J-1 visa guide to visit the US
What is a J-1 visa?
Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. If you wish to participate in a J-1 visa program, you may be eligible for the "J" category for exchange visitors. Exchange visitor (J) visas are nonimmigrant visas for individuals approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States. These programs are usually sponsored by an educational or other non-profit institution, which must be accredited through the Exchange Visitor Program designated by the US State Department. J-1 exchange visitors come to the United States to teach, study, receive training, or demonstrate special skills.
The J-1 visa program was started to bring scholars into the United States temporarily for a specific educational purpose (teaching or conducting research). Today, it also focuses on promoting cultural exchange with an exchange of skills between Americans and the rest of the world.
Exchange Visitor (J-1 Visa) Programs
Each exchange program available under the J-1 visa program has specific J-1 visa requirements and regulations. Below is the full list of programs and their short descriptions.
Au Pair - The Au Pair Program allows for childcare providers between the ages of 18 and 26 to work caring for a family's children in exchange for room, board, and a stipend.
Camp Counselor - Through the Camp Counselor program, foreign post-secondary students and youth workers are able to work at American summer camps.
College and University Student Program - This program allows foreign students to study at American colleges and universities. Students who participate in this program must pursue a full-time course of study and must maintain good academic standing. Students in this program must be financed by funding from any source other than personal or family, such as directly or indirectly by the US government, their home country government, or an international organization of which the U.S. is a member.
Secondary School Student Program - Under this program, high school students are able to travel to the US and study at a public or private high school while staying with a host family or at a boarding school.
Government Visitor Program - Through this program, distinguished international visitors selected by a US federal, state, or local government agency visit the US to develop and strengthen professional and personal relationships with their American counterparts. They engage in observation tours, discussions, consultations, professional meetings, conferences, workshops, travel, and training.
International Visitor Program - This category is for people-to-people programs meant to develop and strengthen professional and personal relationships between key foreign nationals and Americans and American institutions. Participants must be a recognized or potential leaders in a field of specialized knowledge or skill. They are selected by the US Department of State.
Physician Program - This program allows foreign physicians to participate in US graduate medical education programs or training at US medical schools.
Professor and Research Scholar Program - This program allows participants the opportunity to engage in research, teaching, and lecturing at American schools. The program encourages the exchange of ideas, mutual enrichment, and linkages between research and educational institutions in the US and foreign countries.
Short-Term Scholar Program - This program allows professors, research scholars, or people with similar education or accomplishments to lecture, observe, consult, train, or demonstrate special skills at research institutions, museums, libraries, post-secondary schools, or similar institutions in the US.
Specialist Program - This program allows experts in a field of specialized knowledge or skills to travel to the US for the interchanging of knowledge and skills among foreign and American specialists.
Summer Work Travel Program - Under this program, post-secondary students are allowed to travel to the US to work and travel over the summer.
Teacher Program - Through this program, foreign teachers can come to the US to teach in primary and secondary schools for up to three years.
Trainee Program - This program allows foreign professionals to gain exposure to receive training in US business practices in their chosen occupational field.
Intern Program - This program allows foreign professionals to receive training in their occupational field in the US.
J-2 Visa for Dependents
Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 may accompany a J-1 visa holder to the US under a J-2 (dependents') visa. J-2 eligibility depends on the specific program in which the J-1 exchange visitor is enrolled. The application procedure for J-2 visas is the same as the application process for J-1 visas. The J-2 visa holder can accompany their J-1 spouse or parent into the US, or they may choose to join them later. They are allowed to study, to travel in and out of the country, and they may work after securing a relevant work permit.
How to Apply for a J-1 Visa
First, you will need to apply for and be accepted into an exchange visitor program through a designated sponsoring organization in the United States. The US State Department provides an online tool to help you find the right sponsor for you. After the exchange visitor program accepts your participation, you will be registered for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and must pay the SEVIS I-901 fee.
After completing the form and submitting it along with the relevant fees (if required), the next step is to attend an interview with the local US Embassy or Consulate. There are several steps to apply for a visa. The order of these steps and how you complete them may vary by the US Embassy or Consulate. You should check the related instructions on the embassy or consulate website.
It's better to schedule an appointment for the visa interview at the US Embassy or Consulate in the country where you live. You may schedule your interview at another US Embassy or Consulate, but consider that it may be more difficult to qualify for a visa outside of the country where you live. Waiting times for interview appointments vary by location, season, and visa category, so it is better to apply for a visa as early as possible.
The visa application fee is $160. For payment methods, review the instructions available on the website of the local embassy or consulate where you will apply. US Government-sponsored exchange visitor (J visa) applicants and their dependents are not required to pay this fee.
There is a list of required documents you need to prepare before your visa interview. A consular officer will interview you to determine your qualifications for an exchange visitor visa and may request any additional documents depending on your program. The documents list is below:
• Passport - Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond your period of stay in the US (unless exempt by country-specific agreements). Each individual who needs a visa must submit a separate application, including any family members listed in your passport.
• Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page – You get it online at the website after confirming the DS-160 form.
• Application fee payment receipt (if you are required to pay before your interview)
• Photo – Upload your digital photo while completing the online Form DS-160 online. In some cases, you can bring the original photo while attending the visa interview also.
• Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status, Form DS-2019 - Your program sponsor will provide you with a SEVIS-generated Form DS-2019. All exchange visitors must be registered in SEVIS. Your spouse and/or minor children, if they intend to live in the US with you, will each receive a separate Form DS-2019.
Validating Visa upon Arrival
J-1 participants must arrive in the US no more than 30 days prior to the start of their program. Be aware that you may be denied entry to the US if you arrive more than 30 days before or after your program start date. During the first week of your program, you need to validate your J-1 visa; for this, you need to contact your program provider to confirm your arrival and US address.
In case of validation failure within 30 days of the program start date, your immigration status will automatically change to "no-show" / "invalid," which may result in the cancellation of your entire J-1 program. In this case, you will be required to leave the US and re-apply for your visa or undergo the process of reinstatement and pay all applicable fees.
Length of Stay
The length of stay for a J-1 visa depends on the type of exchange program. For some scholar programs, the J-1 visa is given for 3-7 years, while for short-term summer programs, the duration will typically be around 2-4 months. Unlike some other visas, the J-1 can allow a change of status, meaning that you may apply for a different visa type from within the US without having to return to your home country first.
J-1 Visa Extension
For seeking a change of category related to the J-1 visa extension, you must clearly demonstrate that it is closely related to your original exchange objectives and necessary as the result of extraordinary circumstances. Extension of the J-1 visa will vary depending on the standards and conditions of the applicant's specific Visitor Exchange Program. The maximum time of stay can't go beyond the total amount indicated by the program. Both the program and program sponsor must consent to the J-1 visa extension.
If the J-1 visa extension has been accepted, the applicant must obtain a new DS-2019 form with a new expiration date. This date will be recorded with SEVIS. If the J-1 Visa holder has children or a spouse on J-2 status, the extension will cover them as well.
If the J-1 visa extension request has been denied, then the applicant needs to leave the US in the "Grace Period" of 30 days from the date of completion indicated on the original DS-2019. Remaining in the US after the J-1 visa extension has been denied can result in serious consequences in the future if you attempt to apply to the US for another visa or Green Card.
J-1 Grace Period
The 30-days period following the completion of the J-1 program is considered the "Grace Period." During the "Grace Period," the individuals are no longer under J-1 status but already under the overall jurisdiction of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. This period allows for individuals to settle their affairs and to prepare their return to their home country. It's not allowed to work during this 30-days period. However, they may travel inside the US, but not beyond the borders of the US, as they will not be permitted re-entry on the expired J-1 visa.
Two-Year Foreign Residency Requirement
When you agree to participate in an Exchange Visitor Program, you can be subject to the two-year home-country physical presence (foreign residency) requirement. This means that at the end of your exchange visitor program, you will be required to return to your home country for a cumulative total period of at least two years before you can do any of the following:
• Change status while in the United States to the nonimmigrant categories of temporary worker (H) or intracompany transferee (L);
• Adjust status while in the United States to immigrant visa/lawful permanent resident status (LPR);
• Receive an immigrant visa at a US Embassy or Consulate;
• Receive a temporary worker (H), the intracompany transferee (L), or fiance (K) visa at a US Embassy or Consulate.
An exchange visitor is subject to the two-year home-country physical presence requirement for reasons including, but not limited to, one or more of the following:
• Government-funded exchange program - The program is financed in whole or in part directly or indirectly by the US government or the government of the exchange visitor's nationality/last residence or an international organization in connection with their participation in the Exchange Visitor Program;
• Graduate medical education or training - The exchange visitor entered the United States to receive graduate medical education or training;
• Specialized knowledge or skill list - The exchange visitor is a national or permanent resident of a country that has deemed the field of specialized knowledge or skill necessary to the development of the country. The education, internship, or skill they are pursuing in the US appears on the Exchange Visitor Skills List for their country.
Exchange visitors who are subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement in some cases may be able to apply for a J-1 visa waiver of that requirement with the US Department of State. If they are not able to fulfill the home country presence requirement, they may apply for a J-1 visa waiver.
If it's your intention or you think you may be likely to wish to stay on in the U.S. after the end of your visit, you may be advised to consider other options rather than use this program.
Nargiz was born in Russia where she grew up until the age of 12 before moving to Baku, Azerbaijan. At different life stages she lived in Turkey and Serbia. As of 2020, she has been to 38 cities in 11 countries. AIESEC Azerbaijan Alumna. She is fond of participating at youth projects and making friends with people from all around the world. Her biggest dream is to visit all the continents and as many countries as possible. Following her passion to travel, she joined the team of a “Trawell Group” company.