The J-1 Exchange Visitor program enables foreign nationals to
come to the U.S. to work, study, teach, train or observe U.S. culture. The
program is administered by the U.S. Department of State Bureau
of Educational and Cultural Affairs and
the objective is to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills
in the fields of education, arts, and sciences. J-1 Exchange Visitors are
expected to return to their country of residence to utilize the experience and
skills they have acquired while in the U.S.
Benefits of the J-1 Visa
- The J-1 visa allows students, scholars, trainees in
business and industry, research assistants, teachers, and international
visitors on cultural missions come to the U.S. to participate in a variety
of informational exchange programs sponsored by schools, businesses, and
various organizations and institutions.
- J-1 visas can be issued
quickly, with approval from one to two days if filed at home consulates,
or one to three months if filed in the U.S.
- J-1 visa holders may work
legally in the U.S. if it is part of the program (i.e., trainee in a
business) or if they receive permission to work from the program sponsor.
- Travel in and out of the U.S.
is allowed until the completion of the program.
- Visas are available for the
J-1 visa holder’s spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age.
- Spouse and children are
eligible for employment authorization if the money is not needed to
support the J-1 visa holder.
- J-1 visa holders are exempt
from Social Security and Medicare tax (although, they are subject to
personal income tax).
Restrictions of the J-1 Visa
- J-1 visa holders may only
participate in the visitor exchange program under which the visa was
approved (e.g., an approved camp counselor cannot participate in an au
- Must be accepted into an approved
exchange program before applying for the J-1 visa.
- Participants in certain
types of programs may be required to return to their home country for a
minimum of two years before they are permitted to obtain a green card or
change to another nonimmigrant status.
In order to apply for a J-1 Visa, an applicant must be
accepted for on the Exchange Visitor Program categories through a designated
sponsoring organization. The Department of State
designates public and private entities to act as exchange sponsors. Exchange
programs are available for the following categories:
- Au pair
- Camp Counselor
- Student, college/university
- Student, secondary
- Government Visitor
- International Visitor
(reserved for U.S. Department of State use)
- Alien physician
- Research Scholar
- Short-term Scholar
- Summer work/travel
Each category of exchange has specific requirements and regulations. In
addition, the admission time varies for each category. Please refer to the J-1 Visa Categories and Specifications list
for a detailed description of each of the categories and admission time.
can be a J-1 Sponsor?
The sponsor of a J-1 visa program
is a legal entity designated by the State Department to conduct an exchange
visitor program. The following
entities are eligible to apply for designation as a sponsor:
- United States federal, state and local government agencies;
- International organizations of which the U.S. is a member and
which have an office in the United States; or
- Reputable organizations that are citizens of the United States.
The sponsoring entity is required
to submit an application (DS-3036) to the Department of State through the
Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and to comply with all
provisions of 22 CFR Part 514. Once the program is approved, it receives notification through the SEVIS
system. Alternatively, if State
Department has not designated the organization as a sponsor, the organization
may participate in the program through an intermediary, known as an umbrella
organization, which acts as the sponsoring agency.
is SEVIS and SEVP?
The Student and Exchange
Visitor Program (SEVP) is designed to help the USCIS and Department
of State better monitor school and exchange programs and F, M and J category
visitors. Exchange visitor and student information is maintained in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
SEVIS is an Internet-based system that maintains accurate and current
information on non-immigrant students (F and M visa), exchange visitors (J
visa), and their dependents (F-2, M-2, and J-2). SEVIS enables schools and
program sponsors to transmit mandatory information and event notifications via
the Internet, to the USCIS and Department of State throughout a student or
exchange visitor's stay in the United States.
All exchange visitor applicants must have a SEVIS
generated DS 2019 issued by a Department of State designated sponsor, which
they submit when they are applying for their exchange visitor visa. The
consular officer will need to verify your DS 2019 record electronically through
the SEVIS system in order to process your exchange visitor visa application to
conclusion. Unless otherwise exempt, participants whose SEVIS DS-2019 was
issued on or after September 1, 2004 must pay a SEVIS I-901 Fee to the
Department of Homeland Security for each individual program. The fee may be
paid either through a special web site, via Western Union, or by mail. See
SEVIS-901 Fee or SEVIS for further information on how to pay the fee.
