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Understanding The J-2 Visa: Requirements, Process, and Benefits

“Thinking of joining your J-1 loved one in the US? The J-2 visa could be your key!”

Are you the spouse or child of a J-1 exchange visitor eager to experience the United States alongside them? The J-2 visa might be your perfect passport! In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about the J-2 visa, from understanding the eligibility requirements to navigating the application process. We’ll even explore the exciting benefits that come with this visa status. So, buckle up and get ready to unlock a world of opportunity in the US!

What is the J-2 Visa? 

The J-2 nonimmigrant visa allows certain family members of a J-1 visa holder to accompany the J-1 visa holder to the United States for the duration of the J-1 visa holder’s exchange program or to join them in the U.S. later.

Who Qualifies for the J-2 Visa? 

To qualify for a J-2 visa, an applicant must generally be the spouse or child under the age of 21 of a J-1 visa holder. The J-2 visa is issued in connection with the J-1 visa issuance. However, certain categories of J-1 exchange programs, like au pair, camp counselor, secondary school student, and summer work travel, do not allow for the issuance of the J-2 visa. 

It’s important to note that specific programs within exchange categories that typically permit the J-2 visa may have restrictions, so applicants should verify with their program sponsor regarding the eligibility for a J-2 visa, even if their program falls outside the restricted categories mentioned    

What is the Process/Requirements for obtaining a J-2 visa? 

The application process to receive a J-2 visa is the same as the process for a J-1 visa.  After the J-1 visa applicant has researched and is admitted to the right exchange program for them, this visa applicant must be approved by the sponsoring program to accompany the J-1 visa applicant to the United States or join them later.

Step One: The J-1 Applicant Finds the Right Program

Before a J-2 family member can submit their application for admission to the United States, the J-1 exchange program applicant must first determine what applicable exchange program fits their experience and qualifications.  Individuals can view program requirements and an overview of each program in the United States Department of State’s chart.  

Step Two: J-1 Applicant Connects with a Sponsor 

After the J-1 applicant determines which applicable J-1 visa exchange program fits their experience and qualifications, they must contact a designated sponsor directly 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.  Sponsors 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 J-1 Applicant is Accepted into a Program 

When the J-1 applicant is accepted by a sponsor into an exchange visitor program, the J-2 applicant(s) will also be accepted to join the J-1 applicant.  The program sponsor will issue the J-1 and J-2 visa applicants each of their own filled out Form DS-2019.   While each applicant receives Form DS-2019, only the J-1 visa applicant must pay the Student and Exchange Visitor System (SEVIS) fee.  Proof of payment should be saved for the J-1 applicant’s records. 

Once the J-1 applicant has paid their SEVIS fee, both the J-1 and J-2 visa applicants must fill out their own Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-160 and pay the application fees. 

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

After the J-1 and J-2 visa applicants pay their application fees and submit their own DS-160 online application, they must schedule an interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate near them.  The J-2 applicant can usually be interviewed at the same time as the J-1 applicant.  

Step Five: Attend Interview

At the interview, a consular officer will review the applicant(s) documentation and ask questions related to their eligibility for the visa(s).  Both J-1 and J-2 applicants must bring certain documentation to the interview.  The consular officer conducting the interview may inform the applicant(s) whether their visa(s) are approved at the interview.  In some cases, the consular officer may refer the application for further administrative processing

Below is a list of documents that a J-2 applicant should have with them at the interview:

  • Original passport and photocopies; 
  • Form DS-160 confirmation; 
  • Passport photo that meets photo requirements;
  • Birth certificates for children applicants; 
  • Marriage certificates for spousal applicants; 
  • Payment receipt for the visa application; 
  • Form DS-2019.
  • Photocopy of the J-1 student’s Form DS-2019.

In addition to the documents above, the J-1 and J-2 applicants may be required by the consular officer to submit additional documentation before approving their visas, including evidence of: 

  • The purpose of the applicants’ travel; 
    • E.g. evidence of admission to an exchange program.
  • Both applicants’ intent to depart the United States after their travel; 
    • E.g. evidence of family ties.
  • Both applicants’ ability to pay all travel costs. 
    • E.g. evidence of employment or that someone else will pay costs.

Step Six: Enter the United States 

After this 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 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

The Key Benefits 

  1. Employment Authorization: J-2 visa holders can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work in the United States.The income earned by a J-2 visa holder cannot be used to support the principal J-1 visa holder.
  2. Study: J-2 visa holders, including children, are allowed to study in the United States. J-2 children can enroll in local schools from kindergarten to 12th grade.3
  3. Travel: J-2 visa holders can travel internationally and re-enter the United States separately from the J-1 visa holder, as long as they have a valid J-2 visa and DS-2019 form. However, they should not remain in the U.S. for an extended period if the J-1 principal has departed the country.
  4. Dependent Status: The J-2 visa is issued to the legal spouse and unmarried children under 21 of the J-1 visa holder. The J-2 status is dependent on the J-1 status, and the J-2 visa will generally be issued for the same period as the J-1 program


Can J-2 Visa Holders Work in the United States? 

Generally, J-2 visa holders may seek employment so long as they first obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  To receive an EAD, a visa holder must file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.  Employed visa holders may not use income earned from employment to support the principal visa holder. 

Can J-2 Visa Holders Attend School in the United States? 

The visa holders are eligible to attend part-time or full-time school in the United States at every level of education.  Individuals who plan to attend an undergraduate or graduate degree program should evaluate the length of the program against the remaining time of validity of their visa.  A J-2 undergraduate or graduate student may need to change their status to a student (F) visa.  Minor children who are in the United States under a visa may attend school without obtaining a student (F) visa.

For How Long is the J-2 Visa Valid? 

J-2 visa holders may stay in the United States for only as long as the J-1 visa holder stays in the United States. 

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.

How Much Does the J-2 Visa Cost? 

It costs $160 to apply for a J-1 visa. 

The J-2 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


The J-2 Visa opens a world of opportunity for the families of J-1 exchange visitors, allowing them to accompany or join their loved ones in the U.S.

This visa not only facilitates family unity but also offers the possibility for spouses and dependents to study and, with authorization, work in the U.S., enriching their cultural and professional experiences. Understanding the requirements and process is key to unlocking these benefits and embarking on an exciting journey alongside the primary J-1 visa holder.

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.