J-1 Exchange Visitor

This classification is for those who intend to participate in an approved 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.

In carrying out the responsibilities of the Exchange Visitor Program, the Department of State designates public and private entities to act as exchange sponsors. J-1 nonimmigrants are therefore sponsored by an exchange program that is designated as such by the U.S. Department of State. These programs are designed to promote the interchange or persons, knowledge, and skills, in the fields of education, arts, and science.

Examples of exchange visitors include, but are not limited to:

  • Professors or scholars
  • Research assistants
  • Students
  • Trainees
  • Teachers
  • Specialists
  • Nannies/Au pairs
  • Camp counselors

Application Process

The U.S. Department of State plays the primary role in administering the J-1 exchange visitor program, so the first step in obtaining a J-1 visa is to submit a Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status, (formerly known as an IAP-66). This form will be provided by your sponsoring agency. You should work closely with the officials at your sponsoring agency who will be assisting you through this process.  An official who is authorized to issue Form DS-2019 is known as a Responsible Officer (RO) or Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO). Your RO or ARO will explain to you what documents are needed in order to be issued a DS-2019.

After you have obtained a Form DS-2019, you may then apply for a J-1 visa through the U.S. Department of State at a U.S. embassy or consulate. The waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so submitting your visa application as early as possible is strongly encouraged (though you may not enter the United States in J-1 status more than 30 days before your program begins).

Employment

Some J-1 nonimmigrants enter the United States specifically to work (as a researcher, nanny, etc.) while others do not. Employment is authorized for J-1 nonimmigrants only under the terms of the exchange program. Please check with your sponsoring agency for more information on any restrictions that may apply to you working in the United States.

Family of J-1 Visa Holders

Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age, regardless of nationality, are entitled to J-2 classification. Your spouse and children are entitled to work authorization; however, their income may not be used to support you.  To apply for work authorization as a J-2 nonimmigrant, your spouse or child would file Form I-765.

Two-Year Foreign Residence Requirement

Certain exchange visitors are subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement of Section 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  Upon completion of the J-1 program, the exchange visitor must return to his or her home country or country of last residence and reside for a total of two years before applying for an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa.  Exchange visitors subject to this requirement are those:

  • Whose participation in the program for which he or she came to the United States was financed in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, by an agency of the Government of the United States or by the government of the country of his nationality or his last residence; or
  • Who at the time of admission or acquisition of J-1 status was a national or resident of a country and engaged in a skill listed on the U.S. Department of State Exchange Visitor Skills List; or
  • Who came to the United States or acquired such status in order to receive graduate medical education or training.

Waiver Request

Those exchange visitors subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement can apply for a waiver to the U.S. Department of State Waiver Review Division.  There are five bases for a waiver: 1) No objection statement from home government, 2) State Health Agency Request, 3) Interested U.S. Government Agency, 4) Exceptional hardship to a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident spouse or child of the exchange visitor, or 5) Possible persecution in home country.  To request a waiver, the exchange visitor may initiate a case online at J Visa Waiver Online.  After submitting the information online, the exchange visitor will receive a case number and the required paperwork.  The fee and completed paperwork must still be mailed to the Waiver Review Division.  After that, the procedure to follow depends on the basis for the waiver.

For the hardship and persecutions bases, the exchange visitor files a Form I612 with USCIS.  If approved, USCIS transmits the information to the U.S. Department of State.  For the Interested Government Agency basis, the exchange visitor submits an application to the agency.  For a no objection statement from the home government, an application is submitted to the home government.

The waiver process is complicated and it is recommended that you consult with an experienced immigration attorney for your specific situation.

Sources: USCIS.gov, Travel.state.gov