J-1 Visa

What is the J-1 Visa?

J-1 visas allow individuals to come to the United States as part of an approved exchange program for the purpose of teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, receiving training, or to receive graduate medical education or training.

The J-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa available for individuals sponsored by an exchange program designated by the United States Department of State. Designated exchange programs are those designed to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills in the fields of education, arts, and science.

How to qualify for a J-1 Visa?

Because J-1 visa holders are sponsored by exchange programs at various United States institutions, to qualify for a J-1 visa, an individual must meet specific program and application requirements of the program sponsor.

Generally, the J-1 applicant must fit into an exchange category defined by the United States Department of State. There are several exchange categories with different eligibility requirements,

In order to qualify for any of the exchange categories, the J-1 applicant must meet certain criteria or have certain professional experience prior to joining the exchange program in the United States.

  • Alien Physician
    • Eligibility: Have passed a qualifying medical examination (i.e. National Board of Medical Examiners). Have documented need in physician’s home country for the skills sought while in the U.S.
  • Au Pair
    • Eligibility: Between 18-and- 26-years-old. Successful in passing a background investigation and a personality profile
  • Camp Counselor
    • Eligibility: At least 18 years of age.
  • College & University Student
    • Eligibility: Admitted into a course of study in the U.S. The student must not be funded primarily by personal or family funds.
  • Government Visitor Program
    • Eligibility: Selected by a U.S. federal, state, or local government agency; Engaged in observation tours, discussions, consultations, professional meetings, conferences, workshops, and travel; An influential or distinguished person.
  • Intern
    • Eligibility: Currently enrolled in at a foreign post-secondary academic institution outside the U.S. OR graduated no more than 12 months prior to their program start date.
  • International Visitor Program
    • Eligibility: Selected by the United States Department of State; Engaged in consultation, observation, research, training or demonstration of special skills; Must be a recognized or potential leader in a field of specialized knowledge or skill.
  • Physicians
    • Eligibility: Adequate prior education and training to participate in the program; Passed either Parts I and II of the National Board of Medical Examiners Examination, the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination, Step I and Step II, or the Visa Qualifying Examination (VQE) prepared by the National Board of Medical Examiners and administered by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.
  • Professor & Research Scholar
    • Eligibility: Temporary, non-tenure track appointments. Minimum qualifications: bachelors’ degree with appropriate experience in the field in which research is to be conducted. Not physically in U.S. for all or part of 12-months preceding start date, unless excluded according to 22
  • Secondary School Student
    • Eligibility: All exchange students to be enrolled and participating in a full course of study at an accredited academic institution.
  • Short-Term Scholar
    • Eligibility: A short-term U.S. visit to lecture, observe, consult, train, or to demonstrate special skills at research institutions, museums, libraries, post-secondary educational institutions.
  • Specialist
    • Eligibility: (1) Is an expert in a field of specialized knowledge/skill; (2) Travel to the U.S. to observe, consult, or demonstrate their special knowledge or skills; AND (3) Does not fill a permanent/ long term position in the U.S.
  • Summer Work Travel
    • Eligibility: Full time student at accredited post- secondary, classroom-based, academic institutions outside of the U.S. & has completed at least one semester or equivalent of post-secondary academic study.
  • Teacher
    • Eligibility: Minimum 2 years teaching experience, a B.A. equivalent, and satisfies the teaching eligibility standards of the U.S. state in which teacher is placed.
  • Trainee
    • Eligibility: Has degree or professional certificate from a foreign post- secondary institution AND at least 1 year prior related experience outside the U.S. OR have 5 years of experience in the field in which they are training

What is the process for obtaining a J-1 Visa?

Step One: Find the Right Program

Individuals interested in coming to the United States on a J-1 visa must first determine what applicable exchange program fits their experience and qualifications. Individuals can view program requirements and an overview of each program at the United States Department of State’s chart.