Participants in the "J"
exchange visitor program must have sufficient funds to cover all expenses, or
funds must be provided by the sponsoring organization in the form of a
scholarship or other stipend.
"J" exchange visitors
must have sufficient scholastic preparation to participate in the designated
program, including knowledge of the English language, or the exchange program
must be designed to accommodate non-English speaking participants.
Education and Training
Exchange visitors coming under the
"J" program for graduate medical education or training must meet
certain special requirements. These requirements include passing the Foreign
Medical Graduate Examination in Medical Sciences, demonstrating competency in
English, being automatically subject to the two-year foreign residence
requirement (after completion of their program), and being subject to time
limits on the duration of their program. Physicians coming to the United States
on exchange visitor programs for the purpose of observation, consultation,
teaching, or conducting research in which there is little or no patient care
are not subject to the above requirements.
Exchange visitors must possess
sufficient proficiency in the English language to participate in their
programs. Sponsors are required to ensure that their participants are
sufficiently proficient in the English language to participate in their
exchange programs before they enter the United States.
Participants and any J-2 dependents
(spouses and minor children -- children under the age 21) accompanying them are
required to carry medical insurance at the minimum benefit
levels stated in the program regulations. Program sponsors are
required to ensure that all participants have the appropriate medical
insurance. They will verify that the participant's medical insurance meets the
regulatory requirements, and will facilitate the purchase of coverage to
participants who do not have their own insurance, or whose coverage does not
meet the requirements. Participants interested in obtaining appropriate medical
insurance should contact the responsible officer of the organization sponsoring
their program. Willful failure on the part of the participant and/or any J-2
dependents to maintain active insurance coverage is grounds for termination
from the program. Please refer to the regulations for details.
Procedures, Visa Issuance and Entry to the U.S.
The first step is applying to and being accepted into an
approved exchange program in the U.S. Once accepted as a participant in an
exchange program, the participant will be issued a SEVIS Form DS-2019 (Certificate
of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1). Next, the
participant applies for the actual visa at the consulate. Then, he/she will be
required to appear for an in-person interview. If the visa is granted, the
participant will be issued a visa in accordance with the Form DS-2019.
Applicants may apply for their visa as soon as
they are prepared to do so. Exchange visitor visa applicants are encouraged to
apply for their visa early to provide ample time for visa processing.
Applicants for visas should generally apply at the American Embassy or
Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Although
visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more
difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence.
The regulations require that all J exchange
visitors, and J-2 spouse and dependents enter the U.S. 30 days or less in
advance of the applicant's program start date as shown on the Form DS-2019. Therefore,
applicants should be careful when making travel plans to the U.S. Immigration
officers may deny a J visa holder entry into the U.S., at his/her expense if
he/she attempts to enter more that 30 days before the program start date. The 30-day limitation does not apply to current
exchange participants who are returning to continue with their exchange
Applicants who want to enter the U.S. earlier
than 30 days prior to the course start date, must qualify for, and obtain a
visitor visa; however, this is strongly discouraged (see section below entitled
“Entering on a B Visa and Changing Status”.)
Application Procedures and Consular Interview
Once a participant has been issued the SEVIS Form
DS-2019, he/she may apply for the visa at the U.S. Consulate having jurisdiction
over his/her residence. Visa applicant will be required to appear for an
in-person interview. Consulates set their own interview policies and procedures
regarding J visas. Be sure to check the consulate’s website for their specific
Applicants will be required to provide:
- Non-immigrant visa application (and supplemental forms,
- Original SEVIS Form DS-2019
- Passport valid for at least six months after the
proposed date of entry to the U.S.
- One 2x2 photograph
In addition, applicants should be prepared to
- Evidence demonstrating significant ties to the country
of residence that they have no intention of abandoning
- Evidence of credentials, if applicable
- Degree/s and transcripts, if applicable
- Evidence of licensure in country of residence, if
No assurances regarding the issuance of visas can
be given in advance. Therefore, final travel plans or the purchase of
nonrefundable tickets should not be made until a visa has been issued.
