J-1 Visa for Exchange Visitors Application Guide: Eligibility, Requirements, Process, and More!

Are you interested in gaining valuable experience and cultural understanding in the United States through a work-and-study program? The J-1 visa might be the perfect opportunity for you. This visa category allows international participants to come to the U.S. to teach, study, receive training, or share their unique skills with others.

This J-1 visa guide won’t just hand you a pile of paperwork! We’ll walk you through everything you need about getting a J-1 visa, from understanding the eligibility requirements to finding the right J1 visa sponsor for your program.

We’ll break down the application process into clear steps and provide valuable tips to help you prepare for each stage. But that’s not all! We’ll also cover additional resources and answer any lingering questions about the J-1 visa experience.

So, let’s get started, shall we?

What Is the J1 Visa in the U.S.A.?

The J-1 visa, or the Exchange Visitor Visa, is a nonimmigrant visa category explicitly designed for foreign nationals seeking to participate in educational and cultural exchange programs within the United States. It’s important to understand that this visa is temporary, meaning it doesn’t grant permanent residency or a pathway to U.S. citizenship.

Imagine the J-1 visa as a bridge connecting individuals from around the world with enriching experiences in the U.S. This visa allows diverse participants, including students, scholars, teachers, interns, and trainees, to engage in various activities that promote cultural understanding and knowledge exchange. Research projects, teaching opportunities, academic studies, and immersive cultural programs are all examples of what J-1 visas can facilitate.

However, to get a J1 visa, sponsorship is crucial. Approved program J1 visa sponsors, such as educational institutions, government agencies, or private sector organizations, are vital. These sponsors act as your guide and advocate, ensuring you meet the program’s requirements and possess the necessary qualifications.

The U.S. Department of State plays a central role in overseeing the Exchange Visitor Program. They authorize public and private entities to act as program sponsors, ensuring these programs foster the exchange of knowledge and skills across various fields like education, arts, and science.

In recent years, the Department of State has encouraged participation in these areas by recognizing the importance of STEM fields. The Early Career STEM Research Initiative specifically connects J-1 program sponsors with STEM-focused organizations, including businesses, to bolster research and development opportunities for international talent.

So, suppose you’re an aspiring student, scholar, or professional seeking a unique opportunity to learn, share knowledge, and immerse yourself in American culture. In that case, the J-1 visa might be the perfect key to unlock that door.

However, J-1 visas do not limit themselves only to students or professors but also to many other exchange visitors. So, let’s move on to the next section of our J-1 visa guide!

What Are the Exchange Visitor Categories Eligible for J-1 Visas?

Obtaining a J-1 visa involves meeting specific eligibility criteria. Demonstrating proficiency in English is often essential, as is having sufficient financial resources to cover your stay in the U.S.

The J1 visa category is further broken down into specific classifications tailored to a particular exchange program purpose. This could be teaching, research, training, or even specialized skill demonstrations, but let’s see the table below for a better understanding!

J-1 Visa Category Description Example Activities
Au Pair
Live-in childcare provider for a host family
Caring for children, light housekeeping, cultural exchange
Camp Counselor
Work at a summer camp for children.
Leading camp activities, supervising campers, and fostering a fun and educational environment
College and University Student
Pursue academic studies at an accredited U.S. institution
Enrolling in full-time coursework, participating in research projects, attending lectures
Secondary School Student
Participate in an exchange program for high school students
Attending classes, immersing in American culture, experiencing a U.S. high school environment
Government Visitor
Engage in official government-sponsored exchanges.
Participating in conferences, conducting research relevant to government initiatives, fostering international cooperation
International Visitor
Participate in short-term cultural programs.
Attending workshops, participating in professional development opportunities, experiencing American cultural events
Participate in clinical training or research opportunities
Conducting research, gaining clinical experience under supervision, attending medical conferences
Teach or conduct research at a U.S. institution.
Delivering lectures, collaborating with U.S. colleagues, sharing expertise in your field
Research Scholar
Conduct research at a U.S. institution or research facility
Participating in ongoing research projects, collaborating with scientists, and contributing to advancements in various fields
Short-Term Scholar
Participate in a short-term research or teaching program (up to 6 months)
Delivering guest lectures, conducting focused research projects, sharing knowledge in a specific area
Share your specialized knowledge and skills with U.S. institutions
Providing technical assistance, participating in consultancy projects, contributing expertise in a specific field
Summer Work Travel
Participate in a temporary work and travel program
Gaining practical work experience, traveling and exploring the U.S., experiencing American culture
Teach at a U.S. educational institution
Leading classes, developing curriculum, sharing your teaching methodology
Receive hands-on training in a specific field.
Learning new skills under supervision and gaining practical experience in a professional setting
Gain practical work experience in a professional field
Assisting with ongoing projects, learning from experienced professionals, contributing to the organization's goals

