J-1 Visa (Exchange Visitor)


The J-1 visa program, also known as the Exchange Visitor visa program, is a visa category available for individuals to participate in work-based and/or study-based exchange visitor programs.  The program began under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act in 1961.   The goal of the program under this act was to promote cultural exchange opportunities for both the United States and the individual’s home country to understand the culture of the other better through participation in the program.

Today, the Department of State oversees the program and exchange visitors in approved sponsor programs can enter the United States under the terms of the visa program.  Around 300,000 participants from over 200 countries participate each year.  Some of the more common J-1 categories are: Professors and Research Scholars, College and University Students, Teachers, Physicians, Au Pairs, Trainees, and Summer Work Travel Programs.

How To Qualify

The individual seeking to participate needs to have a Department of State approved, Designated Sponsor.  From there, the individual needs to apply for a DS-2019.  The DS-2019 is the form that details the allotment of time in the program, cost of the program, and the general terms of the program.  Once the DS-2019 is issued by the Designated Sponsor, an interview is scheduled for visa issuance.  Some important issues the officer may be concerned with are:  what you hope to get out of the program, how you will pay for the program/where funding is coming from, and your intentions after the program.  Once the visa stamp is issued, the individual can enter the US up to 30 days prior to their program start date.

J-2 Visa For Dependents

Unmarried children under the age of 21 and the spouse of the J-1 holder may apply for a J-2 visa to accompany the J-1 visa holder during the program.  The J-2 visa holder may apply for work authorization, granted the J-2’s income cannot be used as the basis of financial support for the J-1 program.  J-2 visa holders may also take up full or part time study in the US.

Two-Year Home Residency Requirement

Since the J-1 program is a cultural exchange program, the goal is for the participant to return to their home country to share their experience in the US with others, which promotes the understanding of the US culture to their respective place of origin.  In order to ensure that this goal is best-achieved, certain types of J-1 visas are subject to the INA 212(e) two-year home residency requirement.  This requires that the individual return to their home country for at least two years before they are eligible to change status within the US to any visa type, obtain H or L status, or obtain permanent residence in the US.  Some visas outside of immigrant visas or H/L visas may be able to be obtained without satisfying the requirement, but the individual must apply for a new visa stamp outside the US in order to enter.  If the individual obtains another visa status such as F-1 from outside the US while still being subject to 212(e), the 212(e) requirement still exists until it is satisfied or waived.

Waiving the Two-Year Requirement

While the 212(e) requirement is meant to act as a means to ensure the individual subject returns to their home country, there are certain instances where the requirement can be waived. 

There are 5 bases for a waiver:

1)  No Objection Letter – This waiver basis is conditioned in part on the individual’s home country issuing a letter indicating they do not have an objection to the two-year home residency requirement being waived.  The most common situation this waiver may be granted is when an individual’s program and country is on the Department of State Skills List and the presence of the program and country on the skills list is the only basis for being subject to 212(e).

2) Request By A U.S. Interested Government Agency – If the individual is working for a US government agency and that agency determines that returning to the home country for two yours would be detrimental to the agency’s interest, then the interested government agency may request a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement.

3) Persecution – If returning to the home country may lead to the persecution of the individual on the basis of race, religion, or political opinion, then a persecution waiver may be sought.

4) Exceptional Hardship To A US Citizen Spouse or Child – If fulfilling the two-year requirement would cause exceptional hardship to a US citizen spouse or child, then a waiver may be sought.  Separation from family by itself is not considered to be a valid basis for this type of waiver unless other considerations lead to the finding that an exceptional hardship will occur.

5) Request By A Designated State Public Health Department or Equivalent – For those whom utilized the J-1 program for medical education or training, the “Conrad 30” program may provide a basis for a waiver of 212(e) if the individual agrees to work in a medically-underserved area of the US for a specific period of time.  This must be a requested by the State Public Health Department or its equivalent.

For more information on 212(e) waivers, please see here.

Can A J-1 Visa Holder Apply For Permanent Residence in the US?

If the J-1 holder was not subject to 212(e), or was subject but has obtained a waiver or satisfied the requirement, then the individual may be eligible to apply for permanent residence.  While the J-1 program prohibits immigrant intent, an individual may change their mind during their stay and hope to seek permanent residence.  If you are in a J-1 program or have completed a J-1 program, we recommend you speak in an immigration attorney about your individual options.

For more detailed information about the J-1 program, please see the Department of State website regarding how to apply, requirements, and other considerations that must be taken into account here.