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J-1 Exchange Visitor


The J-1 category applies to foreign nationals coming temporarily to the United States to participate in a pre-approved program that is part of an international cultural exchange.  J-1 exchange visitors can participate in public sector and education programs or in private sector programs. 

J-1 Exchange Visitor Program Categories

A J-1 exchange visitor visa may be obtained to participate in a private sector program in the following categories: 

  • Alien Physician
  • Au Pair and EduCare
  • Camp Counselor
  • Intern
  • Student in Secondary School
  • Summer Work/Travel
  • Teacher
  • Trainee
  • Flight Training

Each program category has its own specific requirements that must be met by the U.S. host organization and the foreign national exchange visitor.  J-1 Exchange Visitors may participate in only one program category and are expected to return to their home countries when they complete their U.S. program.

Foreign National's Qualifications

Exchange visitor applicants must meet specific requirements to qualify for a J-1 visa. The U.S. Department of State (or an organization designated by the U.S. Department of State) will determine whether an applicant qualifies in the particular program category for which the visitor is applying. 

Additionally, applicants must demonstrate:

  1. That they plan to remain in the U.S. for a temporary, specific, limited period;
  1. That they have enough money to cover their expenses in the U.S.; and
  1. That they have compelling social and economic ties abroad and other binding ties that will insure their return abroad at the end of their visit to the U.S.

U.S. host company must initiate the process to host a J-1 exchange visitor.  Unless the host company has been certified as a J-1 Program Sponsor by the U.S. Department of State (this is very rare), the host company must ask an already-approved J-1 Program Sponsor to serve as the J-1 visa sponsor.

The J-1 Program Sponsor will serve as the intermediary between the host company and the Department of State and will be the entity that decides whether the foreign national qualifies as a J-1 exchange visitor. 

If the J-1 Program sponsor approves the host company's request, it will issue a Form DS-2019 to the foreign national.  The foreign national will submit the DS-2019 as part of his or her application for a J-1 "visa," submitted to a U.S. consulate located outside the United States.  To recap, the simplified steps are: 

  • Host company approaches an already approved J-1 Program Sponsor organization
  • J-1 Program Sponsor requests information from the host company and from the foreign national
  • J-1 Program Sponsor decides whether host company and the foreign national qualify for J-1 exchange category approval
  • If J-1 Program Sponsor decides the foreign national qualifies, the J-1 Program Sponsor issues a Form DS-2019 to the foreign national
  • Foreign national applies for a J-1 visa at the U.S. consulate in his or her home country
  • If U.S. consulates issues a J-1 visa to foreign national, foreign national may travel to the U.S. as a J-1 Exchange Visitor
Associated Fees

► I-901 SEVIS Fee.  SEVIS is the electronic monitoring system and database for all J-1 exchange visitors.  The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which imposes a fee to help cover the program costs.  The fee varies per program category.  For "Interns" and "Trainees," the fee is $180.

► $160 Visa Application Fee.  The visa application fee is paid to the U.S. consulate when the foreign national applies for a J-1 visa.  The fee is nonrefundable, even if the visa is not issued.  Additionally, a few foreign nationals also may have to pay a “visa reciprocity” fee.

► J-1 Program Sponsor Fee.  Most J-1 Program Sponsors charge a fee for the administration of securing the J-1 classification and for monitoring the J-1 exchange visitor's program to ensure compliance with government regulations.  These fees can range between $500 to $1500 or more, depending on the length and type of the J-1 program.

Time Limits

The minimum duration of any exchange program is typically three weeks.  The maximum duration varies by category.  For example, Interns may participate in exchange programs for up to 12 months and Trainees may participate in exchange programs for up to 18 months.  J-1 visitors are also permitted a period of 30 days at the conclusion of their program for domestic travel and/or to prepare for and depart from the U.S.

Home Country Return Requirement

Some J-1 exchange visitors are subject to a two-year home country requirement.  The requirement is intended to ensure that J-1 exchange visitor will spend an aggregate of two years in his or her home country following conclusion of the U.S. exchange program in the before coming back to the United States for a longer-term stay.

J-1 exchange visitors subject to this requirement include J-1 exchange visitors who:

  • participate in a government funded exchange program, meaning that the program in which the exchange visitor participated was financed in whole or in part directly or indirectly by the U.S. government or the government of the exchange visitor's nationality or last residence;
  • participate in graduate medical education or training, meaning that the exchange visitor came to the U.S. to receive graduate medical education or training; or
  • are covered by a program involving specialized knowledge or skill according to a U.S. government "skills list."  The U.S. government has determined that certain fields of specialized knowledge or skill are necessary to the development of some countries, as defined by the Exchange Visitor Skills List.
Spouses and Children

Spouses and children are accorded "J-2" classification.  They may accompany or later follow to join the principal J-1 exchange visitor.  J-2 dependents may obtain work authorization in the United States by filing a separate application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, but such work authorization is limited to money earned for J-2 travel, recreational, or cultural activities, not to support the principal J-1 exchange visitor.  If the income is needed to support the J-1 exchange visitor, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will not authorize the J-2 to take up employment. 

J-2 visa holders may attend school.  They may remain in the United States for the same length of time as the principal J-1 exchange visitor.


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