J-1 (U.S. Exchange Visitor) Visa Information

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There are different types of visas available to citizens of countries other than the United States. One of the most common visas is the U.S. Exchange Visitor (J-1) Visa. U.S. Exchange Visitor (J-1) non-immigrant visas are for individuals approved to participate in work and study-based exchange visitor programs.

The Purpose of the J-1 Visa

The J-1 visa enables foreign nationals from over 200 different countries to visit the United States to experience life in the U.S., with the objective of returning to their home countries with an appreciation of other cultures, languages, and ways of life.

The Trump administration has suspended foreign worker visas through December 31, 2020. There are some exemptions, and workers currently in the U.S. are not impacted by the suspension.

The program also serves to supply American organizations with a pool of workers to meet employment needs not adequately addressed by American workers.

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program provides opportunities for about 300,000 foreign visitors from 200 countries and territories per year. Those visa holders served mostly in the hospitality industry and as camp counselors, positions where it is difficult to find enough U.S. workers.

If approved, recipients of a J-1 visa can remain in the U.S. for the duration of their program, plus they may arrive 30 days prior and depart 30 days after the program ends. Any time before or after those guidelines is considered a violation of the visa terms.

Exchange Visitor Program Benefits

The U.S. Exchange Visitor (J-1) visa is an opportunity for outside citizens to enter the United States for an enriching learning experience. Workers who have gone through the exchange program are highly sought after by employers for the perspective and education they received overseas. 

Types of J-1 Visa Programs

J-1 visa programs are available for several categories of workers, including:

  • Alien Physicians
  • Au Pairs
  • Camp Counselors
  • Government Visitors
  • Interns
  • International Visitors
  • Professor and Research Scholars
  • Short-Term Scholars
  • Specialists
  • Students, College/University
  • Students, Secondary School
  • Summer Work Travel
  • Teachers
  • Trainees

J-1 Visa Program Requirements and Specifications

The eligibility requirements, duration of visits, and opportunity for repeat participation vary significantly by program:

  • Many of the categories such as the Summer Work Travel and Au Pair programs require that visa holders be current high school or college students or meet certain age requirements.
  • Others, including the Short-Term Scholar, Professor and Research Scholar, Trainee, Specialist, and Alien Physician require a specific academic background, status in their home country, or the demonstration of special skills.

Applying for a J-1 Visa

The application process is rigorous and can be time-consuming. In order to apply for a J-1 visa you must first apply, meet the requirements, and be accepted to an exchange visitor program through a designated sponsor organization.

list of sponsoring organizations is available online, and applicants need to contact the sponsors directly to take part in one of the exchange programs. Once you have been accepted by a sponsor, the organization will assist with the visa application process. Prospective exchange visitors apply for the J-1 visa at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country using the Form DS-2019 issued to them by their designated sponsor.

If you live and work in the United States during the exchange, you will need to show your visa to employers to ensure you can work in America legally.

Your visa should be on you at all times to avoid any misunderstandings or issues with immigration. 

How Long Visa Holders Can Stay in the U.S.

The duration of J-1 visas ranges from as little as one day for a visiting lecturer to seven years for an Alien Physician. Participants in summer options like Camp Counselor and Summer Work Travel are covered by four-month J-1 visas. Others are approved for one to three year stays in programs such as Trainee, Intern, Au Pair, Specialist, and Teacher.

Some of the programs allow participants to apply for a repeat visit.

However, for some categories including Trainee, Professor and Research Scholar, Teacher, and Au Pair, this requires applicants to reside outside the United States for a period up to 24 months unless they are approved for a waiver.

Waiver Programs to Stay in the U.S.

Program participants who are subject to the two-year home-country physical presence requirement must apply for a waiver of that requirement if they seek to remain in the United States beyond the end date of their programs or if they seek to submit an application to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for a change in visa status. A waiver may be requested for five statutory bases:

  1. A claim of Exceptional Hardship to a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident spouse or child of an exchange visitor if the exchange visitor is required to return to the country of residence.
  2. A claim that the participant will be persecuted due to race, religion, or political opinions if he/she returns to the country of residence.
  3. A request from an interested U.S. Government Agency on the participant's behalf.
  4. A No Objection Statement from your government.
  5. A request by a designated State Health Department or its equivalent.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. Federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect the most recent changes to the law.