J-1 Visas for Foreign Nationals Participating in Educational or Cultural Exchanges
People who are coming to the U.S. as part of an educational or cultural exchange can apply for a J-1 visa. You may be eligible for this status if you are participating in a program that involves teaching, training, or research. Often, foreign university students get a J-1 visa to come to the U.S. for a summer or another limited period of time. Sometimes U.S. businesses use the J-1 visa to bring foreign national employees to the U.S. for training or an internship. There is no quota for J-1 visas. Holders of J-1 visas potentially can get permission to work in the U.S. They would need to show that their job relates to the program that forms the basis of their status, or that their sponsor approved the job.
The companion J-2 visa allows a foreign national with a J-1 visa to bring a spouse and child to the U.S. They can get authorization to work in the U.S., as long as their job is not necessary to support the foreign national with the J-1 visa. People on J-1 or J-2 visas have the right to leave and reenter the U.S. during the term of the visa. If they want to pursue a green card or another non-immigrant visa, they may need to return to their home country for two years before applying for their new status.
Common J-1 Visa Categories
Professors and researchers
Qualifying for a J-1 Visa
To get a J-1 visa, a foreign national needs to get accepted to a program designated by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the State Department as a program of studies, training, research, or cultural enrichment. For example, a foreign national should be able to get a J-1 visa if they are participating in specialized medical training or a program for foreign professors who will be working in the U.S. Common types of foreign nationals who can receive J-1 visas include students, interns, teachers, research assistants, trainees, and medical graduate students.
A foreign national who applies for the J-1 visa must be able to show that they have sufficient English-language skills to participate in their program. Since the J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa, the applicant will need to submit documentation proving that they intend to return to their home country when the program ends.
One distinctive requirement of the J-1 visa is that the applicant must have enough money to cover their expenses while they are in the U.S., without using their own funds or family financial assistance. Their funding must come from a government agency (either the U.S. government or the foreign government), an international organization, or another entity that is not controlled by the foreign national or their family. Students often meet this requirement through scholarship money, while interns or trainees can use the salary from their U.S. employer. However, a J-1 visa holder does not need to preserve their initial source of funding throughout the term of the visa. They can get support from any lawful source of funding after they have arrived in the U.S.
Working Spouses and Children
Spouses and unmarried children under 21 of J-1 visa holders may receive J-2 visas and seek employment authorization in the U.S. so long as their income is not used to support the J-1 visa holder.
Concerns Involving Au Pairs on J Visas
Many young foreign nationals get J visas to help care for the children of a U.S. family. In exchange for providing up to 45 hours per week of child care, they can get exposure to American culture, improve their English-language skills, and pursue further education. The State Department does not oversee these programs closely, however, allowing designated sponsor organizations to manage them. As a result, problems have arisen in some au pair programs. Foreign au pairs often have been subjected to unreasonably low wages, excessive work, inappropriate assignments, and isolation.
In 2018, a group of au pairs sued the sponsor organizations and received a damages award in a settlement. A foreign national may be eligible to get compensation from this settlement if they worked as an au pair on a J-1 visa between the start of 2009 and October 28, 2018. Meanwhile, a foreign national considering coming to the U.S. as an au pair should be aware of the potential risks.