The information above offers a starting point for understanding the diverse J-1 visa categories. Remember that specific J1 requirements and program details may vary depending on the chosen category.

For instance, the College and University Student Program category allows you to pursue an entire course of study at an accredited U.S. institution. The duration of your stay usually aligns with the length of your program, be it a semester, a full academic year, or even the entire duration of your degree.

IMPORTANT! The U.S. Department of State offers a wealth of information on the J-1 visa program, including resources for each category. So, make sure you do your homework before putting a J1 visa application in motion!

J-1 Visa Requirements and General Rules to Follow

The J-1 visa program welcomes a diverse range of individuals, and the requirements ensure a rewarding experience for you and your U.S. host organization. Here’s a breakdown of the general requirements for all J-1 visa applicants, regardless of program type (e.g., au pair, camp counselor, teacher, work and travel, etc.).

General Requirements (for all J-1 Applicants)

J1 Visa Requirement Description
Funding Source
Financial support from an accredited J-1 visa sponsor (not a personal friend or family member) to cover program expenses during your stay in the U.S.
English Language Proficiency
Demonstration of sufficient English language skills to participate effectively in your program. The specific level of proficiency may vary depending on your program type and sponsor requirements. Some programs might require standardized test scores (e.g., TOEFL, IELTS), while others may accept an interview conducted by your sponsor.
Health Insurance
Valid health insurance meeting U.S Department of State minimum standards, covering medical emergencies, illness, and hospitalization (applies to you and any dependents).
Pre-Arrival Information & Orientation
Pre-arrival program details, accommodation, arrival procedures, and cultural expectations provided by your sponsor. The sponsor may also conduct an orientation about the region.
J-1 Visa Regulations
You and your sponsor must comply with all J-1 visa rules, including maintaining your J-1 visa status and following program guidelines. The sponsor must provide a 24/7 emergency contact.
Two-Year Home Residency Requirement
Applies in most cases. It requires returning to your home country and residing there for two years after program completion (exceptions and waivers are available).
Passport Validity
Passport (and any dependents' passports) valid for at least six months beyond your program end date in the U.S.
Address Updates
Keep your J-1 visa sponsor and relevant program authorities informed of your current U.S. address. Update them within 10 days of any residence changes.

IMPORTANT! In most cases, J-1 visa holders are subject to a two-year home residency requirement after program completion. You must return to your home country and reside there for at least two years before being eligible for certain U.S. immigration benefits. However, exceptions exist, and a J-1 visa waiver is available under specific circumstances.

Specific J-1 Visa Category Requirements (Depending on Your J-1 Exchange Visitor Program)

While the general J1 requirements provide a foundation for all applicants, specific details and eligibility criteria vary depending on your chosen exchange program type. Here’s a breakdown of the J-1 visa eligibility for some of the most common J-1 visa categories.

IMPORTANT! The table below provides an overview; some program types might have additional requirements. Consult your chosen J-1 visa program sponsor for the most up-to-date and specific information!

