J-1 Visas for Exchange Visitors

Purposes of J-1 Visas

The J-1 classification is for persons who have been accepted to participate in exchange visitor programs in the Untied States. Before you can apply for a J-1 visa, you must be accepted by a sponsoring organization designated by the U.S. Department of State. Each category has its specific own requirements and rules.

The categories of exchange visitors are:

  • Au par
  • Camp counselor
  • Student (college or university)
  • Student (secondary school)
  • Government Visitor
  • International Visitor (reserved for use by the Department of State)
  • Physician
  • Professor
  • Research Scholar
  • Short-term Scholar
  • Specialist
  • Summer student in a travel or work program
  • Trainee

Applying for a J-1 Visa

Before you can apply for a J-1 exchange visitor visa, you must:

  • Be accepted by a sponsoring organization designated by the Department of State; and
  • Obtain a DS 2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status from your sponsoring organization.
  • You must take your DS 2019 with you to your J-1 visa interview at the consulate or embassy.

To be eligible to receive an J-1 visa, you must show:

  • You plan to remain in the United States for a temporary, specific, limited period;
  • You have sufficient funds to cover your expenses in the United States;
  • You are fluent in English; and
  • You will maintain sufficient medical insurance for accident and illness.

Having an approved visa does not mean you will be allowed to enter the United States. A visa allows you to travel to a United States port of entry and request permission to enter the United States. When you arrive at a United States port of entry, an official from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will grant or deny your admission into the Untied States. If you are granted admission, the CBP official will stamp your Form I-94, Arrival and Departure Card, with the length of your visit.

SEVP and SEVIS

The U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and State use the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to monitor visitors in the United States on F, M, and J visas. Information regarding student visa holders and exchange visitors is entered into the Student Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

The program you were accepted into will issue you a DS 2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status. You must submit your DS 2019 when you are applying for your exchange visitor visa. The consular officer will verify your DS 2019 electronically through the SEVIS system. You must pay a SEVIS I-901 fee to the Department of Homeland Security. You may pay the SEVIS fee through the SEVIS free processing web site, by Western Union, or by mail.

J-1 Foreign Residence Requirement

J-1 exchange visitors are generally subject to a two-year foreign residence requirement that requires them to return to their home country (or country of last residence) for two years at the end of their J-1 exchange program.

If you fit into one of the following categories, you are likely subject to the foreign residence requirement:

  • Medical doctor sponsored by Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG);
  • You come from a country on the Department of State “Skills List;” or
  • You received funding from your home country or from the United States government for your exchange visitor program.

The foreign residence requirement will not prevent you from reentering the United States with an F-1 student visa or on B-1/B-2 tourist visas (or some other categories) but it does prevent you from pursuing an H-1B professional visa and permanent resident status, unless you fulfill the requirement or the requirement is waived.

J-1 Waiver of the Foreign Residence Requirement
Persons in the Exchange Visitor Program who want to remain in the United States after their program ends or apply for a change in visa status must apply for a waiver from the foreign residence requirement.

Foreign medical gradates: J-1 visa waivers are a common way for foreign medical graduates to remain in the United States. Doctors participating in graduate medical programs on J-1 visas are required to return to their home country (or country of last residence) for at least two years before they may apply for an immigrant visa, adjust their status to permanent residency, or apply for certain temporary work visas.

If you are a foreign medical graduate, to qualify for a waiver, a designated State Department of Health (or its equivalent) must request that you be granted the waiver. Foreign medical graduates are allowed to apply for a waiver on this ground if they have an offer of full-time employment at a health care facility in a medically underserved area, agree to work at the facility for three years, and will start work within 90 days of receiving a waiver of the foreign residence requirement. Each state is given thirty waivers a year.

You may also qualify for a waiver if you can show one of the following:

  • It will cause exceptional hardship on your United States or lawful permanent resident spouse or child if you are required to return to your country of residence;
  • You will be persecuted because of your race, religion, or political opinion if you are forced to return to your country of residence;
  • An interested United States government agency has requested that you be waived from the foreign residence requirement; or
  • Your home country gives provides a written statement that it does not object to waiver of the foreign residence requirement.

If you are applying for a waiver of the foreign residence requirement because of a request from a United States government agency, evidence of no objection from your home country, or as a foreign medical graduate who has an offer of employment from a designated State Department of Health (or its equivalent), you will have to complete and file Form DS 3035, J-1 Visa Waiver Recommendation Application.

If you are applying for a waiver of the foreign residence requirement because of exceptional hardship to a United States citizen spouse or child or on the basis of persecution, you must complete and file Form I-612, Application for Waiver of the Foreign Residence Requirement.

J-2 Status Family Members of J-1 Visa Holders

Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of J-1 visa students are eligible to apply for J-2 status to enter the United States. Parents, fiancés, friends, and other relatives must apply for B-2 visitor visa.

Family members on J-2 visas may not work in the United States but they may attend school.