What you need to know about the Exchange Visitor Visa

The Exchange Visitor Program, or J-1 visa program, was implemented by the U.S. government in the early 1960s. The goal of the program is to promote cultural exchange by inviting non-immigrant visitors to enter the U.S. to obtain business or medical training. All immigrant applicants must be sponsored by a government program or private organization.

The United States’ motivation behind enacting the Exchange Visitor Program was to encourage the understanding of other cultures through educational and cultural exchanges. The U.S. Department of State plays the primary role in providing J-1 visas to immigrant exchange visitors.

A J-1 Visa is a non-immigrant visa, meaning it is granted to individuals who are not seeking a path to citizenship. Those individuals that hold J-1 exchange visas are permitted to travel to the United States through a Department of State-approved sponsor program. They are permitted to study, receive training, teach or demonstrate special skills. Sponsors for J-1 visas must be accredited through the Exchange Visitor Program that is designated by the U.S. State Department.

Some designated sponsor organizations include those that cater to au pairs, camp counselors, college or university students, interns, teachers or trainees.

Individuals that qualify for a J-1 visa if they are sponsored through an accredited Exchange Visitor Program include but are not limited to:

  • Government visitors
  • International visitors
  • Physicians
  • Professors and research scholars
  • Secondary school students
  • Short-term scholars
  • Specialists
  • Summer work travelers

According to visa regulations, an individual holding a J-1 visa may stay in the U.S. until the end of their exchange program. Once the program ends, they may remain in the country for an additional 30 days (often referred to as a “grace period”) in order to prepare for departure from the U.S.. If the visitor leaves the United States during these 30 days, they may not re-enter with the J-1 visa.

There are certain types of J-1 exchange visas that require the immigrant to return to their home country or country of last permanent residence for a period of two years after the expiration of the J-1 status.