J-1 Visas: Exchange Visitors
The Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa category is for individuals approved to participate in work- and study-based exchange visitor programs. The Exchange Visitor Program promotes mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through educational and cultural exchanges. The J-1 classification is authorized 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, or 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 subsequently sponsored by an exchange program managed by the U.S. Department of State. These programs are designed to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills in the fields of education, arts, and science.
Typically, the J-1 Visa is issued to full-time students who enter the exchange program indicating they intend to stay in the U.S. only for a limited period of time, have enough funds to cover their expenses, and that there are significant ties binding them to their home country.
Applicants eligible for the J-1 visa include:
- Students (secondary, college/university)
- Trainees obtaining on-the-job training with firms, institutions, and agencies
- Teachers of primary, secondary, and specialized schools
- Professors coming to teach or to do research at institutions of higher learning
- Research scholars
- Professional trainees in the medical and allied fields
- Au pairs
- Camp counselors
The U.S. Department of State plays a 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, the “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status.” This form will be provided by the sponsoring agency. An official who is authorized to issue Form DS-2019 is known as a Responsible Officer (RO) or Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO). The RO or ARO will explain to the beneficiary what documents are needed in order to be issued a DS-2019. After it has been obtained, the applicant 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 the visa application as early as possible is strongly encouraged. An Exchange Visitor may not enter the United States in J-1 status more than 30 days before their program begins.
What are SEVIS and DS-2019?
These two abbreviations are normally associated with the J-1 Visa. SEVIS (Student Exchange Visitor Information System) is a system for monitoring international exchange students as they participate in their exchange programs. It requires the participants to provide their addresses, confirm the program dates, and supply other information. The DS-2019 form is the document given to program participants after they complete their application and are accepted into the program. It is a necessary prerequisite for obtaining the J-1 Visa, and it proves that the participant has been sponsored by a corresponding international organization for their visa. The visa and the DS-2019 should be kept together at all times.
What does the J-1 visa allow a person to do?
Under the J-1 Visa, a person can legally enter the U.S. for a limited period of time and work for 4 months during the summer. The duration of stay is limited by the duration of the exchange program the student belongs to. After the program finishes, international exchange students have a 30-day grace period during which they are not allowed to work and are only allowed to make arrangements for their departure. If the visa was issued as a multiple-entry visa, the visa holder can leave and re-enter the U.S. during their time in the States.
Some J-1 nonimmigrants enter the United States specifically to work (as a researcher, specialist, etc.) while others do not. Employment is authorized for J-1 nonimmigrants only under the terms of the exchange program.
Family of J-1 Visa Holders
The spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age of a J-1 visa holder, regardless of nationality, are entitled to J-2 classification. The spouse and children may also apply for work authorization, although their income may not be used to support the J-1 visa holder.
The Two-Year Home Residency Requirement
Some J-1 visas impose on the visa holder the requirement to return to their home country for at least two years after the exchange program ends. Not all J-1 visa holders are subject to this requirement. It is important to determine whether you will be subject to this requirement. Under some circumstances, a waiver is available.