Step Two: Connect with a Sponsor

After an individual determines which applicable J-1 visa exchange program fits their experience and qualifications, the individual must contact a designated sponsor directly in order to determine the sponsor’s specific program and application requirements. Designated sponsors can be found by searching for them at the United States Department of State’s sponsor search. Sponsor’s that operate in non-U.S. countries can be searched for here.

Sponsors will be responsible for selecting applicants and supporting and monitoring them during the entire program. Thus, it is important when applying to a program for an applicant to ensure he or she meets the program’s requirements.

Step Three: After Being Accepted into a Program

After an applicant is accepted by a sponsor into an exchange visitor program, the program sponsor will issue the applicant a filled out Form DS-2019. Once the applicant receives Form DS-2019, the applicant must pay the Student and Exchange Visitor System (SEVIS) fee. Proof of payment should be saved for the applicant’s records.

Once the SEVIS fee is paid, the applicant must fill out the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-160 and pay the application fee.

Step Four: Attend Interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate

After a J-1 visa applicant pays the application fee and submits DS-160, the applicant must schedule an interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate near them.

The J-1 applicant must bring the following documents with them to his or her interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate:

  • Original Form DS-2019;
  • Training/Internship Placement Plan, Form DS-7002;
  • Form DS-160 confirmation page;
  • Passport;
  • Photo that meets photograph requirements;
  • Visa application fee receipt

Additional documentation may be required, depending on the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where the applicant’s interview is scheduled.

At the end of the applicant’s interview, the interviewing officer will inform the applicant whether or not he or she is approved for the J-1 visa. If approved, the J-1 visa applicant will be informed of next steps.

Once approved, a J-1 visa holder may not arrive more than 30 days before the program start date shown on the Form DS-2019.

Step Five: Enter the United States

After a J-1 visa is approved by a consular officer, the visa holder must travel to a U.S. port-of-entry and request permission to enter the United States under the visa. Approval of a visa by a consular officer does not guarantee entry into the United States. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the port of entry will permit or deny entry after reviewing the J-1 visa holder’s passport, visa, and DS-2019. Individuals who are approved to enter the United States will receive an admission stamp or paper Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record.

What can J-1 & J-2 visa holders do while in the United States?

Employment

Employment is authorized for J-1 visa holders only under the terms of the exchange program. If the sponsoring program authorizes employment, then a J-1 visa holder may work according to the terms of the sponsoring program.

How much does it cost to get a J-1 visa?

It costs $160 to apply for a J-1 visa. The J-1 visa applicant may be required to pay the SEVIS fee, or it may be part of the J-1 visa program’s fees.

The J-1 visa holder may be charged a visa issuance fee, depending on their nationality. To determine whether an issuance fee applies to your nationality, review the U.S. Department of State’s reciprocity index.

How long are J-1 visas valid?

The length a J-1 visa holder’s visa is valid depends on the exchange category (type of work or study) and the specific program’s requirements. Thus, a J-1 visa applicant should refer to the program in order to determine length of stay minimums and maximums. An applicant can refer to this chart for guidance.

Extensions may be granted to no longer than the maximum stay permitted in the exchange category.

Upon the completion of the J-1 visa holder’s exchange program, the visa holder has a grace period of 30 days to depart the United States.

Sweta Khandelwal

Sweta completed her Masters in Law from the University of California, Los Angeles and her JD from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University in India and has been practicing law for 15+ years getting visas, green cards, and citizenship for 1000+ clients, 100+ companies across 50+ nationalities.

Sweta has been recognized as a ” Super Lawyer, Rising Star,” and as amongst the ” Top 40 under 40″ immigration attorneys in California (American Society of Legal Advocates). She is also the recipient of the Advocacy Award by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Sweta is also a chartered accountant — the equivalent of a CPA. This makes her uniquely positioned to understand the immigration needs of her business clients in the broader context of their corporate objectives.

Sweta is actively involved with immigration issues and immigrant communities in various capacities. She has assumed key roles at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), both at the local and national level. She has been a past chair at the Santa Clara Valley Chapter at AILA and has also been involved in various practice area committees at AILA National. Sweta has addressed multiple conferences/forums in the United States and worldwide on immigration and business issues.