Specific Requirements for J-1 Visa Applicants

J-1 Program Type Description Eligibility Requirements
Pursue academic studies at an accredited U.S. institution.
  • Be a foreign national.
  • Enroll in a full course load at an accredited secondary or post-secondary institution. 
  • Meet the English language proficiency obligation set by the university/college.
Short-Term Scholar
Engage in short-term research, training, or professional development activities.
  • Be a professor, researcher, or someone with comparable training. 
  • Participate in short-term training, observation, lectures, demonstrations, or consultations. 
  • Conduct these activities at approved locations like museums, research institutions, libraries, or universities.
Participate in a structured training program relevant to your occupation.
  • Possess a degree or certificate from an approved institution + one year of relevant work experience OR 5 years of experience in your field (outside the U.S.). 
  • Your sponsor must be approved to offer training in your specific field.
Teach at a U.S. educational institution.
  • Hold a minimum bachelor's degree in a related subject or education. 
  • Have two years of full-time teaching experience after completing your degree. 
  • Be currently employed as a teacher when applying for the visa.
Lecture, teach, consult, observe, or conduct research projects at U.S. institutions.
  • Engage in activities like lecturing, teaching, consulting, observing, or (with sponsor permission) research projects. 
  • Conduct these activities at accredited universities, libraries, museums, or research institutions.
Research Scholar
Conduct research, consult, or observe at U.S. institutions.
  • Engage in research, consultations, or observations. 
  • May also teach with sponsor permission. 
  • Conduct these activities at libraries, museums, or accredited universities.
Utilize your expertise in a specific field for observation, consultation, or demonstrations.
  • Possess expertise in a specific field. 
  • Utilize your expertise for observation, consultation, or demonstrations.
Au Pair
Live-in childcare provider for a host family.
  • Be between 18 and 26 years old. 
  • Demonstrate English language proficiency sufficient for childcare duties. 
  • Be in good health and have a clean background check. 
  • Possess at least 200 hours of childcare experience. 
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent. 
  • Commit to a minimum stay of 12 months (first time as an Au Pair in the U.S.).
Camp Counselor
Work at a summer camp for children.
  • Specific requirements may vary depending on the camp program. 
  • Generally requires experience working with children and a clean background check.
Summer Work and Travel
Participate in a temporary work and travel program.
  • Specific criteria and rules vary depending on the program sponsor. 
  • Generally require full-time student status in your home country.
Gain practical work experience in a professional field.
  • Specific requirements may vary depending on the internship program. 
  • May require a connection to a relevant field of study.

How to Apply for the Visitor Exchange Program: J-1 Visa Application Step-by-step Guide

Now that you have the baseline for J-1 visa categories, eligibility, and application requirements, let’s understand the application process one step at a time.

Step 1: Find a J-1 Sponsor

The J-1 visa application process starts with a crucial step: securing a sponsor for your exchange program. Without a sponsor, your visa application won’t be complete, as J-1 visas are designed for participation in exchange programs. The J1 sponsoring organizations ensure the program meets specific quality standards and supports you throughout your exchange experience.

Once you’ve chosen a program category that aligns with your goals (academic, professional, or cultural), it’s time to identify potential sponsors within that field. Many universities, educational institutions, and professional organizations are accredited J-1 sponsors. Search online or contact relevant organizations in your field of interest to see if they offer J-1 visa programs.

After identifying a few promising sponsors, carefully review their program descriptions. Make sure the program aligns with your academic or professional aspirations. Does the program curriculum match your interests? Does the internship experience provide relevant training? It’s crucial to choose a program that genuinely complements your goals.

Additionally, ensure you meet the program’s eligibility requirements. These might include academic qualifications, work experience, language proficiency, or age limitations. Don’t hesitate to contact the sponsor with any questions about eligibility criteria.

With a shortlist of potential sponsors, it’s time to take a proactive approach! Reach out to them directly. In your communication, please express your interest in their J-1 visa program and inquire about specific details. Ask about the program structure, application procedures, and any additional requirements they might have. This direct contact demonstrates your initiative and allows you to gather the most up-to-date information to make an informed decision.

IMPORTANT! Choose a sponsor accredited by the U.S. Department of State so the program meets the established quality standards. On the other hand, ensure you understand the program structure and confirm you meet all the criteria for participation!

