The exchange visitor visa (J-1) is a nonimmigrant (temporary) U.S. visa that was created to promote educational and cultural exchanges between the United States and other countries. It is mostly available to people who have signed up with an approved program focused on teaching, receiving training, or conducting research.
The J-1 visa can also be used by U.S. employers wanting to hire workers to receive on-the-job training or participate in an internship. (See the Immigration and Nationality Act at I.N.A. § 101(a)(15)(J), and the Code of Federal Regulations, at 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(j).)
Unlike many other visas, there is no limit on the number of people who can receive J-1 visas each year. That means no long waits for visa eligibility.
You may qualify for a J-1 exchange visitor visa if you are coming to the U.S. as a student, scholar, trainee, intern, teacher, professor, research assistant, medical graduate, or international visitor and if you are participating in a program of studies, training, research, or cultural enrichment specifically designed by the U.S. Department of State (DOS), through its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). You must find such a program to accept you before applying for the visa.
Common programs for which J-1 visas are issued include the Fulbright Scholarship program, specialized training programs for foreign medical graduates, and programs for foreign university professors teaching or doing research in the United States.
You will have to show that you possess enough money to cover your expenses while you are in the U.S. as an exchange visitor. Those funds may come from personal resources. If your J-1 visa is based on work activities, the salary may be your means of support. If you are a J-1 student, the money may also come from a scholarship.
You must be able to speak, read, and write English well enough to participate effectively in the exchange program of your choice. In addition to all other qualifications, you are eligible for a J-1 visa only if you intend to return to your home country when the program is over.
If you meet all these criteria, the application process is reasonably quick and straightforward.
Here are the key things to know about the J-1 exchange visitor visa:
Applying for a J-1 visa may not require a lawyer’s help if your school or exchange visitor organization provides you with comprehensive help and advice with the application process.
However, a lawyer can help determine things like whether you can use a J-1 to work or train with a U.S. employer. Also, if you’ve had trouble getting visas in the past, have ever overstayed a visa, or are from a country thought to sponsor terrorism, a lawyer’s help can be well worth the investment. Finally, if you later decide to apply for a different nonimmigrant status or green card, but think you’re subject to the two-year home residence requirement, you’ll definitely need a lawyer’s help.