C. Exchange Visitors Cannot Travel on the Visa Waiver Program
Citizens from a country participating in the Visa
Waiver Program (VWP), who want to enter the United States temporarily, as
exchange visitors traveling to the United States, must first obtain a an
exchange visitor visa to come to the U.S. They cannot travel without a visa on
the Visa Waiver Program. Those travelers coming on the Visa Waiver Program to
participate in an exchange program may be denied admission to the United States
by the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. immigration inspector at the port
of entry. For more information on VWP, see Visa Waiver
on a B-1 Visitor Visa and Changing Status to J-1
Applicants who want an earlier entry in the U.S.
(more than 30 days prior to the course start date), must qualify for, and
obtain a visitor visa; however, this is strongly discouraged. Applicants who
travel to the U.S. on a visitor visa, before beginning an exchange program,
must obtain a change of visa classification from the B non-immigrant status to J-1
non-immigrant status. To do so, applicants must file Form I-506, Application
for Change of
Nonimmigrant Status, with application fee, and also submit the
required Form DS-2019 to the USCIS office where the application is made. However,
be aware that the applicant cannot start the exchange visitor program until the
change of status is approved. In light of the processing time for a change
status in the U.S., the applicant may be in danger of missing the entire
exchange program waiting approval of change of status.
Can a Visitor Visa Be Used Instead of an Exchange Visitor Visa?
Some activities that are done on exchange visitor
visas are also permitted on business (B-1) or tourist (B-2) visas in certain
circumstances. Short periods of study, or study which is recreational, and not
vocational, and incidental to the trip is permitted on a visitor visa. The determining
factor is the traveler's primary purpose in coming to the United States.
Furthermore, any kind of study that would earn credit or certification is not
permitted on a visitor visa. As an example, if you are taking a vacation to the
U.S., and during this vacation you would like to take a two-day cooking class
for your enjoyment, and there is no credit earned, then this would be permitted
on a visitor visa. A consular officer will determine the visa category you will
need based on the purpose of your travel, and your supporting documentation.
the U.S. – Port of Entry
Applicants should be aware that a visa does not
guarantee entry into the United States. The visa allows a foreign citizen to
travel to a port-of-entry in the United States, such as an international
airport, a seaport or a land border crossing, and request permission to enter
the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection
officer will permit or deny admission to the United States, and determine the
length of stay in the U.S., on any particular visit. Exchange visitors must
have their Form DS-2019 in their possession each time they enter the United
States. Upon arrival, he/she will be enrolled in the US-VISIT entry-exit
program. Some travelers will also need to comply with Special Registration upon
their entry into the U.S. and departure. Select Special Registration to learn
more. If the applicant is allowed to enter, the U.S. immigration official
authorizes the traveler's admission to the U.S. At that time, Form I-94, Record
of Arrival-Departure, which notes the length of stay permitted, is validated by
the immigration official. Form I-94, which documents the authorized stay in the
U.S., is very important to keep in the passport.
of Stay for J Visa Holders
The initial admission of an exchange visitor,
spouse and children may not exceed the period specified on Form DS-2019, plus a
period of 30 days for the purpose of travel. The 30-day grace or travel status
period is intended to be a period following the end of the exchange visitor’s
program and is to be used for domestic travel and/or to prepare for and depart
from the U.S., and for no other purpose. A spouse or child (J-2 visa holder)
may not be admitted for longer than the principal exchange visitor (J-1 visa
Home Country Residence Requirement
An individual admitted in J-1
status may be subject to a two-year foreign (home country) residence
requirement. Without a waiver of
this requirement, the individual is not eligible to apply for permanent
residence or apply for any change of non-immigrant status (i.e., H or L status)
in the U.S. This two-year period
must be spent in the individual’s home country, or the country in which they
last permanently resided before coming to the U.S. An individual is subject to the 2 year home residence
- The individual's participation in an exchange visitor program
was financed by the government of the country of his or her last
- At the time of admission, the individual was a national or
resident of a country which the Department of State had designated as
clearly requiring the services of individuals with the alien's special
skills or knowledge; or
- The alien came to the United States to receive graduate medical
education or training.
