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Apply for a J-1 Visa: The Student Exchange Program

Apply for a J-1 Visa: The Student Exchange Program
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Questions About the Student Exchange Program

What is the Student Exchange Program?

Student Exchange Program

The Student Exchange Program, officially known as the College and University Student Program, allows foreign college and university students to study or intern in the U.S. This program operates under the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa, the visa issued to study abroad participants.

In 2012, the Student Exchange Program paired over 40,000 foreign students with U.S. colleges, universities and employers1. Programs are available throughout the country, from California to New York to Alaska. Improve your English, travel the U.S. and get school credit!

The Student Exchange Program is a part of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa. Through 14 diverse programs, the J-1 Visa provides unique cultural exchanges between foreign countries and the U.S. Currently, there are 170,000 monthly participants in the U.S., working, studying and teaching through J-1 programs2. Some of the most popular programs are:

  • The Holiday Work Program, which allows college and university students to work in the U.S. on their summer holiday.
  • The Internship Program, which allows college and university students to intern with a U.S. company.
  • The Au Pair Program, which allows young people to experience U.S. culture by living with a host family, babysitting the family's children, and studying in the U.S.

Learn more about the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa here!

What types of programs qualify under the J-1 Visa?

Student Exchange Programs are:

  • Study abroad and internship programs between U.S. educational institutions and foreign educational institutions
  • Study abroad and internship programs between the U.S. government and foreign governments
  • Internships with U.S. employers that fulfill educational requirements in the foreign student's program of study

Check with a school advisor or contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country to see what programs are available.

Who qualifies for the Student Exchange Program?

To be eligible for the Student Exchange Program:

  • You must be enrolled in a full-time course of a study at higher education institution outside the U.S. Universities, colleges and academies may all qualify as higher education institutions.
  • You must not pursue a degree while in the U.S. These programs are meant to be temporary study abroad programs.
  • You must be able to communicate in English.
  • You must have enough money to pay for your trip in the U.S.

What is the difference between the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa and the F-1 Student Visa?

While both the J-1 and F-1 visas allow you to study at U.S. higher education institutions, there are some key differences between them. Universities, colleges and academies may all qualify as higher education institutions.

J-1 visas are for students participating in designated exchange visitor programs, such as study abroad programs between universities and government-to-government exchange programs. J-1 students may enroll in a degree or non-degree program at a U.S. higher education institution, or participate in a student internship. Examples of J-1 student exchange programs include the Fulbright programs, Rotary Foundation programs and NATO programs.

F-1 visas are for students who wish to complete a full course of study and obtain a degree from a U.S. higher education institution. F-1 visas are for general admittance into a U.S. school, rather than admittance through a special program.

Visa TypeF-1 Student VisaJ-1 Visa, Student Exchange Program
Source of fundingThere are no restrictions on where an F-1 student can obtain funding for their tuition costs.Depending on the type of program, the student may be required to seek funding from a source other than personal or family funds. For example, a scholarship, fellowship or government sponsorship.
Off-campus employmentStudents may be permitted to work off-campus in jobs that directly relate to their field of study.Unless exceptional and extreme circumstances, J-1 students are not allowed to work off campus.
On-campus employmentStudents are permitted to work part time when school is in session and full time during school holidays.J-1 students can only work if their program permits it and if their program officer gives permission. When school is in session, they may work no more than 20 hours a week.
Permitted to bring family to the U.S.F-1 students may bring dependent family to the U.S. on F-2 visas.J-1 students may bring dependent family to the U.S. on J-2 visas.
Required to return home at the end of the programF-1 students do not need to return home after they complete their studies in order to be eligible for another U.S. visa.Depending on the program, J-1 students may be required to return home for two years after the completion of their program in order to be eligible for another U.S. visa.

Steps to Follow when Applying for the J-1 Visa, Student Exchange Program

Step 1: Apply for and be accepted into the Student Exchange Program.

You will need to apply for and be accepted into the Student Exchange Program before you can apply for a J-1 visa. You must find a program sponsor (a U.S. college or university for study or U.S. company for an internship) and apply through them. Many foreign universities and colleges have study abroad programs with the U.S. already in place. Contact your program advisor to see if you qualify.

The program sponsor issues participants a Certificate of Eligibility which they need in the visa application process.

