International students are an important part of the UC Berkeley and Haas School communities.

The Berkeley International Office (BIO) is your source non-academic advice and assistance. All new international students must check in with BIO and attend its orientation program for international students. Failure to attend this orientation can result in serious problems with the U.S. Immigration Service. You will receive information about the BIO orientation with your visa documents and as well as on the BIO website.

BIO can help you with:

  • Financial aid
  • Immigration matters
  • Information on living in Berkeley
  • Personal and cultural issues
  • Taxes
  • Work authorization permits

We recommend that you subscribe to the International Student Listserv, an e-mail digest of immigration news, special events, announcements, financial aid deadlines, workshop dates, and other useful information. Subscription instructions are included with your visa document and at the BIO orientation.

Berkeley International Office
International House, 1st Floor
2299 Piedmont Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94720-2321
Phone: 510-642-2818
Fax: 510-643-7289

Maintaining Your F-1 or J-1 Visa Status

As a general rule, whenever you fill out US government forms or apply for documents issued by the US government, make sure your name appears exactly as it appears on your passport. Even small variations in your name can create big problems. This includes your:

  • Certificate of Eligibility
  • Visa application
  • US entry forms
  • Social Security and Internal Revenue forms

Be sure you:

  • Keep a valid passport at all times. Contact your home government embassy or consulate regarding passport renewal if your passport six months before you passport expires.
  • Make sure your visa document (I-20 for F-1; DS 2019 for J-1 students) is always valid and up-to-date. If you need to extend your stay, contact BIO and extend your visa document well before the original end date.
  • Register for a full-time course load of at least 8 units every semester. Contact the office before changing your registration status or enrolling for less than 8 units.
  • Are prepared if you plan to travel outside the US with plans to re-enter the country; you will need:
    • A valid F-1 or J-1 visa stamp in your passport AND
    • A current travel endorsement (I-20 or DS-2019) in your visa document
  • Do not work off-campus without a work permit; get permission to work through BIO before starting any employment
    • J-1 students must obtain work permission for on-campus work;
    • F-1 students do not need work permission for on-campus work
    • You may work up to 20 hours on campus during classes and full-time during the summer break.
    • You will need a Social Security Number to work in the US (see below)
  • Keep your local residential address, phone number, and email address up-to-date in your Bear Facts account

Social Security Numbers

Everyone who works in the US must have a Social Security Number (SSN). This includes non-immigrants, such as students on F-1 or J-1 visas.

  • F-1 students may obtain an SSN only after they have been given permission to work and have found a job
  • J-1 students may apply for an SSN once they have been approved for work.

Most non-immigrants (including F-1 and J-1 students) should not have Social Security payments (FICA) deducted from their paychecks, nor are they eligible to receive any Social Security benefits.

Typically, employers automatically deduct these taxes from your salary. Talk to the Human Resource or Payroll Department where you work (including your summer internship) and let them know that, due to your visa status, you do not have to pay FICA or Medicare payments and ask for a refund if they have been withheld.

However, J-2 dependents who work must pay FICA and Medicare taxes. You can learn more in IRS publication 519, US Tax Guide for Aliens.

How Social Security Numbers Are Used

While you do not need an SSN to open a bank account, your SSN will be used by banks and other businesses for credit checks, financial transactions, and other purposes. Because of its financial uses, you should be very careful about where and to whom you give your SSN.

Applying for an SSN

Do not apply for an SSN until at least two weeks after the semester begins.

BIO will provide application instructions at its orientation. To apply for an SSN, you will need your:

  • Immigration documents
  • Verification of employment (for F-1 visa holders)
  • Confirmation of your authorization from BIO

Income Taxes

Everyone in the US, including foreign citizens, must file an income tax return to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) each year, even if you did not work or earn any money while here.

F-2 and J-2 dependents must also file an income tax return, whether or not they worked in the US.

BIO will hold workshops before the April 15 deadline for filing tax returns.