J-1 Status – Exchange Visitor Visa
Purpose – Congress established the J-1 exchange visitor nonimmigrant visa program in 1948 to “promote a better understanding of the United States in other countries, and to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.”
The J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa Program is used to bring a wide variety of people, including students, scholars, trainees, teachers, professors, specialists, foreign medical graduates, international visitors, government visitors, camp counselors, and au pairs to the United States to participate in educational and cultural programs. One of the purposes of the J-1 visa program is to provide foreign nationals with the opportunity to acquire skills in the United States, which can then be used in their home countries.
Pros – The J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa Program provides many opportunities for individuals who want to come to the U.S. temporarily in order to gain exposure to and acquire skills from American educational and cultural institutions.
Cons – One of the most significant drawbacks of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa Program is that foreign nationals who participate in a J-1 exchange program may be subject to a two-year home residence requirement. This rule prohibits certain J-1 exchange visitors from changing to certain other nonimmigrant classifications, or obtaining an immigrant visa, until he or she has spent two years in their home country. However, a waiver may be obtained for this requirement in certain situations.
Family – The spouse and minor children of a J-1 exchange visitor may accompany or follow to join the J-1 exchange visitor to the United States under the J-2 Classification. The spouse and minor children may not be admitted for a longer period then the principalJ-1 exchange visitor. A J-2 exchange visitor may apply for work, but any income may not be used to support the J-1 exchange visitor.
Points of Interest – Individuals interested in the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa Program should be aware of the applicability of the two-year home residence requirement and how the requirement may affect their future immigrant or non-immigrant plans. There may be alternative Visa classifications available to consider instead of the J-1 classification. Alternatives to the various J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa categories are discussed in their respective sections.
1. J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa Status
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) defines a J-1 Exchange Visitor as:
- An alien with a residence in a foreign country that he has no intention of abandoning;
- Who is a bona fide student, scholar, trainee, teacher, professor, research assistant, specialist, or leader in a field of specialized knowledge or skill, or other person of similar description;
- Who is coming temporarily to the United States as a participant in a J-1 Exchange Visitor Program.
2. Procedures for J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa Status
- Step One: Sponsorship of an Exchange Visitor Program. An entity applies to the U.S. Department of State for permission to develop and administer a J-1 exchange program.
- Step Two: Issuance of Form DS-2019 and Obtaining a J-1 Visa. Individuals interested in participating in a J-1 Exchange Program apply to an accepted J-1 Exchange Program Sponsor. If selected, the individual then applies for a non-immigrant J-1 Visa.
3. Step One: Sponsorship of an Exchange Visitor Program
Entities interested in becoming a sponsor of a J-1 exchange visitor program must develop an exchange program and present it to the Department of State for approval. Entities eligible to apply for designation as a sponsor of a J-1 exchange visitor program are:
- Local, state and federal government agencies of the United States;
- International agencies or organizations; or
- Organizations that are “citizens of the United States.”
An eligible entity applies to the Department of State for designation as a sponsor on Form DS-3036 and files with the Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Program Services. Upon a favorable determination that the proposed exchange program meets all statutory and regulatory requirements, the Department of State may designate an entity as an exchange visitor program sponsor. A Catalog of State Designated Exchange Visitor Program Sponsors may be found at the U.S. Department of State’s website.
In the conduct of their exchange programs, exchange visitor program sponsors must make a good faith effort to achieve the fullest possible reciprocity in the exchange of persons. Exchange visitor program sponsors must also offer or make available to exchange visitors a variety or appropriate cross-cultural activities. The Department of State encourages sponsors to give their exchange visitors the broadest exposure to American society, culture and institutions. Furthermore, sponsors must encourage exchange visitors to voluntarily participate in activities that involve sharing the language, culture, or history of their home country with Americans, provided such activities do not delay the completion of the exchange visitors’ programs.
J-1 Exchange Visitor Program Sponsors must provide a system to screen and select prospective exchange visitors to ensure that they are eligible for program participation. Sponsors must also provide J-1 exchange visitors with pre-arrival materials, which include information on:
- The purpose of the Exchange Visitor Program;
- Potential home-country physical presence requirements;
- Travel and entry into the United States;
- Fees payable to the sponsor;
- Other costs that the exchange visitor will likely incur (e.g., living expenses) while in the United States; and
- Information on health care and insurance.
J-1 Exchange Visitor Program Sponsors must also provide an orientation for all exchange visitors. Sponsors must monitor exchange visitors participating in their programs. They must ensure that the activity in which the exchange visitor is engaged is consistent with the category and activity listed on the exchange visitor’s Form DS-2019. Sponsors are also required to monitor the progress and welfare of the exchange visitor and to ensure that the exchange visitor keeps the sponsor apprised of his or her address and telephone number.
J-1 exchange visitor program sponsors are required to appoint a responsible officer (RO) and alternate responsible officers (ARO’s) to act for the sponsor in the administration of the exchange program. The RO will provide advisement and assistance to the exchange visitor with respect to his or her completion of the program.
4. Step Two: Issuance of Form DS-2019 and Obtaining a J-1 Visa
Each individual who applies for and is approved by a J-1 Sponsor to participate in a J-1 exchange visitor program is given Form DS-2019. This document describes the period and terms of the proposed visit.
The J-1 exchange visitor presents Form DS-2019 to a U.S. consul in applying for a J-1 Visa. To obtain a J-1 nonimmigrant visa the non-citizen must establish to the satisfaction of the consular officer that he or she:
- Has been accepted and intends to participate in a J-1 exchange visitor program, as evidenced by a properly executed Form DS-2019;
- Has sufficient funds to cover expenses or has made other arrangements to provide for expenses;
- Has adequate knowledge of English; and
- Meets the additionally requirements required by law if coming to participate in a graduate medical education or training program.
If the visa is granted, the exchange visitor may be admitted to the United States by an immigration officer. The period of admission marked on the I-94 entry card will be for “D/S” (duration of status) or have a fixed date. An additional 30 day period is also provided for the purpose of travel.
The immigration officer will note whether the exchange visitor is subject to the home country residence requirement. If the home country residence requirement applies, the officer must note the basis for its application. However, the immigration officer’s decision has not been regarded as binding and can be disputed by the exchange visitor. The home country residence requirement is discussed further below.
5. J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa Categories
A J-1 nonimmigrant visitor visa may be obtained in several categories. The following links describe in detail the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa categories.
6. The Two-Year Home Residence Requirement
One of the major drawbacks to the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa Program is the potential application of a two-year foreign residence requirement. An exchange visitor subject to the foreign residence requirement is barred:
- From applying for an immigrant visa;
- From applying for a nonimmigrant visa as a temporary worker (H-1B) or as an intra-company transferee (L-1); and
- From obtaining permanent residence status,
- Unless the exchange visitor first resides in his or her home country or country of last residence for two years, or obtains a waiver of the residence requirement.
A J-1 Exchange Visitor may be subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement if:
- The J-1 Exchange Visitor’s participation in a J-1 exchange program was government financed; or
- The J-1 Exchange Visitor is engaged in a field of specialized knowledge or skill designated in the J-1 Exchange Visitor Skills List; or
- The J-1 Exchange Visitor participates in a J-1 exchange program in order to receive graduate medical education or training in the United States.
7. For More Information on J-1 Visas