Inviting Spouse and/or Children to the US

This webpage contains everything you need to have us prepare a new I-20 or DS-2019 to allow your dependents to come in F-2 or J-2 status. 

How do I add a dependent to my record?

  1. Login to your iHawk account (click the blue login button) using your HawkID and password. Depending on your immigration status, go to "F-1 Student Services" or "J-1 Student Services" and complete the e-form request "Add a New Dependent."  Be prepared to answer biographical questions about your dependent and upload a copy of his/her passport.  If you have more than one dependent you are seeking to add, please note you will need to complete a separate request for each individual. 
  2. After submission of your e-form request, come in to meet with an ISSS advisor during walk-in hours. Please bring evidence of financial support with you showing how you will fund your program as well as support your dependent.  A new document will not be issued until you can provide the necessary proof.

Definition of “Dependents” – Please note that as of August 2013, federal laws permit a dependent I-20 or DS-2019 to be issued for same-sex spouses.  Children must be under 21 and unmarried.  Girlfriends/boyfriends, fiancées, or common-law (i.e. unmarried) living arrangements are currently not recognized by U.S. government agencies as being eligible for F-2 or J-2 dependent status.  If you fall into one of these situations, please consult an ISSS adviser.

Many international students want their families to join them in the U.S.  Before they arrive, we encourage you to think about their adjustment to living here and how your life will change after they join you.  Listed below are some issues for you to think about, do some research on, and talk with your spouse and children about before they arrive.  Planning for their arrival will make things easier for everyone. 


In order for ISSS to issue an immigration document for your dependent(s), you will need to provide documentation to ISSS that you can cover minimal living costs for your spouse and children.  You will also have to demonstrate that you can pay for health insurance for your dependent(s).  In addition, you need to plan for these other expenses:

  • medical costs and medication not covered by health insurance
  • car expenses
  • daycare/baby-sitting or extra-curricular activities for your child(ren)
  • winter clothing for your family members

It is essential to have adequate funds for your family.  Otherwise, you may be in the same situation as the student who wrote, "My wife joined me in December.  I did not realize until then that living with a spouse can cause real financial trouble.  I moved into family housing from a place where I was paying just $164 in rent.  In addition to the $272 rent at family housing, I am paying $80-90 in utilities every month.  On top of everything else, my wife is pregnant.  Each visit to the doctor costs over $100.  I am caught between a rock and hard place."  (Rent, medical services, and other rates have gone up considerably since this was written!)


Dependents in F-2 status are not allowed to work in the U.S. J-2 dependents may apply for work authorization from the U.S. government; however, the process if approved takes several months and there is an application fee of several hundred dollars.

Visa Issuance

ISSS will issue a form I-20 (F-1 students) or a form DS-2019 (J-1 students) for you to send to your family member in your home country.  Your family member will use that form to apply for a dependent visa (either F-2 or J-2, depending on your immigration status).  It is important that you include additional documents with the I-20 or DS-2019 that ISSS gives you.  These additional documents include:

  • financial support information – send one or both as appropriate:
  • a bank statement, issued within the last month, verifying the amount of money you have in your account(s). 
  • if you have a graduate assistantship, a letter from your academic department, verifying the amount of your income.  Make sure the letter specifically mentions how much you are receiving for the Tuition Scholarship, otherwise the visa officer will not include it.
  • a certified English translation of an official marriage certificate (for spouses) or evidence of family relationship (for children) such as birth certificates or adoption papers.
  • forms from the Registrar’s Office, 17 Calvin Hall:
  • ---a copy of your most recent UI transcript
  • ---a Verification Letter stating you are currently enrolled full-time or the equivalent of full-time for the current fall or spring semester
  • photocopies of your own I-94, passport, and visa pages

Additionally, please be sure to review guidance from the U.S. consulate to which your dependent will apply for the visa. The two most common reasons visas are denied are (1) lack of adequate financial support – the consul does not believe the required funds are really available and (2) “immigrant intent”--failure by family members to convince the consul that they and the family member who is already in the U.S. will really return home after their stay in the U.S.  Please see an adviser if you have any questions or concerns about these obstacles to getting a visa.

Health Insurance

It is essential to have health insurance for your family.  In fact, for persons in J-2 status, it is legally required.  Only one accident, serious illness, or pregnancy can cause financial devastation.  Dependents can be added to your University policy within 30 days of arrival in the United States.  After that date, you can add them only at the beginning of each semester. 


Children under the age of 10 or 11 should not be left alone.  In the system here, leaving small children unattended can be considered child neglect/abuse and is a crime.  Information about daycare and pre-schools and other related family care issues is available from Family Services.



Children who are five years old by September 15 will need to be enrolled in school.  It is important to find out which school your child will attend (this usually depends on the location of the place where you live), whether that school offers English-as-a-second-language instruction, and what educational documents are required for enrollment.  Consult our webpage on Schools and Childcare for more information. 

Attending universities/colleges in the U.S.

If there is any chance your dependent wishes to become a student at the University of Iowa, or any other college or university, please discuss this with an ISSS adviser to see what the best course of action may be.  Currently there is no regulatory restriction on study for J-2 dependents.  However, regulations do prohibit persons in F-2 status from enrolling in classes full-time or pursuing a degree at an institution of higher education.  F-2’s are only allowed to take classes on what is called a “recreational or a vocational” basis, such as taking an art class for fun.  A person in F-2 status who wishes to study full-time or obtain a degree, MUST first change to F-1 status to do so. Note of caution:  If your spouse has already sent in applications to be admitted to any school in the U.S. and/or hopes to change to an F-1 student soon after entering the U.S. in F-2 status, we strongly discourage him/her from obtaining an F-2 visa and entering in F-2 status. 


Iowa law requires certain immunizations as a condition of enrollment in any licensed daycare center, pre-school, or school.  If possible, provide a Certificate of Immunizations card (available from Student Health) for your family members to complete and bring with them. 

Cultural Adjustment

Many spouses experience difficulty adjusting to life in the United States, especially if they do not speak English well.  It is stressful for them to carry out daily activities, assist their children with schoolwork, and make friends.  You may need to spend a lot of time at the beginning helping your spouse do things he or she normally did at home.  Your children will also need your assistance with their schoolwork.  Remember that you yourself needed some time to adjust after you first arrived here.

During this time, your spouse may become depressed and isolated if you are frequently away from home studying and working.  In order to assist in his/her adjustment, you need to help your spouse learn English and meet other people.  There are opportunities for formal and informal English instruction in Iowa City.  Some activities your spouse can consider include joining the International Women's Club, helping at your children' s daycare or school, participating in sports, and volunteering with local organizations. 

Suggestions for your spouse from other foreign spouses

  • Practice English every day, beginning while in your home country if possible           
  • Learn to drive a car, preferably in your home country first, if feasible
  • Bring some household and children's items with you