Waiver of the Home Country Residence
Those who think they may be subject to the requirement and
who do not wish to go home may consider applying to the Department of State for
a waiver of the requirement. The basis for a waiver are as follows:
- Possible persecution: If the J-visa holder can demonstrate that he
or she would be subject to persecution at home on account of race,
religion or political opinion, the home residency requirement may be
waived. The standard is similar to that of asylum.
- Exceptional Hardship to
United States Citizen: If the J-visa
holder can demonstrate that his or her compliance with the home residency
requirement would impose exceptional hardship on a U.S. citizen or
permanent resident spouse or child, the home residency requirement may be
waived. The hardship must amount to more than that normally associated
with separation. In other words, forced separation from family always imposes
hardship, but for a waiver to be granted the exchange visitor must show
some exceptional hardship or combination of hardships, often of a medical,
financial, or psychological nature. The likelihood of the hardships must
be well documented.
- "No Objection"
Waiver: If the J-visa holder’s home
country does not object to the person’s decision not to return home, the
home residency requirement may be waived. A "no objection"
statement is a diplomatic communication between the home country’s
government and the Department of State. Please keep in mind that a
"no objection" statement does not compel the Department of State
and the USCIS to waive the requirement, and the waiver may still be
denied. Also, this form of waiver is generally not granted to those whose
exchange visit was funded, directly or indirectly, by the U.S. government,
and cannot be granted at all to those whose J program consisted of
graduate medical education or training.
- Request by an Interested
Government Agency: A federal
government agency (or, in the case of physicians, a state health
department) may also request that a waiver be granted. Such an
"interested government agency" must show both (i) that granting
a waiver is in the public interest, and (ii) that compliance with home
residency requirement would be "clearly detrimental" to a
program or activity of official interest to the agency. The government
agency need not employ or intend to employ the exchange visitor. Requests
for waivers should be made as early in the exchange program as possible:
the application process is lengthy, and most applicants will want to apply
concurrently for an H-1B visa, which is much harder to get at some points
in the year than at others. Some of the agencies that most commonly
request waivers are the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the
Department of Education, and, for physicians willing to practice in
medically underserved areas, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the U.S.
Departments of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, and Housing and Urban Development,
and state health departments. Any federal agency can request a waiver, but
some other agencies that somewhat commonly do so are the National Science
Foundation, the Departments of Energy and Defense, and the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Spouses and/or children under the age of 21 who
wish to accompany or join the principal exchange visitor (J) visa holder in the
United States for the duration of his/her stay require exchange visitor visas
(derivative J visas). The application procedure is the same as that for a
primary visa applicant. The sponsor must approve the accompaniment of the
spouse and/or children and who will each be issued their own Form DS-2019. This
form is used to obtain the required visa and the spouse and dependents can
enter the U.S. at the same time as the principal exchange visitor or at a later
The spouse and/or children of an exchange visitor
in the U.S. may not work in J-2 status. If employment is desired, the
appropriate work visa will be required. Before they can work, they must make an
application to DHS, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and be
approved for permission to work. They must file Form I-765 Application for
Employment Authorization with the USCIS office that serves the area where they
live for a work permit (employment authorization document).
The spouse and/or children of an exchange visitor
visa holder who are in the U.S. on an exchange visitor visa may study in the
U.S. without also being required to apply for a student (F-1) visa or change to
Spouses and/or children who do not intend to
reside in the U.S. with the principal visa holder, but visit for vacations
only, may be eligible to apply for visitor (B-2) visas, or if qualified, travel
without a visa under the Visa Waiver
Members Following to Join the Exchange Visitor
The spouse and children can also apply for visas
after the principal applicant has already traveled. In general, they must
present the following:
- Form DS 2019, SEVIS generated, and approved by the
- Proof that the principal applicant (the person who
received the DS-2019 or IAP-66) is maintaining his/her J visa status
- Copy of the J-1's (principal applicant's) visa
- Proof of relationship to the principal applicant
- Proof of sufficient money to cover all expenses in the
Spouses and children of exchange visitors may not
enter the United States before the principal visitor enters for the first time.
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