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Policy for the Appointment of Foreign Nationals Under the Postdoctoral Training Program


Foreign national postdoctoral trainees make significant contributions to the teaching and research mission of the University of Pennsylvania. In view of increasingly complex immigration and labor laws, university-wide policies and procedures that directly impact the flow of foreign nationals to the University of Pennsylvania should be carefully defined.


Effective September 1, 2008, all foreign nationals holding a postdoctoral trainee position should come to the University of Pennsylvania in an exchange visitor (J-1) status.  

Only in compelling circumstances and only following a thorough review will the University sponsor a postdoctoral fellow for an H-1B visa (Temporary Specialty Worker) petition. Such circumstances requiring review for exemption from the new policy could include (though are not necessarily limited to):

  • The foreign national is currently in valid H-1B status;
  • The foreign national has pending United States permanent residence;
  • Current marriage to a US citizen or a US permanent resident;
  • Postdoctoral trainees who received their PhD or equivalent degree in the United States on an F-1 visa and have completed six months of post graduate practicum.

Petitioning for Exception to the J-1 Policy

A mechanism for an appeal and review is provided if a department has strong basis for offering a postdoctoral trainee the H-1B visa. The Vice Provost for Research (VPR) will appoint an advisory committee to review the petitions for exceptions to determine if an appeal meets the exemption criteria. Based on the advisory committee’s recommendation the VPR will make the final determination about each petition. The advisory committee and the VPR may also consult with the Office of the General Counsel and the Office of International Programs (OIP-ISSS) as necessary.

When a department feels that an H-1B visa is required in lieu of a J-1, the hiring department will prepare a formal written petition with documenting evidence for review. The Office of the Vice Provost for Research (OVPR) will review the merits of the case, make a final determination, and provide a written response to the department requesting the review. Once a final decision has been made, the department needs to be in full compliance and can proceed with bringing in the foreign national under the appropriate visa category. If the OVPR approves a request to offer H-1B sponsorship for the trainee, the hiring department will then submit the necessary paperwork to OIP-ISSS. The H-1B application submitted to OIP-ISSS must include the written exception approval granted by the OVPR. No action will be taken on an H-1B application without the written approval of the OVPR and the reason for the exemption.

Role of Departments

To avoid communication problems that could arise regarding the recruitment of foreign nationals for a postdoctoral trainee position, departments must clearly discuss the visa policy with the prospective postdoctoral trainee early in the process. In cases where exceptions are granted by the review board, departments must inform the candidate of the board’s decision before the application for J-1 or H-1B visa status is submitted to OIP-ISSS. Questions from the foreign national received by OIP-ISSS regarding the status of any cases currently under review by OVPR will be referred to the hiring department.

To ensure compliance with visa regulations, the department is responsible for initiating the application process on behalf of the beneficiary (whether it is an H or J process). The “Department Contact Person” (DCP) who is responsible for filing the application should serve as the primary contact for the J-1 or H-1B application in question. Once the visa status has been determined, all questions to OIP-ISSS should come from the department contact person. The DCP is the official point of communication for both OIP-ISSS and the candidate.

Related FAQs

Do my insurance options cover the J-1 visa requirements?

Yes. All insurance plans offered through Penn meet the J-1 visa requirements.

Can postdocs work remotely?

Generally, no, postdocs are expected to be based primarily in Philadelphia for the full duration of the fellowship period unless the research program requires a remote location. However, the final determination of a postdocs eligibility to work remotely is left to the discretion of their PI and/or Faculty mentor. Postdocs on a J-1 visa, or any other visa are not permitted to be fully remote. Postdocs on a J-1 visa can only participate in remote work two days in a five-day work week. The postdoc and mentor should follow the University Flexible, Hybrid & Remote Work policy as well as their school, department, or center’s policy regarding remote work.

I have an international postdoc. How long can I appoint them in a postdoc position?

Per the policy, postdoc appointments are made for one year. Postdocs can be reappointed for up to five years total. Faculty mentors who expect to reappoint an international postdoc can offer a multi-year visa sponsorship duration to mitigate the burden of visa renewals if funding is secured for the same period of visa sponsorship, there is an intention to reappoint the postdoc, and the postdoc meets the expectations of the position as documented in an Individual Development Plan. Departments need to include the appropriate language in the appointment or reappointment letter to offer a multi-year visa sponsorship duration and final approval must be secured by ISSS.

Which Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) CITI Training do I complete?

There are several different discipline specific RCR courses listed in the CITI training. You should choose the course that is most closely associated with your discipline:

Biomedical Research – research in areas like life sciences, biomedical, health sciences, basic biological research, etc.

Social and Behavioral Research – research in areas like anthropology, communication, economics, geography, communication, criminology, international studies, journalism, political science, psychology, sociology, speech and hearing, education, etc.

Physical Sciences – research in areas like physics, earth sciences, chemistry, microbiology, evolution and ecology, astronomy, mathematics, energy, aerospace, lasers, etc.

Humanities – research in areas like visual or performing arts, arts education, English or other languages, religious studies, gender studies, literature, history, etc.

Engineering – research in general engineering fields. This course is very similar to the Physical Science course.

Research Administrators – If you assist in the administration of research rather than the direct conduct of the research, you should select the Research Administrators course.

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