J-1 Visas - Exchange Visitors
THE "J-1" VISA CATEGORY
The Exchange Visitor Program
The "J-1" Visa category is used by certain foreign students (not
to be confused with the "F-1" or "M-1" student visas),
scholars, expert, medical interns and residents, and industrial
and business trainees, to enter the United States as "exchange visitors"
under an approved Exchange Visitor Program, for the purpose of gaining
work experience, doing research, or studying.
A J-1 generally obtains a visa through a pre-approved Exchange
Visitor Program Sponsor, and once obtained, the alien can work for
any qualifying employer.
For issuance of a J-1 visa it is not required that the employer
prove there are no U.S. workers available, however, the alien must
maintain a residence abroad which he or she has no intention of
abandoning during the pendency of the J-1 visa and, at the time
of the visa interview and at time of entry into the United States,
must exhibit an intention to depart the United States upon the termination
of J status.
Spouses and Children under 21 years of age receive J-2 Visas. Although
spouses and children are not authorized to work in the United States
without separate work permission, they may attend school. A child's
J-2 Visa status expires on their 21st birthday.
Overview - About the Exchange Visitor Program
The Exchange Visitor Program is carried out under the provisions
of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961, as
amended. The purpose of the Act is to increase mutual understanding
between the people of the United States and the people of other
countries by means of educational and cultural exchanges. International
educational and cultural exchanges are one of the most effective
means of developing lasting and meaningful relationships. They provide
an extremely valuable opportunity to experience the United States
and our way of life. Foreign nationals come to the United States
to participate in a wide variety of educational and cultural exchange
The Exchange Visitor Program is administered by the Office of
Exchange Coordination and Designation in the Bureau of Educational
and Cultural Affairs.
The internet website for information on the Exchange Visitor Program
At the conclusion of their program Exchange Visitor program participants
are expected to return to the home countries to utilize the experience
and skills they have acquired while in the United States. However
this is not mandatory for all J-1 programs, and for programs with
mandatory foreign residence requirements, it may be possible in
some instances to receive a waiver of the foreign residence requirement.
In carrying out the responsibilities of the Exchange Visitor Program,
the U.S. Department of State designates public and private entities
to act as exchange sponsors. Designated sponsoring organizations
facilitate the entry of foreign nationals into the United States
as exchange visitors to complete the objectives of one of the exchange
visitor program categories, which are:
- Au pair Camp
- Student, college/university Student,
- Government Visitor International Visitor (reserved
U.S. Department of State use)
- Alien physician
- Research Scholar
- Short-term Scholar Specialist Summer
Each category of exchange has specific requirements and regulations.
About the Exchange Visitor Visa
A citizen of a foreign country, who wishes to enter the United
States, generally must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant
visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence.
The type of visa you must have is defined by immigration law, and
relates to the purpose of your travel.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides the exchange
visitor (J) nonimmigrant visa category for persons who are approved
to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States.
This means that before you can apply at an American Embassy or Consulate
for a J visa you must apply, meet the requirements, and be accepted
for one of the Exchange Visitor Program categories through a designated
If you are accepted as a participant in an exchange program, the
sponsor will provide you with information and documents necessary
to apply for the J visa to enter the United States. Changes introduced
shortly after September 11, 2001 involve extensive and ongoing review
of visa issuing practices as they relate to our national security.
Visa applications are now subject to a greater degree of scrutiny
than in the past. Applicants affected by these procedures are informed
of the need for additional screening at the time they submit their
applications. So it is important to apply for your visa well in
advance of your travel departure date.
Applicants must demonstrate that they properly meet the requirements
to be issued an exchange visitor visa, including the following:
- That they plan to remain in the United Statee for a temporary,
- Evidence of funds to cover expenses in the
- Evidence of compelling social and economic ties abroad;
and other binding ties which will insure their return abroad
at the end of the visit.
What is SEVIS and SEVP? What should you know
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is designed to
help the Department of Homeland Security 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 Department
of Homeland Security and Department of State (DOS) 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.
Where and When Do I Need to Apply for My Visa?
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.
Applying for an Exchange Visitor Visa -Required
As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy
consular section is required for almost all visa applicants. The
waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary,
so early visa application is strongly encouraged. If you are authorized
by your sponsor to be accompanied by your spouse (husband or wife)
and children, they will also be given a Form DS-2019 and they can
apply at the same time. As part of the visa interview, a quick,
two-digit, ink-free fingerprint scan will be taken, as well as a
digital photo. Some applicants will need additional screening, and
will be notified when they apply.
