J-1 Visa for Exchange Visitors

The J-1 visa provides opportunities for students and professionals alike to come to the U.S. temporarily under an exchange of education and culture. While it is considered a work visa, you do not necessarily have to work in order to qualify. Through a variety of exchange programs, thousands of J-1 visas are issues each year to qualified individuals.

J-1 Visa Requirements

The requirements for the J-1 visa heavily depend on the requirements of the program you choose to use. These programs are numerous but must be approved by the Department of State (DOS) in order for you to qualify.

Under normal circumstances, the DOS selects certain entities in both the public and private sector to develop programs designed for the exchange of things such as art, science, culture, and education.

The United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) give some examples of occupations held by many J-1 applicants:

  • Student
  • Teacher, professor, or scholar
  • Nanny
  • Physician
  • Research assistant

Once you secure a program, your sponsor should give you an SEVIS DS-2019 form or Certificate of Eligibility. This form will detail your participation in the selected program and how long you will need to stay.

It is essential to remember that the J-1 visa is not a “dual intent” visa, meaning that you are not able to seek lawful permanent resident status without possibly jeopardizing your nonimmigrant status.

J-1 visa lawyer

Who Can Sponsor an Applicant?

For each occupation, there are a number of different program sponsors available. If you are interested in locating a sponsoring program for your J-1 visa, you can visit the sponsor database from the DOS website.

Apart from the qualifications required to enter your chosen program, the only J-1 visa requirement from the USCIS is to submit a Certificate of Eligibility from one of these programs and to maintain a good standing with that sponsoring program.

Foreign Residency Requirement

The duration of stay for a J-1 visa is also dependent on the program. For some, it may only be a few months while others may have a stay of several years. Generally, it tends to be a shorter period of stay than some of the other work visa classifications.

Becuase of this, many people who enter the U.S. under this visa want to switch to a different nonimmigrant visa or green card after their J-1 period of stay is over. While this is entirely possible, there is one obstacle.

Many J-1 visa holders are required to spend at least two years in the country they last held residence before returning to the U.S. under nonimmigrant or immigrant status. The J-1 holder must be physically present in their home country and reside there for the entirety of the two years. This time does not have to be consecutive, you only need to live in your home country for a cumulative total of two years.

This requirement applies to the following J-1 holders:

  • Those who are funded by a government or international organization
  • Those who have entered the U.S. through a field that is listed on the DOS “skill list”
  • Those physicians who used the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates to go through a graduate medical training program.

However, due to the problems that this requirement can make for those who would find it difficult to return home for that length of time, there is a way to bypass this requirement.

J-1 Visa Waiver

In order to be excused from the two-year home-residency requirement, a J-1 holder can apply for a J-1 visa waiver. To qualify for this waiver, you will need one of the following items:

  • A No Objection Statement that is given by the government of your home country stating that it does not object to you remaining in the U.S. rather than returning home.
  • Evidence that “extreme hardship” would befall you or your dependents if you were to fulfill the foreign residency requirement.
  • Proof that you would experience persecution if you returned to your home country.
  • A waiver signed by an agency of the U.S. Federal Government that indicates that your continued presence in the U.S. is necessary.
  • A waiver issued under the Conrad Program that allows a medical graduate to accept a full-time position in a shortage area.

Working alongside your J-1 visa lawyer throughout this process can help you better understand your situation and determine whether or not you qualify for a J-1 visa waiver.

Can I Get an Extension?

Because your period of stay is entirely dependent on the program that you use to enter the U.S., the directors of that program can choose to grant you a reasonable extension to your stay.

Here are the general rules concerning the period of stay for some of the occupations:

  • Students – the entire duration of their study and 18 extra months for practical training. High school students can only stay for up to one year.
  • Teachers, Professors, and Scholars – five years
  • International Visitors – one year
  • Medical Graduate Students – seven years
  • Trainees – eighteen months. Flight trainees can stay for twenty-four months with proper documentation.
  • Interns – one year
  • International Communications Agency Employees – ten years if a special request is submitted to the USCIS.
  • Research Assistants – five years
  • Nannies and Au Pairs – one year

As previously stated, these are general rules that are subject to change depending on your circumstances and the nature of your program. To get a better idea of how long your stay can be, speak with your J-1 visa lawyer.

Grace Period

Like some other work visas, such as the H-1B visa, you are given a grace period after the end of your J-1 visa validation period to get your affairs in order and prepare to leave the U.S.

Fortunately, this grace period for the J-1 visa is longer than the H-1B, giving visa holders 30 days to leave the country after their visa expires. However, you are not considered under J-1 status during this time and you cannot engage in the activities that brought you to the U.S.

It is important to note that the DOS recommends that you refrain from leaving the U.S. during your grace period if you wish to return before that period ends. While you are permitted to travel within the U.S., you may not be allowed to return if you travel outside its borders.

J-1 Visa Fees

There are two main mandatory fees that must be paid in order for a program entity to sponsor a foreign applicant:

  • $3,982 for filing the DS-3036. This one-time fee must be paid by the sponsoring program in order to be designated by the DOS as a valid J-1 sponsor.
  • $367 for filing the DS-2019. This fee is paid by the applicant. This fee will be applied each time your status changes including:
    • obtaining a period of stay extension that surpasses the maximum limit
    • changing your J-1 visa category
    • being reinstated

How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help

Our J-1 visa lawyers are uniquely qualified to help prospective J-1 visa holders find an appropriate sponsor and obtain a visa. They also have extensive experience working with visa holders who wish to get a J-1 visa waiver for the foreign residency requirement.

If you are interested in this visa class, you can contact a J-1 visa lawyer today to schedule a consultation and start you on the road to the U.S.