The J-1 visa is issued to foreign nationals who will be entering the US to participate in an approved educational or cultural program.
The requirements for obtaining a J visa are complex. This article is intended only to be a basic primer.
History of the J-1 Visa
The J-1 visa classification was created in 1948 to promote educational and cultural exchange activities between the United States and other countries.
For this reason, the J-1 exchange visitor program is supervised and monitored by the U.S. State Department.
The program has introduced millions of foreign visitors to the United States, its people, culture, business customs and educational opportunities.
Definition of J-1 Exchange Visitor
The J-1 exchange visitor is broadly defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as an,
- Alien having a residence abroad;
- Which he has no intention of abandoning;
- Who is a bona fide student, scholar, trainee, teacher, professor, research assistant, specialist, or leader in a field of specialized knowledge;
- Who is coming temporarily to the United States as a participant in a program designated by the State Department; and
- For the purpose of teaching, instructing, lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, or receiving training.
Exchange programs are available for the following individuals:
- College and university students;
- Secondary school students;
- Short-term scholars;
- Professors and research scholars;
- Alien physicians;
- International and government visitors;
- Camp counselors;
- Summer work/travel students;
- Au pairs; and
- Special education exchange visitors.
The law imposes limits on how long a J-1 visitor may stay in each type of program and describes the activities the J-1 visitor is allowed in each program.
College and University Students
The J-1 student visa category is reserved to those who are pursuing a full-time formal course of study at a college or university, and to those who are receiving English language training at an accredited educational institution. J-1 students are eligible for one of the following types of employment:
- Aacademic training; and
- Student employment.
Employment under this category must be related to the field of study of the J-1 student. The student must be in good academic standing and the a school official must approve the training in writing.
Employment under this category must be part time (i.e. no more than 20 hours per week), part of a scholarship or fellowship, either on campus, or, if off campus, necessary because of unforeseen economic circumstances.
Student employment is valid until the course of study is over, or 12 months, whichever time period is shortest.
After finishing his or her studies, the J-1 undergraduate and pre-doctoral student is eligible for up to 18 months of practical training. A J-1 post-doctoral student up to 36 months of training.
Secondary School Students
Foreign students can attend secondary schools in the U.S. for at least one, but no more than two semesters, on a J-1 visa.
The program sponsor (the school) must, in addition to allowing the foreign student academic admission, also secure a host family with whom the student will stay.
The screening process for qualified host families is a complex and rigorous one.
J-1 secondary students are not authorized to work (except for intermittent work such as babysitting).
Professors, research scholars or persons with similar skills who are coming to the US to lecture, observe, consult or participate in workshops, seminars, conferences, and the like, may enter on a J-1 visa.
The purpose of the short-term scholar category is to enhance professional relationships between U.S. and foreign scholars.
The maximum period of entry is 6 months and no extensions are authorized.
There is no minimum period which the J-1 short-term sccholar is required to stay in the U.S.
The Trainee category is for individuals seeking to enhance their skills in either “specialty” or “non-specialty” occupations. Under State Department rules, the following fields qualify for Trainee programs:
- Arts and culture;
- Information media and communications;
- Education, social sciences, library science, counseling and social services;
- Management, business, commerce and finance;
- Health-related occupations;
- Science, engineering, architecture, mathematics, and industrial occupations;
- Construction and building trades;
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- Public administration and law; or
- Other fields specified by the program sponsor.
The training received cannot merely be a repeat of prior training the alien has received, and it must provided at the appropriate level of the alien’s expertise.
The maximum period of stay under the J-1 Trainee visa is 18 months (24 months for aviation training programs).
The J-1 Teacher category is for aliens teaching full-time in a primary or secondary school.
To be eligible the person must meet the following requirements:
- Be qualified to teach primary or secondary school in their home country;
- Meet the standards of the U.S. state in which they will teach;
- Be of good reputation and character;
- Intend to teach full time at an accredited primary or secondary school; and
- Have at least three years of teaching experience.
Professors and Research Scholars
Professors are aliens who will come to the U.S. to teach, lecture, observe, or consult at post-secondary educational institutions.
They may also conduct research unless their program sponsor specifically forbids it.
Research scholars are individuals who are in the US primarily to conduct research, observe or consult at research institutions, educational institutions and similar organizations. Unless specifically forbidden by the program sponsor, research scholars may teach and lecture.
The position filled by the J-1 alien must be temporary.
J-1 professors and research scholars may enter for a three-year period, initially, and the program sponsor may approve a six-month extension.
After this extension, the person’s stay can be extended another three years with the approval of the State Department.
Specialists are experts in a field of specialized knowledge or skill. They may come to the U.S. to observe, consult, or demonstrate special skills.
This J-1 category excludes short-term scholars, professors and research scholars, and alien physicians in graduate medical training.
