Foreign nationals awarded Smithsonian appointments to come to the United
States for research or study are usually eligible to apply for a visa
as an exchange visitor (category J-1). Even if it would otherwise be possible
for a Smithsonian appointee to enter the U.S. without this type of visa,
it is the most appropriate category for research visits. The proper visa
status also has important consequences for the taxation of awards to nonU.S.
citizens (see Tax Information).
To determine the type of visa that is appropriate for the purpose of
your particular visit, please contact the administrative staff of the
division in which you will be working at SAO. Arrangements will be made
with SAO’s Department of Human Resources to provide you with appropriate
visa authorization and further instruction. Again, there are possible
tax implications for individuals entering the United States in a category
other than a J-1 visa as tax status is dependent upon the provisions of
the tax treaty in place between the United States and the visitor’s
country of permanent residence.
For more information, check the following resources.
Smithsonian Office of International Relations
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Visa Information Page
United States Department of State
Office Immigration Information
Each appointee will receive a copy of an award agreement from the
Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Fellowships, outlining the terms
of the appointment and the stipend to be offered. A copy should be signed
and dated and returned to the Fellowship Program Office (Room B-218) at
the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge by the Fellow or Division Administrator.
The other copy should be retained for future reference or tax purposes.
Any changes or updates to an appointment will trigger the issuance of
an amended award letter by the Office of Fellowships in Washington, DC.
If an appointment is for more than 1 year, an annual renewal letter will
be sent with the updated terms and conditions of the fellowship award.
For each occurrence, a letter will be issued and a copy must be returned
to the Fellowship Program Office (B-218) at the Center for Astrophysics
on 60 Garden Street.
To change the beginning or end dates of your appointment, contact your
Smithsonian Advisor (or Supervisor) for approval first, and then submit
a request (by email) to your Division Administrator. It is particularly
helpful to include an explanation from your Advisor in this request as
well. Your request and your Advisor’s rationale/approval for this
extension will be forwarded to the SI Director of Fellowships in Washington,
D.C. for approval. If the request is approved, a letter confirming the
new dates will be issued to you.
A Social Security Number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification
Number (ITIN), as well as a local (residence) address, are required before
the distribution of stipend payments. Note that if a SSN or ITIN have
not been obtained, it is important to inform your Division Administrator
of the date of your application; otherwise, stipend payments may be delayed
(see Social Security Number vs. ITIN).
The amounts and disbursement schedules of stipends and/or allowances
are specified in individual award agreements. Please be advised that all
payments received from your award are considered to be taxable income
(see Tax Information).
Most Smithsonian Fellows and visiting students/scholars on appointments
of 3 months or more receive stipend payments monthly. Lump sum payments
are reserved for those with appointments of 1 month or less or for those
seeking reimbursement for medical or relocation expenses.
PLEASE NOTE: Because Fellows are not employees of the Smithsonian,
stipends are not disbursed through a payroll system. Therefore, there
is no set “payday” for your award payments. Please refer to
your award agreement/letter for your projected payment schedule.
BY ELECTRONIC FUNDS TRANSFER (EFT): If you elect direct deposit of your
stipend to a designated financial institution/bank, it will be submitted
based on the Office of the Comptroller’s schedule for EFT payments.
Remember, there is no set “payday” for these payments. It
takes 48 hours (2 business days) for these payments to be transferred
and credited to your account. Therefore, do not assume that because your
previous payment was direct deposited on a certain date that the next
payment will be made on that date. In addition, you will not receive a
statement when a deposit has been made, so you should confirm that the
funds are available in your account before writing a check. If you need
to change your bank routing information during your appointment, please
notify your Administrator at least 1 month in advance of your next payment
to ensure that the change is processed in time.
BY MAIL: If you do not elect to enroll in Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT)
but, instead, wish to receive your payments mailed as checks to your local
(residence) address (or any other address), please make this request in
writing or via email to your Division Administrator. Make sure that the
address submitted is complete and correct (i.e., apartment number, zip
code, etc.) and remember that additional time is necessary for payments
to go through the U.S. postal service.
To change the address for your payments, inform your Division Administrator
of this change in writing or via email as soon as possible to ensure payments
are mailed correctly and reach the new address promptly.
IN PERSON: If you would like to pick up your stipend checks in person--even
though we try to discourage this method--you may do so. Please call Janis
Panttila (617-495-7324) to make sure that a payment is waiting for you
before going to the office. Most often, payments are not available until
after 3:00 pm. When you do pick up a check, please bring some form of
Travel allowance, if offered, is intended to assist with relocation from
your place of residence to the Smithsonian. The allowance will be issued
in a lump sum after receipts are provided by you to your Division Administrator.
Note reimbursements are disbursed four to six weeks after your request
is received. Your flight cost and other expenses directly related to relocation—i.e.,
personal objects involved in the actual move―will be considered.
For any questions about what will or will not be covered, check with your
Division Administrator. (This assistance is not a requirement for every
award granted, so if it was not offered and you wish reimbursement for
these expenses, consult your Advisor and Division Administrator.) Note:
SAO Predoctoral Fellows are granted reimbursement of a one-way flight
ticket either to or from the Center for Astrophysics ONLY.
Once a travel allowance has been received, no further accounting will
be required but awardees should keep receipts for tax purposes. Please
be advised that these funds are considered to be taxable along with all
other income received from the award (see Tax
Medical Evacuation and Repatriation Program (Required)
All J-1 exchange visitors and J-2 family members must be covered by medical
insurance, including coverage for medical evacuation and repatriation of remains. According to regulations, J-1 students and accompanying family members in J-2 status may be terminated
from the Exchange Visitor Program for failure to maintain insurance coverage.
