The J-1 classification allows foreign exchange visitors to enter the U.S. to participate in certain educational, training, and other programs. There are fifteen different categories of programs that J-1 nonimmigrants may participate in, which include, but are not limited to, scholars, au pairs, and camp counselors.
Eligibility and Application Process
Applicants must be proficient in the English language, have medical insurance, and maintain the intention to depart once their program is over.
Applicants must contact sponsors, which are designated by the Secretary of State, in order to participate in exchange programs. Sponsors select and support participants throughout the program. Sponsors will notify the applicants of any specific program requirements. To find a list of designated sponsors by country please visit: https://j1visa.state.gov/sponsors/sponsor-by-country/?program=all.
If an applicant is accepted into an exchange program, their sponsor will provide them with a Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status. Once DS-2019 is obtained, an applicant can apply for a J-1 visa through the Department of State or U.S. Embassy or Consulate. All applicants will go through an interview where their visa will either approved or denied.
J-1 visitors may enter the U.S. no earlier than 30 days before their program begins. If the visitor is admitted under visitor (B) status by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, they must change their status before the start of their program.
Period of Stay, Employment, and Family Members
The period of stay for a J-1 nonimmigrant depends on the Foreign Exchange Visitor category. The period of stay may be extended by the sponsor's designated responsible officer.
J-1 visitors who enter the U.S. specifically to work under the terms of their exchange program can apply for a Social Security number. J-1 nonimmigrants can only work for the program and in the capacity for which they received their J-1 visa. Additionally, they must pay taxes but are exempt from paying taxes that go toward Medicare and Social Security.
A J-1 visitor's spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may apply for J-2 status as dependents. J-2 spouses and children may apply for work authorization.
Two-year Home-Country Physical Presence Requirement
If the program falls under a government funded exchange program, graduate medical education or training, or specialized knowledge or skill, the J-1 visitor is subject to a two-year home-country physical presence requirement. The two-year home-country physical presence requirement means that the exchange visitor must return to their home country for an aggregate period at least two years. To find a list of skills for your home country please visit: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2009/04/30/E9-9657/2009-revised-exchange-visitor-skills-list.
This two-year requirement does not prohibit the visitor from entering the U.S. The requirement does, however, prohibit J-1 visitors from changing their status to temporary worker (H) or intracompany transferee (L) nonimmigrant classification. It also does not allow the visitor to obtain an H, L, or fiancé (K) visas. Additionally, visitors subject to this requirement may not adjust their status in the U.S. to immigrant visa or lawful permanent resident status. They are also not allowed to receive an immigrant visa at any U.S. Consulate or Embassy. Further, if a J-1 visitor is subject to this requirement, their spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 who had J-2 status because of their participation in a programs are also subject to this requirement.
The two-year home-country physical presence requirement may be waived. The Department of State can recommend USCIS to grant a waiver. The five basis for the recommendation of a waiver are:
- No Objection Statement: A visitor's home country or designated ministry issues a statement saying that is has no objection to the visitor not returning to the home country and not satisfying the two-year and possibly becoming a lawful permanent resident.
- Request by an interested U.S. Federal Government Agency: A U.S. Federal Government Agency can request a waiver for a visitor who is working on a project for or of interest to the agency and the visitor's two-year departure would be detrimental to project.
- Persecution: A visitor who will be persecuted on the basis of race, religion, or political opinion in their home country may request a waiver.
- Exceptional hardship to a U.S. Citizen/Lawful Permanent Resident spouse or children: A visitor can show that their departure would cause exceptional hardship to their U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent spouse or children may request a waiver.
- Request by a designated State Public Health Department or its equivalent: A State Public Health Department or its equivalent may request a waiver for a visitor who has a full time employment offer from a health care facility in area with a shortage in health care professional shortage or which serves patients from such an area, agrees to begin working within 90 days of receiving a waiver, and contracts to work at the facility for 40 hours per week for a minimum of three years.