Step 2: Complete the DS-2019 Form

Since the U.S. Department of State is pivotal in managing the J-1 exchange visitor program, the first form you must submit is the DS-2019 (Exchange Visitor Status Certificate of Eligibility). 

Don’t worry about obtaining the DS-2019 form on your own. Your designated J-1 visa sponsor will provide it to you. They’ll guide you throughout this process, so feel free to ask them any questions.

Within your sponsor organization, there will be an authorized official who can issue the DS-2019 form. These officials are called Responsible Officers (RO) or Alternate Responsible Officers (A.R.O.). They’ll explain exactly what documents you must submit to receive the completed DS-2019 form.

Here is something to remember: while you can’t enter the U.S. more than 30 days before your program begins, submitting your visa application as early as possible is highly recommended. Just make sure you have ample time to schedule your visa interview and address any potential issues that might arise.

Once you have your DS-2019 form, you apply for your J-1 visa!

Step 3: Complete the Online Form DS-160

The U.S. D.O.S. uses the DS-160 form as the standard online nonimmigrant visa application. This is your chance to tell your story and provide all the necessary details for the visa officers to review. Completing the DS-160 form can be time-consuming, so set aside some time to focus on it. Gathering all the required information beforehand is best to ensure a smooth and efficient process.

Once you’ve completed the online form, don’t forget to print the confirmation page generated upon completion. It is a record of your submitted application and is a mandatory document you’ll need to bring to your visa interview. So, please print it out, hold onto it securely, and consider making a digital copy for safekeeping.

While completing the DS-160 form online, you’ll be prompted to upload your visa photo. Ensure your photo adheres to the requirements outlined by the U.S. Department of State. These requirements ensure consistent photo quality for identification purposes.

Step 4: Schedule Your J-1 Visa Interview

A visa interview is usually mandatory for J-1 visa applicants, with a few exceptions.

Generally, applicants 13 years old and younger don’t require an interview. On the other hand, applicants between 14 and 79 typically need to participate in an interview (with some exceptions for renewals). If you fall into the 80 and above age group, you might not be required to interview for your J1, but it’s best to check with the embassy/consulate for confirmation.

The interview will take place at your home country’s U.S. embassy or consulate. While you can technically schedule an interview at a U.S. embassy/consulate elsewhere, it’s best to choose the one in your home country for a stress-free process.

Given the potential variations in wait times, we recommend you apply for your J-1 visa well in advance to allow ample time for your application to be processed and ensure you can secure an interview date that aligns with your program start date.

Step 5: Gather Your Documents and Prepare for the J-1 Visa Interview

Before preparing for the embassy/consulate interview, you must consider the fees associated with your J1 visa.

First, there’s the non-refundable visa application fee of $185. Double-check with your program sponsor or the U.S. D.O.S. website to confirm if you need to pay this fee before your interview. Since it’s non-refundable, ensure you have all your paperwork before submitting your application to avoid unnecessary expenses.

Additionally, depending on your nationality, you might also be subject to a visa issuance fee that you would pay upon visa approval.

IMPORTANT! Suppose your J-1 visa program falls under the Department of State, USAID, or a federally funded program with a number starting with G-1, G-2, G-3, or G-7 on your DS-2019 form. In that case, you won’t need to pay the application processing or issuance fees! Check with your J1 program sponsor for details!

Now that you have all the fees covered, it’s time to pack a file of documents and paperwork.

J1 Visa Interview Required Document Description
Valid Passport
It must be valid 6 months beyond your planned stay in the U.S. (country-specific agreements might offer exceptions). Each applicant needs a separate application, including family members on your passport.
DS-160 Confirmation Page
Print the confirmation page generated after completing the online DS-160 nonimmigrant visa application form.
Application Fee Receipt (if applicable)
If you paid the non-refundable visa application fee beforehand, bring the receipt as proof of payment.
Passport Photo
1 photo (printed) in the format specified by the U.S. D.O.S. in case the online upload fails during the DS-160 form submission.
DS-2019 Form
Your program sponsor provides this form after you are registered in the SEVIS database. All exchange visitors and any accompanying dependents require a separate DS-2019 form.
DS-7002 Training/Internship Placement Plan (if applicable)
The J-1 Trainee and Intern program participants need this form and the DS-2019 (based on information in Box 7 of the DS-2019).

