J-1 Visas for Exchange Visitors

The J-1 Visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by the United States government to individuals wishing to participate in certain specially approved exchange visitor programs. The J-1 visa allows foreign citizens an opportunity to participate in educational and cultural programs in the U.S. and return to their native countries to share their experiences. The J-1 visa is intended to promote cultural exchange. Each applicant must meet certain criteria to be eligible for a J-1 visa and must be sponsored by a private company or a government program. The sponsoring organization must be approved by the U.S. government to act as an exchange visitor program. There are a number of programs that a J-1 applicant can come to the U.S. to attend, including programs for researchers, scholars, teachers, alien physicians, government visitors, and au pairs.

The J-1 requirements vary depending on the category or program for which the visitor is entering the U.S., but the requirements common to all programs are that the individual must show that he or she has a foreign residence that he or she has no intention of abandoning, and the individual must obtain a Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (Form DS-2019) from the program sponsor.

J-1 visitors remain in the U.S. until the end of their exchange program, as denoted on the Form DS-2019. Once the J-1 holder’s program is finished, he or she may stay in the U.S. for an additional 30 days to prepare for departure. The minimum and maximum time frames an individual can stay in the U.S. are determined by the specific J-1 category under which he or she entered the country.

Under the J-1 Visa program, individuals whose travel or study has been financed directly by the U.S. government or by their native government have a limited ability to change their immigration status while in the U.S. To change your immigration status, you must return to your home country or country and reside there for two years prior to becoming eligible to apply for an immigrant visa.

These individuals may be able to apply for a waiver of the two-year foreign residency requirement. The five statutory reasons for which a person can apply for a J-1 visa are:

  • A no-objection statement from the host government;
  • An invitation from an interested U.S. government agency;
  • A showing that the individual will be persecuted upon returning to the country of origin;
  • A showing of exceptional hardship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or child if the individual has to return to his or her country of origin; and
  • A waiver requested by a designated State health agency or its equivalent.

The spouse and minor children of participants in exchange programs can apply for J-2 visas for qualifying dependents, including a spouse and unmarried minor children. The applicant must demonstrate that he or she will have sufficient funds to cover all the expenses while in this country. J-2 visa holders can work in the U.S., but only after they have been approved and received a work permit card from USCIS.