Specifically, as part of the U.S. State Department J visa regulations,
all J-1 and J-2 (spouses and children) visa holders will be required to
have insurance that covers the following:
- $50,000 coverage per accident or illness, deductible not to exceed $500,
coverage for pre-existing conditions, payment of at least 75% of the
costs of medical care;
- Expenses associated with the medical evacuation of the exchange visitor
to his or her home country in the amount of $10,000; and
- Repatriation of remains in the amount of $7,500.
As your sponsor, SAO has arranged to make a program available that complies
with the USIA regulations. This program is offered through International SOS Assistance, Incorporated. For more information, look under “Visitor
U.S.A. Membership For Foreign Students and Scholars staying in the U.S.”
The SOS Foreign Exchange Visitors Assistance Program fully complies with
USIA regulations for evacuation and repatriation services at the following
Emergency Evacuation: $50,000 maximum
Medically Supervised Repatriation: $20,000 maximum
Repatriation of Mortal Remains: $20,000 maximum
The group fees for this insurance are listed below. The annual fees apply
regardless of the length of time you are at SAO during that year. There
are no provisions for refunds or transfers under this program.
Member only: $68.00
Member and family: $130.00 to $200.00
Note: This plan must be renewed annually; however, Fellows are given
the option of purchasing it in 2- or 3-year increments. For details, contact
International SOS Assistance, Incorporated
directly at the number provided on their web site.
An application form may be found here.
In order to enroll in this program, please send (or deliver) an application
and check made out to SOS International to:
Fellowship Program Coordinator
P210, MS 67
60 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
Note: If you are interested in travel insurance while attending an international
conference outside the United States, you will need to sign up for additional
coverage. For this information, see Global
Traveler Membership for Personal and Business Travel. The program
outlined above only covers you for events within the United States.
Recipients of research appointments of 12 months or longer are eligible
for insurance under group health plan options offered through the Smithsonian.
You also may obtain this insurance for eligible dependents: your spouse
and, effective January 1, 2006, dependents up to age 23 regardless of
student status. You may enroll yourself and your dependents without medical
examination by completing an enrollment form within the first 14 days
of the beginning of your appointment.
Your coverage becomes effective on the first day of your start date or the following month, depending on the beginning of your tenure and the date on your enrollment form. Insurance coverage terminates at
the end of your appointment and you are not eligible for continuation
of coverage after your Smithsonian appointment ends. Other details of
the insurance plans will be provided by your Division Administrator or
by Christine Crowley in the Fellowship Program Office.
In some cases, the Smithsonian contributes the full or half the cost of
health insurance for research appointments (see your award letter for
details). Otherwise, if you choose to enroll, the total cost of monthly
premiums is deducted from your stipend payments. Researchers are urged
to take advantage of this insurance or otherwise provide themselves with
adequate medical coverage. Please be advised that the amount contributed
by the Smithsonian toward insurance coverage is considered to be taxable
income (see Tax Information).
Health Insurance Options:
SAO Group Choice
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care (HPHC) - HMO (Health Maintenance Organization)
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care
or (888) 333-4742
The Harvard Pilgrim HMO is one of the simplest options you can choose for your health care needs. You choose a primary care provider (PCP) to deliver and arrange for your medical care. If you need specialty care, you will need a referral from you PCP. More than 28,000 doctors and clinicians as well as 135 hospitals accept Harvard Pilgrim. You're covered for routine, preventive, specialty and emergency care. There is little or no paperwork involved once you join. When you're traveling, your coverage travels with you.
To learn more about Harvard Pilgrim Health Care in general, visit Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.
The chart below describes the current plan costs for the 2014 plan year.
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care (HPHC) HMO Rates
Other private insurance programs such as HTH Worldwide that provide emergency-type
coverage for illness for short- or long-term durations will be reimbursed
if a copy of an enrollment form and proof of purchase are provided. Note
that reimbursement will be provided up to or less than the cost of our
group plan. In other words, SAO will reimburse the actual cost or up to
the amount of $358.84 per month for an individual plan and $965.28 per
month for a family plan.
Dental Insurance; Retirement/IRA/401K Plans; and Paternity/Maternity
These benefits are not offered through the Smithsonian Fellowship Office.
However, other options for dental coverage are available but would require
Because of the limited period of tenure associated with a research appointment, up to 3 weeks
of leave for vacation and up to 3 weeks for illness are considered reasonable in a 12-month appointment period.
Any unused leave may not be carried over into the next leave year. Further, fellowship recipients are not
compensated for any balance of unused annual or sick leave upon completion of their award.
Awardees are expected to be in residence at the Institution unless they have been granted a leave of absence from their Smithsonian Advisor and have notified Christine Crowley in the Fellowship Program Office.
Annual progress reports of 1 to 2 pages in length are required for Fellows
with appointments exceeding 1 year in duration. These reports should briefly
summarize accomplishments over the course of the last year and what is
proposed for the next.
A 2- to 3-page final report is required from each visiting researcher
summarizing his/her activities at the Smithsonian. These reports must
be submitted through the Division Administrator to the Fellowship Program
Office. NOTE: If you are an SAO Predoctoral Fellow, check with your division administrator as a report might not be required particularly if you presented a report recently to your Predoctoral Research Review Committee (PRRC).