You may apply for your visa at an Embassy or Consulate any time
before the beginning of your exchange program. Each visa applicant
must submit these forms and documentation, and submit fees as explained
below: DS 2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor
Status. You will need to submit a SEVIS generated Form, DS-2019,
which was provided to you by your program sponsor. All exchange
visitors, including their spouses and dependents must be registered
in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS),
an Internet-based system that maintains accurate and current information
on non-immigrant students and exchange visitors and their dependents
(J-2 visa holders).
Your program sponsor is responsible for entering your information
for the DS 2019 Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor
Status into SEVIS. Exchange visitors not part of a U.S. Government-sponsored
program will also have to pay a Sevis I-901 fee for each program.
Questions regarding your exchange program should be directly to
your program sponsor. An application, Nonimmigrant Visa Application,
Form DS-156, completed and signed.. A Supplemental Nonimmigrant
Visa Application, Form DS-157 provides additional information about
your travel plans. Submission of this completed form is required
for all male applicants between 16-45 years of age.
It is also required for all applicants from state sponsors of terrorism
age 16 and over, irrespective of gender, without exception. Six
countries are now designated as state sponsors of terrorism, including
North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Sudan, Iran, and Libya.
A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity
date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period
of stay in the United States is required. Applicants must demonstrate
to the consular officer that they have binding ties to a residence
in a foreign country which they have no intention of abandoning,
and that they are coming to the United States for a temporary period.
It is impossible to specify the exact form the evidence should take
since applicants' circumstances vary greatly.
My Visa Has Been Issued - When Can I Travel to
Be advised of the Department of Homeland Security regulation which
requires that all J exchange visitors, and J-2 spouse and dependents,
enter the United States not more than 30 days in advance of the
applicant's program start date as shown on the Form DS-2019. Please
consider this date carefully when making travel plans to the U.S.
Immigration officers may deny you entry into the United States at
your expense if you attempt to enter more that 30 days before your
program start date. The 30-day limitation does not apply to current
exchange participants who are returning to continue their exchange
If you want an earlier entry in the U.S. (more than 30 days prior
to the course start date), you must qualify for, and obtain, another
nonimmigrant visa type, however, this is strongly discouraged.
Spouses and Children 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 date.
Work for Spouse and Chidren Prohibited
The spouse and/or children of an exchange visitor in the United
States may not work in J-2 status, but must independely qualify
for any nonimmigrant employment authorized visa status.
Two-Year Foreign Residency Requirement
An exchange visitor is subject to INA 212(e)
only if the following conditions exist:
- The program in which the exchange visitor was participating
was financed in whole or in part directly or indirectly by the
United States government or the government of the exchange visitor's
nationality or last residence;
- The exchange visitor is a national or resident of a country
designated as requiring the services of persons engaged in the
field of specialized knowledge or skills in which the exchange
visitor was engaged for the duration of their program (Exchange
Visitor Skills List 9 FAM 41.62, Exhibit II);
- The exchange visitor entered the United States to receive graduate
medical education or training. If the exchange visitor is subject
to INA 212(e) requirement, he or she cannot change his or status
to that of H, L, K, or immigrant lawful permanent resident (LPR)
until he or she has returned to his/her home country for at least
two-years or unless he or she has received a waiver of that requirement.
Such waivers can be obtained under five separate basis:
- No Objection Statement
- Exceptional Hardship or Persecution
- Conrad Program, or Interested Government Agency.
Can You Enter on a Visitor Visa (B visa) or
Student Visa (F or M)
and then Change Status to an Exchange Visitor Program (J visa)?
If you travel to the U.S. in another visa status before beginning
an exchange program, you must obtain a change of visa classification
to that of J within the United States.
Please be aware that you cannot start your exchange visitor program
until the change of status is actually approved, therefore in view
of the processing time to your change status in the U.S., you may
be in danger of missing your entire exchange program waiting approval
of change of status. Advance planning is a must.
Citizens from a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program
(VWP) who want to enter the United States temporarily as exchange
visitors cannot change to J, or to any other nonimmigrant status,
within the United States, but must first obtain a a J-1 exchange
visitor visa at a U.S. consualte overseas, and then come to the
United States to participate in a J-1 Program.
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