The consular officer interviewing you might request further documentation to verify your eligibility. Here are some potential examples:

  • Documents that demonstrate the reason for your participation in the J-1 exchange program.
  • Proof that you intend to return to your home country after completing your program.
  • Evidence of your ability to cover the costs associated with your J-1 program experience. Employment records or proof of financial support from someone else might be sufficient.

It’s always a good idea to visit the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate where you’ll be interviewing. They might have specific instructions or additional requirements for applicants, so familiarizing yourself with their procedures ensures a successful visa procedure.

Step 6: Attend Your J-1 Visa Interview

Now it’s time for the heart of the J-1 visa application process – the U.S. embassy or consulate interview. A specially trained government official will interview you to assess your qualifications and determine your J-1 exchange visitor visa eligibility.

In other words, during the interview, you can showcase your qualifications for the J-1 program you’ve chosen. Be prepared to answer questions about your program, academic or professional goals, and plans for returning home after the program concludes. The consular officer evaluates whether you meet the established criteria under U.S. law for receiving a J-1 visa.

You’ll likely undergo an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan as part of the application process. In most cases, this will happen during your interview. However, remember this procedure might vary depending on the specific location of your embassy or consulate.

There are a couple of possibilities following your interview:

  • If the consular officer is satisfied with your qualifications, your J1 visa application will be approved! In this case, you might need to pay a visa issuance fee and discuss arrangements for receiving your passport with the J-1 visa.
  • In some situations, the consular officer might determine that your application requires additional administrative processing. They might need more time to review your application or verify certain documents thoroughly. Don’t be discouraged! The consular officer will inform you directly if this applies to your situation.

IMPORTANT! While you can’t predict the exact outcome of your J1 interview, being well-prepared significantly increases your chances of success. Review the program details, gather the necessary documents, and practice answering potential interview questions.

Step 7: Enter the United States on Your J1 Exchange Visitor Visa

While a visa allows you to travel to a U.S. port of entry (usually an airport), it doesn’t guarantee automatic entry into the United States. The ultimate decision on who gets admitted rests with Homeland Security (D.H.S.) officials, specifically U.S. Customs.

When you arrive at the port of entry, be prepared to present your passport, your J-1 visa, and your DS-2019 form. A C.B.P.  officer will review these documents to determine your eligibility to enter the U.S.

The C.B.P. officer can grant or deny your entry into the United States. You’ll be welcome if all goes well and your documents are in order! The C.B.P. officer will then provide an admission stamp or form I-94 as your Arrival/Departure Record.

And this is it, ladies and gentlemen: you are now officially in the U.S., ready to assume your academic or professional roles! But is this all there is? Let’s see some other points you need to factor in before applying for the J-1 visa!

How Much Does the J1 Visa Cost? Visitor Exchange Program and Other Fees

First, besides the $185 fee we mentioned, your J-1 visa program might have associated fees. Your sponsor determines these program fees and covers program-specific expenses.

Then, the SEVIS I-901 fee also contributes to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. It maintains data on exchange visitors to ensure program compliance and security. The SEVIS I-901 fee must be paid to D.H.S. For instance, the SEVIS fee for J-1 scholars is $220, but you must ensure you pay the correct fee for the right J1 eligibility category. 

Your program’s Responsible Officer (RO) will clarify whether the SEVIS I-901 fee is included in your program fee or a separate expense you’ll need to cover.

As we said, on top of these fees, there might also be a visa issuance fee, depending on your circumstances. Similar to the DS-160 processing fee, this is usually paid at the U.S. embassy or consulate during your J1 visa interview.

IMPORTANT! If your program falls under specific categories sponsored by the U.S. government, you might be eligible for exemptions from specific fees. Please consult with your J-1 visa sponsor’s Responsible Officer to understand which fees apply to you and how they are handled!