Step 2: Receive a Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status and pay the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee.

You will need to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee of $180 USD upon receiving the Certificate of Eligibility. Be sure to print the receipt after paying this fee; you will need it at the visa interview.

Step 3: Complete Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application and submit to the U.S. Department of State.

You will need to upload a digital passport-sized photograph with this application. If you have trouble uploading the photograph, you can bring one to the visa interview.

Be sure to print the confirmation page after completing the application; you will need it at the visa interview.

Step 4: Pay the visa application fee.

The fee is $160.00 USD.

Step 5: Schedule an interview with a U.S. embassy or consulate in the country where you live.

Step 6: Collect required documents for your visa interview.

You will be required to bring the following documents to your visa interview:

  • The interview appointment notice
  • A passport that is valid for at least six months past your planned date of departure
  • The confirmation page from your Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application
  • Application fee payment receipt, if you are required to pay before the interview (MRV fee)
  • Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status (issued by your program sponsor)

The U.S. embassy or consulate where your interview will take place may request you provide additional documentation, such as evidence of:

  • The purpose of your trip
  • Your intent to leave the U.S. after your trip
  • Your ability to pay all the costs of your trip

Step 7: Attend the visa interview.

The visa interview will take place at the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country where you live. You will be interviewed by a consular officer who will determine if you are qualified to receive a visa. He or she will review your documentation and visa application, ask you questions about your personal history and the reason for your trip to the U.S.

If the consular officer approves you for a visa, he or she will take your passport and have a visa placed in it. When your passport with visa is ready, you will be notified to pick it up or it will be sent to you.

The consular officer should return Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility to you. You will need this to enter the U.S.

In most cases, you will also have biometrics (fingerprint, photograph and signature) taken during, before or after your interview.

Step 8: Pay the visa reciprocity fee.

Depending on your nationality, you may have to pay a visa issuance fee if your visa is approved.

Do I need to enroll in a school or find an internship before leaving my country?

Student Exchange Program

Yes. Only after you've been accepted into the Student Exchange Program and enrolled in a school or placed in an internship, will you be able to apply for a visa and travel to the U.S.

The most common way to participate in the Student Exchange Program is through your college or university or through your government. Many foreign schools have study abroad programs set up with schools in the U.S. And, there are many government sponsored country-to-country cultural exchanges available for students. Check with a school advisor or contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country to see what programs are available.

How long before my Student Exchange Program starts can I arrive in the U.S.?

With a J-1 visa, you can arrive in the U.S. up to 30 days before the start of your program. If you wish to travel in the U.S. more than 30 days before the start of your program, you must obtain a visitor visa. However, this is discouraged as you will have to adjust your status and if there is a delay, you may miss the start of your program.

What is the Student Exchange Program's length?

The maximum duration of the program is 24 months. Not all participants are issued 24-month visas. Visas are issued generally for only the duration of the particular program.

How can I extend my stay in the U.S. on a J-1 visa?

J-1 participants should contact their designated program officer to extend their status. Generally, extensions are not granted if it means the participant will stay in the U.S. beyond program's maximum length (24 months).

What happens if I drop out of school or am expelled before my program ends?

If you withdraw from your program or are expelled, you must notify your program sponsor immediately. Your sponsor will enter this information into the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS) and you are expected to depart the country immediately.

Can I bring my family with me to the U.S.?

Yes! The J-2 visa is available for family members of J-1 visa holders participating in the Internship Program. The spouses and children of J-1 interns may accompany them to the U.S. on the J-2 visas. They are even permitted to work during their stay by applying for an Employment Authorization Document, commonly known as a work permit.

What are the other J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa programs?

The other J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa programs are:

  • Au pair
  • Camp counselor
  • Government intern
  • Internship
  • International visitor
  • Physician
  • Professor and research scholar
  • Secondary school student
  • Short-term scholar
  • Specialist
  • Holiday Work
  • Teacher
  • Trainee

1 retrieved Oct.18,2013, http://j1visa.state.gov/basics/facts-and-figures/participant-and-sponsor-totals/?program=College+and+University+Student&state=&x=8&y=12
2 retrieved Oct. 14, 2013, http://j1visa.state.gov/basics/facts-and-figures/

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