J-1: Exchange Visitors
The J visa exchange program was created to encourage educational and cultural exchange between the U.S. and foreign countries. It allows bona fide trainees, students, professors and research scholars, foreign physicians, and others to enter the U.S. in order to teach, study, observe, conduct research, consult or receive training.
In addition to satisfying the eligibility requirements for one of the J-1 categories (below), applicants must have sufficient funds to pay for their expenses while they are in the U.S. and have sufficient fluency in English as well as maintain medical insurance for accident and illness during their stay in the U.S.
J-1 Visa Categories
There are currently twelve categories of J-1 visas:
Professor and Research Scholar
Certain college and university students
Secondary and post-secondary school students from an accredited institution
Au Pair and EduCare
Applying for a J-1 visa requires a:
J-1 sponsor: Organizations that wish to become J-1 sponsors must apply for and receive designation from the Department of State (“DOS”) in order to conduct a J-1 exchange visitor program; and a
J-1 host organization: The host organization is the U.S. entity that actually conducts the exchange visitor program on behalf of the designated J-1 sponsor. In J-1 trainee and intern cases, for example, the host organization is the company where the foreign national will receive his/her training or internship. Organizations that host trainees or interns on behalf of sponsors must be prepared to show that they are legitimate entities, are appropriately registered or licensed to conduct their activities in their jurisdiction, and have the resources to provide the appropriate training or internship program.
For a list of DOS-designated J-1 sponsor organizations, please visit the DOS website at: j1visa.state.gov/participants/how-to-apply/sponsor-search/.
The Application Process
Companies that frequently utilize the J-1 visa may find it beneficial to apply to the DOS for designation as a J-1 sponsor, thereby acting as both the J-1 sponsor and the host organization, However, most companies find their needs are adequately met by using an existing non-profit J-1 sponsor who already has DOS designation.
The application to the J-1 sponsor will require information regarding the proposed J-1 program and activities to be performed during the J-1 stay in the U.S. Depending on the J-1 sub-category, the J-1 sponsor may require very specific information and documentation. For example, for the commonly-used trainee and intern categories, the application may request detailed information on the specific training and tasks involved in the program, any cultural exchange activities and the applicant’s qualifications for participation in the program.
The sponsor adjudicates the application and, if approved, issues Form DS-2019 (formerly IAP-66) with information concerning the type of program the individual has been approved for, whether employment is authorized and the person is subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement. The applicant then takes Form DS-2019 to a U.S. Consulate to apply for a J-1 visa. Trainee or intern applicants must also present the Training/Internship Placement Plan, Form DS-7002, when applying for his/her visa.
Duration of J-1 Period of Stay
Similar to F-1 visa holders, J-1 visa holders are admitted into the U.S. for “duration of status” and are given an additional thirty days at the end of their program to depart the U.S. It is critical that the J-1 visa holder check the maximum period of stay permitted for his/her category since the period may vary significantly--each J-1 subcategory carries its own maximum time limit ranging from six months to six years. For example, one of the key differences between the “trainee” and “intern” sub-categories is that the maximum period of stay permitted for J-1 “trainees” is generally 18 months, whereas the maximum period allowed for J-1 “interns” is 12 months. Depending on the J-1 sub-category, extensions of stay may be permitted. It is important to note, however, that even when an extension is permissible specific restrictions apply and the J-1 visa holder should check the regulations governing his/her J-1 sub-category and contact his/her J-1 sponsor or immigration attorney for more information.
2007 Regulatory Changes
In 2007, the DOS significantly revised the regulations governing the J-1 nonimmigrant classification. The revised regulations became effective July 19, 2007 and applies to all Forms DS-2019 issued on or after that date. Among the changes from the previous regulations, the DOS created the “intern” category, similar to, but with some key differences from, the “trainee” category.
A “trainee” is one who possesses either 1) a degree or professional certificate from a post-secondary academic institution outside the U.S. and at least one year of prior related work experience in his/her occupational field, OR 2) five years of work experience outside the U.S. in his or her occupational field. To qualify as an “intern,” on the other hand, the individual must be 1) currently enrolled in and pursuing studies at a degree or certificate-granting post-secondary academic institution, OR 2) graduated from such an institution no more than 12 months prior to the J-1 program start date.
Sponsors are prohibited from placing trainees or interns in positions that are unskilled or casual labor, involve care for children or the elderly, or include patient care and/or contact. Sponsors may not place trainees or interns in positions that involve more than 20% clerical work during their programs. For both trainee and intern programs, the host organization will need to complete Form DS-7002, stating the specific goals and objectives of the program; detailing the knowledge, skills or techniques to be imparted on the trainee/intern; and describing the methods of performance evaluation and supervision for each phase of the training/internship.
A J-1 trainee who has successfully completed his/her trainee program, may apply for additional training programs only after a two-year period of residency outside the United States following the first training program. Similarly, a J-1 intern who has successfully completed his/her internship and no longer meets the selection criteria for internship programs may apply for a training program (J-1 trainee) after a two-year period of residency outside the United States following the internship program.
Note: It is important to note that the two-year residency outside of the United States that is required prior to additional training and internship programs is separate from the two-year residency requirement under INA § 212(e), described below. The two-year residency requirement prior to pursuing additional J-1 training and internship programs applies to ALL J-1 trainees and interns, whereas the two-year foreign residency requirement pursuant to INA §212(e) only applies in certain circumstances.
Foreign Residence Requirement Under INA 212(e)
A J-1 visa holder is subject to a two-year foreign residence requirement if one of the following applies:
The J-1 visa holder’s participation was financed in whole or part by an agency of the government of the U.S. or by the government of the nationality or of last residence;
The J-1 visa holder was engaged in a field on the DOS skills list (updated periodically in the Federal Register) for his/her home country at the time of admission in J-1 status; or
The J-1 visa holder came to the U.S. or acquired J status after January 10, 1977 to receive graduate medical education or training.
The foreign residence requirement mandates the J-1 visa holder to return to his/her home country or country of last residence where he/she must then reside for two years before seeking re-entry to the U.S. Any person subject to a two-year foreign residence requirement may not seek adjustment of status, an immigrant visa or change of nonimmigrant status to H or L until the person has fulfilled the foreign residence requirement. A J-1 visa holder may apply for a waiver of the foreign residence requirement by obtaining a favorable recommendation from the DOS, and approval from the USCIS. For those subject to the foreign residence requirement based on the DOS skills list, most waivers are granted where the person's home country provides a "no objection" letter to the waiver request.
J-2 visa holders (dependents of J-1s) are subject to the same foreign residence requirement as the principal J holder. J-2 visa holders may obtain employment authorization while they are in the U.S. in order to support themselves, but not the principal J-1 visa holder.