J1 Visa Processing Times and Timeline

How long must you wait to get your J1 visa for your exchange visitor program? Well, it all depends. 

We know you don’t like hearing it, and we don’t like saying it, but it is the truth. The wait times for your J-1 visa interview can differ significantly depending on where you’re applying from.

For example, if you’re in Budapest, Hungary, you might need to wait an estimated 40 days before an interview slot opens up. This wait time comes after you’ve submitted your application and paid the processing fee. On the other hand, someone applying from Tokyo, Japan, might only face a 2-day wait.

These are just estimated wait times. The D.O.S. has a convenient tool for finding the most recent wait time information on J visas for the specific U.S. embassy or consulate you’ll be applying to.

IMPORTANT! These wait times don’t consider any additional administrative processing that might be required. Depending on your circumstances, this additional processing could significantly extend the overall J1 visa application process.

J-1 Visa Maximum Length of Stay by Program Category

How long can you stay in the U.S. on a J-1 student/visitor exchange visa? The permissible duration varies depending on the specific program category you’re participating in. Check the table below for a quick breakdown of the maximum allowable stay for each J-1 visa category.

J1 Visa Category Maximum Length of Stay
Students (except High School Exchange)
Program Duration + 18 months of optional practical training
High School Exchange Students (ages 15-18½)
1 year
Teachers, Professors, Research Scholars, Specialists
5 years + 30 days departure prep
International Visitors (Cultural Exchange)
1 year + 30 days departure prep
Foreign Medical Graduate Students
Up to 7 years + 30 days departure prep
Business & Industrial Trainees
18 months
12 months
Au Pairs (ages 18-26)
1 year (non-extendable)
Government Visitors
Up to 18 months
Camp Counselors (over 18)
4 months
Summer Work Travelers
4 months
Short-Term Scholars
6 months

Remember, these are general guidelines, and there might be exceptions in exceptional circumstances. It’s always recommended to consult with your program sponsor or an immigration attorney for the most up-to-date information regarding your specific situation.

What Happens After You Entered the U.S. on Your J1 Exchange Visitor Visa?

Besides fulfilling your au pair job duties, studying, pursuing your academic goals, or participating in training and conferences, the J1 visa status has some limitations and perks you need to know about.

J1 Visa Limitations: Maintaining Your Status and a Timely Departure after the Program Ends

Throughout your J-1 program, it’s crucial to maintain your exchange visitor status

For this reason, your “timely departure” is crucial. Remember, your J-1 visa is tied to a specific program duration. Leaving the U.S. after your program concludes is a mandatory requirement.

Failing to depart on time can lead to severe consequences. Your visa will automatically become void, and any future attempts to enter the U.S. with a multiple-entry visa will be denied. Additionally, being out of status might make you ineligible for visas in the future. The D.O.S. website provides more details on these potential repercussions.

J1 Visa Advantages: What You CAN Do on a J-1 Student/Exchange Visitor Visa

The most important aspect is that if your current program appeals to you and you want more, you can extend your J-1 visa

The U.S. D.O.S. has a dedicated section on “J1 Program Extensions.” Here, you’ll find valuable information on requesting an extension for your exchange program beyond the date listed on your DS-2019 form.

With caveats, you can also work in the U.S. on a J1 visa. 

J-1 visas come in two flavors: work and non-work-related. While some J-1 exchange programs are designed specifically for work experiences, others focus on cultural exchange or academic pursuits. The critical thing to remember is that any employment authorization you receive is directly tied to the terms and conditions of your specific program.

If you have any questions or uncertainties about your ability to work in the U.S., it’s always best to consult with your program sponsor. They’ll be able to provide precise and up-to-date information on any restrictions that might apply to your situation.

And finally, you can change your status!

If your plans change while you’re in the U.S. (such as getting married to a U.S. citizen or receiving a job offer), you might be eligible to request a change in your nonimmigrant visa status to a different category.

