an H-1B immigration status for temporary employees in a specialty occupation or sponsorship in the Exchange Visitor (J-1) Program (research scholar and short-term scholar categories only). Students and recent graduates with an F-1 status may also be eligible for participation depending on the program.

H-1B Status

For the Postgraduate Research Participation Programs, ORAU can file a petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to obtain H-1B authorization for employment in specialty occupations requiring at least a bachelor’s degree. The H-1B is regulated by the U.S. Deptartment of Labor (DOL) and USCIS, with a six-year maximum stay. A selected participant currently in the U. S. with an H-1B status qualifies for H-1B Portability, which enables non-immigrants to begin new employment upon USCIS’ receipt of the new employer’s filing of an H-1B petition. If employment ends at no fault of the participant before the term of the H-1B status, a single one-way return plane ticket to the participant’s country of origin will be provided. All situations are unique and would need to be evaluated by our immigration office.

Family members of an H-1B employee are admitted to the U. S. in the H4 category. Qualifying family members include only the spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21. Employment in the H-4 category is not permissible; however, they may undertake studies while remaining in the H-4 status.

B-1/B-2 Status

B-1/B-2 statuses are not appropriate for ORNL programs.

Lawful Permanent Residents

Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders) may participate in ORNL programs. However, ORAU does not sponsor green card applications for temporary educational participants, nor do we assist with the process.

E-3 Status for Australian Citizens

E-3 status requires ORAU to file and obtain an approved Labor Condition Application (LCA) from the U.S. Department of Labor; USCIS authorization is not required initially but each extension must have USCIS approval.

F-1 Student Status

The Designated School Official (DSO) in the international student and scholar’s office at the candidate’s school will determine if he/she is eligible for Curricular (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization. In order to participate in ORAU programs, we must have the Student Eligibility Form I-20 endorsement from the DSO for both CPT and OPT. Curricular Practical Training can be authorized by the DSO for part-time employment during school (no more than 20 hours) and full-time during the summer or regular school breaks. Optional Practical Training must be recommended and authorized by the DSO and requires USCIS authorization with the issuance of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Approval for the EAD takes several months to obtain from USCIS. Dependents of F-1 students qualify for an F2 status.

In the event that you plan to use an F1 immigration status for participation in an internship program, pre- or post-completion F1-Optional Practical Training (OPT) is acceptable; however, you are not eligible for the 17 months STEM OPT extension unless you are participating in the Post-Master’s, Post-Bachelor’s, or Lab Tech programs and enter into an employee/employment relationship with ORAU.

J-1/J-2 Status

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program is not generally used for employment positions with ORAU, but may be considered on a case-by-case basis. All J-1 visa participants are temporarily in the United States and must demonstrate an intention to return abroad at the end of their exchange program. Their experience in the U. S. is solely for the purpose of exposing them to American techniques, methodologies and expertise and to better gain an understanding of American culture and society.

ORAU can sponsor J-1 status (research scholar and short-term scholar categories only) for selected, eligible participants on a case-by-case basis. If a candidate already has a J-1 status as a research scholar and is currently in the United States, he/she may be eligible for a transfer from his/her current sponsor’s program.

The maximum duration for the research scholar category can be for up to, but not to exceed, five years. ORAU also uses the short-term scholar category, which allows for up to, but not exceeding six months of participation. Short-term scholars are not allowed to transfer from one sponsor to another.

The J-1 status is for the purpose of conducting research in this ORAU program only and cannot be used for any other reason. Exchange visitors are expected to leave the United States upon completing their program objective. Exchange visitors who are subject to the two-year home country physical presence requirement are not eligible to change their status while in the United States. Waivers of the requirement are available in special cases. However, we do not assist with the waiver process.

If application is made for a waiver and a favorable recommendation from DoS is received, you will no longer be eligible for continued J-1 status. You will be eligible to finish the currently authorized remaining J-1 time but will not be eligible for extensions or transfers to a different J-1 program. If a waiver recommendation is issued to you, you must notify our immigration staff immediately.

A J-1 exchange visitor’s spouse, and unmarried children under the age of 21 years, may be eligible to apply for J-2 status. A J-2 dependent (if age appropriate) is eligible to apply for authorization to work by requesting an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS. J-2 dependents with valid EAD cards are eligible to participate in ORAU programs, assuming all other requirements (degree, discipline, etc.) are met. 

All J-1 recipients and J-2 dependents must have insurance in effect which covers the exchange visitor for sickness or accident during the period of time that an exchange visitor participates in the sponsor’s exchange visitor program. Failure to maintain the appropriate insurance would result in termination of J-1 authorization for the participant and dependents. Such circumstances would require leaving the program and the United States.

TN status – Employment only

TN (Treaty NAFTA status) is a special non-immigrant status in the United States unique to citizens of Canada and Mexico. It is similar, in some ways, to the H-1B visa. Participants from Canada or Mexico can work for up to three years at a time, and can be renewed indefinitely in three-year increments. Participants with TN are not required to obtain a visa from a U. S. Embassy. Occupations permitted to petition for a TN status are more limited than for the H-1B. Approvals for TN status are issued by the Customs and Border Protection officers at U. S. Ports-of-Entry.

Travel outside the United States is permitted depending on status. Please contact the ORAU Immigration Department for more information.

ORNL Intern Heather Young

Heather Young

Chemical Engineering, Undergraduate 
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

“The purpose of my research was to conduct an evaluation of the heat transfer characteristics of a material called high thermal conductivity graphite foam, which is used to cool the electronic components of satellites. Currently, satellites use liquid cooling with aluminum cold plates using cooling channels machined into the aluminum, but these aluminum cold plates are extremely heavy. The lighter the satellite, the cheaper and easier to launch, which could lead to enhanced coverage area for television, cell phones or other forms of communications and entertainment.”


“I have gained multiple new skills such as learning how to use computational fluid dynamic software and how to design parts in SolidWorks and 3-D print them. My overall impression of this experience is very positive. I felt supported the whole way through as everyone wanted me to succeed.”

Thoughts on Program:

“I chose a career in the science, technology, engineering and math fields because I want to potentially make an impact on people’s lives through new designs and innovative ideas. The HERE program helped me realize there are ample opportunities at the lab to cross-collaborate to impact real change.”

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