J-1 Visas to the USA

Temporary Visas for Education or Cultural Exchange

The J-1 visa is used by international visitors to enter the United States (U.S.) temporarily for educational or cultural exchange purposes.

The Exchange Visitor Program is carried out under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961, as amended, and administered by the Office of Exchange Coordination and Designation in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Exchange Visitor program participants are expected to return to their respective home countries to utilize the skills that they acquire while in the U.S.

The following is a list of the main Exchange Visitor Program categories:

  1. Trainees and interns in medicine, business, and other fields;
  2. Secondary, college, and university students;
  3. Teachers at all academic levels;
  4. Professors employed to teach and/or perform research at post-secondary institutions;
  5. Au pairs;
  6. Government Visitors; and
  7. Research Scholars.

Each category has specific requirements and regulations.

J-1 Visa Requirements

In order to apply for a J-1 visa, applicants must be sponsored by an American organization to come to the U.S. as a visitor in a recognized exchange category. Also, applicants are required to obtain a Form DS-2019 from their sponsor before applying for a J-1 visa.

J-1 visitors must have the requisite academic background to participate in the Exchange Visitor Program, including knowledge of the English language (unless the program does not require such knowledge). In addition, applicants must demonstrate that they plan to depart the U.S. at the conclusion of their exchange program, that they have compelling social and economic ties abroad which they have no intention of abandoning, and that they have sufficient funds to cover living expenses incurred while in the U.S.

Exchange visitors coming to the U.S. for medical education or training must have passed the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination.

J-1 Visa Employment Authorization

J-1 visa holders may be authorized to work in the U.S. as part of their exchange program. Participants in programs which do not involve work may not engage in outside employment.

J-1 Visa Foreign Residency Requirements

An exchange visitor is subject to the two-year home country physical presence requirement if the following conditions exist:

The program in which the exchange visitor is participating is directly or indirectly financed in whole or in part by the U.S. government or the government of the exchange visitor;
The exchange visitor entered the United States to receive graduate medical education or training; Or
The exchange visitor is a national or permanent resident of a country which has deemed the field of specialized knowledge or skill necessary to the development of the country.

If the exchange visitor is subject to the two-year home country foreign residence requirement, he or she cannot change his/her status to that of H Visa, L Visa, K Visa, or lawful US permanent resident until he or she has returned to his/her home country for at least two years or received a waiver of that requirement.

Waivers of Foreign Residency for J-1 Visa Holders

A waiver of the physical presence requirement may be granted in any one of the following situations:

“No Objection” Statement from the visitor’s home government is obtained;
The visitor claims that she or he will be persecuted if returned home;
A U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or child claims that exceptional hardship will result if the visitor returns home;
A request is made on behalf of the visitor by an interested U.S. government agency; or
A request is made on behalf of the visitor by a designated health agency or its equivalent.

Spouses and Children that Accompany J1 Visa Holders

Spouses and/or children (under the age of 21) who wish to accompany the principal J-1 visa applicant to the U.S. require 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 issue each approved family member a Form DS-2019 as well. In addition, accompanying family members of the principal applicant must demonstrate that they have sufficient financial resources to cover all expenses while in the U.S.

Accompanying spouses and children of the J-1 Visa holder may study in the U.S. during the principal applicant’s exchange, but they are not authorized to work. J-2 visa holders may, however, apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for employment authorization.