I got an offer for an assistant professor position in the USA starting on September 1st. Classes start on August 21st. So I am expected to start teaching at the university before I'm actually employed. Until this point, ok, I don't mind.

However, as I am a foreigner, I can enter the USA with my H1B visa (work visa sponsored by the university) only 10 days before the contract starts. 10 days before will be August 22 (remember: classes start on August 21!). I would prefer to enter the USA before August 22, to organize my life before I start the full-time position (rent a house, buy a car, hire internet, electricity, do all the moving, etc).

Is it possible to ask the university to sign my contract starting 1 or 2 months before September 1st so I can enter the US before August 22? I wouldn't ask for more salary for that 1st year, of course. It will be only an administrative solution for me to have a visa earlier. Is it possible?

  • 7
    "So I am expected to start teaching at the university before I'm actually employed. Until this point, ok, I don't mind." Stop thinking of teaching as a moral mission. Teaching is only a small drop in the way you help students, but it is a job you perform for the university. If it is a private university, even worse: you are paying some big head salary with your free work. If you really need to volunteer, find more meaningful way to do it :)
    – EarlGrey
    Dec 23, 2022 at 9:17
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    Surely if the university only employs you from September 1, you cannot be expected to act as an employee before then! Their employer insurance wouldn't cover you, for a start; and of course, they have no reason to pay you for anything you do. Dec 24, 2022 at 11:46
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    Have you actually confirmed with them in writing that they expect you to start teaching in August? I highly doubt they'd do that, which means you start teaching not earlier then Sept. 1st.
    – Polygnome
    Dec 24, 2022 at 14:05
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    This may be a silly question, but are you absolutely sure that the start date of your contract is September 1, not January 9? I'm sure you're aware that people in the United States write dates differently from almost every other country in the world. Dec 25, 2022 at 7:55
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    I've started jobs before there's work to be done, sometimes by up to 1-2 months. Typically they give you busy-work to do, like reading contracts and training
    – Valorum
    Dec 25, 2022 at 20:24

4 Answers 4


Of course you can and should ask the university to help you deal with this problem. They have done all the work so far in the hiring process, arranging the visa and writing the contract. It's in their interest as well as yours to straighten this out.

Let us know what happens.


You surely can ask, but I suggest that you do not ask for an earlier contract date, but for a solution for the real problems that you have.

That is, do not ask "can you just put a different date on my contract". This smells bad for me, especially if it is done explicitly to mislead border control. (Although if the university indeed wants you to start teaching before the contract starts, this smells equally bad for me.)

At the same time, the date on the contract is not your real problem. Your real problem is organizing your life. So, just explicitly tell the university that you need time "to organize your life", mention the visa problem, and ask for suggestions. You may find that the university has standard policies and processes regarding this.

Also, are you sure that the university actually expects you to start work before the official contract start date?

  • Thank you for the reply and suggestion! Yes, the head of department explained that to me more than once. Everybody starts on mid-August and finishes mid-May, while everybody's contract goes from September to end of May.
    – Lis
    Dec 26, 2022 at 19:14

You and your new department are now partners: They want you to succeed in your job, and they need you to do what is necessary for their teaching mission. As a consequence, nobody is well served if the earliest you can show up is a couple of days after classes start.

So write your future department head an email explaining the situation: That visa rules say that you can only get there by a date after classes start, and ask whether the start date of your contract can be changed to make it possible for you to be there when you need to be there. That is clearly also in the department's interest, so should not present any difficulties.

(There is an ethical issue about an employer expecting you to teach starting ten days before your contract starts: They expect you to work for free for a third of a month. I consider this unethical. Whether you want to press that point is of course an entirely different question, but you don't have to: You have good other reasons why you can't start teaching when they want you to teach.)

  • I totally agree with you about the ethical issue. I thought it was quite strange, but it is the same for the whole university: everybody starts teaching on mid-August and finishes mid-May, while everybody's contract goes from September to end of May. I don't know why...
    – Lis
    Dec 26, 2022 at 19:19
  • @Lis True, and my contract works the same way. But I do think that the year I was hired, I was paid for that half month, as should be. Dec 26, 2022 at 23:22

Not knowing which university you will be employed at, I looked at several university websites regarding protocol for new employees requiring an H1B visa, including Boston University, UC Berkeley, and Missouri University, among others.

What I have learned is they have an International Student and Scholar Office or something similar, that petitions the US Citizenship and Naturalization Office for the H1B visa on your behalf. They supply information regarding you background, qualifications for the proffered position, and the position begin and end dates. They subsequently receive the approval form, Form I797, and send you copies of the petition, approval Form I797, as well as any information you might need navigating the process for obtaining your visa at the US Consulate or Embassy in your country, as well as information about traveling to the US.

Have you received these forms? If not, I would immediately get in touch with your contact person at the University and inquire when you will be receiving the forms, and if there's any other information they may be able to provide to streamline the process. They have advisors dedicated to international students and scholars and you may already have one assigned. I found departments dedicated to international students and scholars on the university websites. If you don't believe you have been assigned an advisor, you should check the school website and find that department.

From what I have read, the process to obtain the H1B Visa can take several months when everything is going smoothly; it can take much longer should an issue arise. The sooner you can get it done, the better.

When reading the information provided, it does sound like there may be an employment begin and end dates as well as contract begin and end dates provided on form I797. The employment dates may differ from the contract dates. I can only guess, maybe the contract runs by fiscal year, or maybe there's an onboarding type class you have to participate in prior to having your contract become effective, you have a different employment designation until then. It doesn't sound like a critical issue, just something needing clarification.

I hope this helps. Hopefully, if you have not yet received it, you will receive the petition, the approval, and an employee information packet that explains everything very soon.

Good luck!

  • Thank you for your reply. I haven't been assigned an advisor for the H1B process yet, but the head of the department told me that it is the next step after we have signed the contract.
    – Lis
    Dec 26, 2022 at 19:18

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