The maximum period of stay is 1 year.
Graduates of foreign medical schools may enter the United States to pursue graduate medical training or education.
This category is highly regulated and the requirements are both rigorous and complex.
Level of Patient Contact
The authorized sponsor for all foreign medical graduate students who will be involved in more than incidental patient contact is the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG).
Other programs can sponsor alien physicians so long as there will be little or no patient contact, and the program involves observation, consultation, teaching, or research.
When programs other than the ECFMG sponsor J-1 physicians, they must include a special certification regarding the amount of patient care that will be provided by the alien.
The duration of authorized stay is generally limited to the time necessary to complete the program or seven years, whichever is shorter.
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Individuals participating in this category are automatically subject to the two-year home country physical presence requirement of INA § 212(e).
International and Government Visitors
This category is exclusively for U.S. federal, state or local government agencies.
J-1 international visitors are those selected by the State Department for consultation, observation, training or demonstration of special skills in the U.S.
J-1 government visitors are essentially the same, only they are selected by governmental agencies other than the State Department.
The maximum period of stay of an interntional visitor is 12 months and of a government visitor, 18 months.
A foreign national who is at least 18 years old and is either a bona fide youth worker, student, teacher, or an individual with a special skill, may qualify as a summer camp counselor.
Duration of stay is limited 4 months.
Summer Work/Travel Students
Allows sponsors to bring foreign university students to the U.S. during their summer vacations to travel and work.
Sponsors are encouraged to select visitors who, because of their distance from the U.S., would most likely not be able to afford to come to the US without temporary work authorization.
The number of foreign nationals the sponsor brings to the U.S. cannot be more than the number of U.S. students it sends abroad.
The au pair program is one of the most closely monitored of the exchange visitor programs.
This J-1 category allows the entry of individuals between the ages of 18 to 26, who are coming to perform childcare services for a U.S. host family while attending a post-secondary school.
Prospective au pairs are subject to a rigorous criminal, physical and psychological background investigation before being permitted entry.
The foreign national must be proficient in English and have at least a high school diploma.
The screening process for the host family of a prospective au pair is equally as demanding.
The host family must pay the au pair at least the minimum wage and cannot request the au pair to provide more than 45 hours of childcare a week.
The au pair must be provided with a private bedroom.
An au pair cannot be placed in the following situations: where there is a child under three months in the home, unless a parent is home as well, or in a family where there are children under 2, unless the au pair has over 200 hours of prior infant care experience.
The program sponsor must provide the au pair with at least 8 hours of child safety instruction and at least 24 hours of child development instruction.
Special Education Exchange Visitors
This category is limited to 50 individuals per year and permits an alien to enter the U.S. for up to 18 months to obtain practical training and experience in the education of children with physical, mental or emotional disabilities.
The Exchange Visitor Process
Each exchange visitor must be sponsored.
The sponsor of the J-1 visa program is a legal entity designated by the State Department to conduct an exchange visitor program.
The following entities are eligible to apply for designation as a sponsor:
- United States federal, state and local government agencies;
- International organizations of which the U.S. is a member and which have an office in the United States; or
- Reputable organizations based in the U.S. designated by the U.S. Department of State as a sponsoring agency.
The sponsoring entity is required to submit an application (DS-3036) to the State Department and to comply with all provisions of 22 CFR Part 514.
Alternatively, if the State Department has not designated the organization as a sponsor, the organization may participate in the program through an intermediary known as an umbrella organization which acts as the sponsoring agency.
The Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement
An alien admitted in J-1 status may be subject to a two-year foreign (home country) residence requirement.
Without a waiver of this requirement, the alien will not eligible to apply for a change within the US to a non-immigrant visa, a change of status to permanent residence, or a change to an H or L non-immigrant visa.
This two-year period must be spent in the alien’s home country, or the country in which he or she last permanently resided before coming to the US.
An alien is subject to the home residence requirement if:
- His or her’s participation in an exchange visitor program was financed in whole or in part by the US government or the government of the country of his or her last residence;
- At the time of admission, he or she was a national or resident of a country which the US Information Agency (USIA) designated as clearly requiring the services of individuals with the alien’s special skills or knowledge; or
- He or she came to the United States to receive graduate medical education or training.
Waiver of the Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement
Waivers of the two-year home country physical presence requirement are available in the following situations:
- If a denial of the waiver would impose an exceptional hardship on the alien’s U.S. citizen spouse or child (requires a favorable recommendation by the U.S. State Department);
- If the government of the alien’s home country provides a “No Objection” statement;
- If the alien cannot return to his or her home country because he or she would be subject to persecution on account of race, religion, or political opinion;
- The alien’s grant of the waiver is in the public interest and requested by a State Department of Public Health or its equivalent; or
- An Interested Government Agency (IGA) requests the waiver (subject to certain restrictions).