J-1 Visas Frequently Asked Questions

Do you feel we didn’t cover everything you needed to know about J1 visas? Maybe you will find more info in this F.A.Q. section of our guide!

What are the differences between the J-1 and F-1 student visas, and which should I choose?

The J-1 visa caters to broader exchange programs beyond traditional academic pursuits. This visa category welcomes students, researchers, teachers, interns, camp counselors, au pairs, and other participants in cultural exchange programs. J-1 visas offer flexibility, allowing you to participate in programs involving work or practical training experiences alongside your educational component.

Obtaining a J-1 visa often requires demonstrating that at least 51% of your financial support originates from your home country, a sponsoring organization, or a combination of both. Additionally, J-1 visas might limit employment opportunities or require you to return to your home country after completing your program.

The F-1 student visa is tailored for international students enrolling in full-time academic programs at accredited U.S. universities, colleges, community colleges, or private vocational schools.

Unlike the J-1 visa, the F-1 is solely focused on academic study, and work authorization is generally limited to on-campus employment or specific internship programs approved by your school.

However, the F-1 visa offers more flexibility regarding financial support. You can demonstrate funding from various sources, including personal or family funds, scholarships, grants, or assistantships offered by the U.S. institution you’ll be attending.

The decision between a J-1 and F-1 visa hinges on the nature of your program. If you’re enrolling in a traditional full-time degree program, the F-1 visa is likely the more suitable option. However, if your program involves a blend of academic study, cultural exchange, or practical work experience, the J-1 visa might be a better fit.

Yes! The J-1 visa program isn’t just for individual exchange participants! If you plan to embark on a J-1 program in the U.S., you can bring your family under the J-2 visa classification. This applies to your spouse and any unmarried children under 21, regardless of their nationality.

While your spouse and children can seek employment authorization, it’s essential to understand a fundamental restriction. Their income cannot be used as a primary source of financial support for you, the J-1 visa holder. Think of it as a way for them to gain valuable work experience or contribute financially to household expenses, but not as a replacement for your funding requirements.

The process is relatively straightforward if your spouse or child desires to pursue employment opportunities in the U.S. They must file Form I-765, the Employment Authorization Petition, with USCIS.

The two-year home-country physical presence requirement means that if your program falls under specific conditions, you must return to your home country for at least two years after your exchange program concludes. This requirement is established by U.S. immigration law, specifically Section 212(e) of the I.N.A.

There are three main scenarios where a J-1 exchange visitor must comply with the two-year home-country physical presence requirement:

  • Government funding: If your exchange program is financed in whole or in part by the U.S. government, the government of your home country, or your country of last legal residence, the two-year requirement applies. This means that funding from any of these entities could trigger the requirement.
  • Graduate medical education/training: If your primary purpose for entering the U.S. is to receive graduate medical education or training through a J-1 program, you’ll likely be subject to the two-year requirement.
  • Specialized skills on the exchange visitor skills list: This applies if you’re a citizen or permanent resident of a country that has identified your specific field of expertise as crucial for their national development. 

If you’re subject to the two-year home-country requirement, your activities will be limited after your exchange program ends. You cannot take any of the following actions until you’ve completed the two-year residency period in your home country:

There might be a light at the end of the tunnel if you cannot fulfill the two-year home-country residency requirement due to exceptional circumstances. You can apply for a waiver.

We recommend you understand the U.S. D.O.S. views on waivers if you believe a waiver might apply to your situation.

Do You Need Help with Your J-1 Student/Exchange Program Visa Application?

If you feel slightly overwhelmed by the J1 visa requirements, rules, and procedures, you’re not alone, but we can help! 

The experts at ImmigrationDirect can provide specialized guidance throughout your J-1 exchange program experience. Whether you want to know more about eligibility requirements, need help with the application process, or seek to understand your options for bringing family, extending your stay, or changing your visa status, our team of immigration attorneys and advisors is here to support you.

Get in touch with us today to schedule a consultation and ensure an easy, hassle-free path toward a successful J-1 exchange program!

Scroll to Top
immigration direct logo