Cultural and Educational Exchange Visas

What is a J-1 visa?

The J-1 visa offers cultural and educational exchange opportunities in the U.S. through a variety of programs overseen by the U.S. State Department.  The J-1 exchange visitor program is most appropriate for young leaders eager to hone their skills, strengthen their English language abilities, connect with Americans, share their culture, and get training that will help them in future careers.  Exchange visitors under J-1 visas are expected to return to their home country upon completion of their program in order to share their experiences.  For some J-1 visas, you are required to reside in your home country for at least two (2) years after completing your J-1 program before you can apply for a work visa or permanent residency.  

What types of J-1 visa programs are available?

There are 15 different categories under the J-1 visa program, of which, 13 categories include privately-funded programs Exchange visitors on private sector programs may study, teach, do research, share their specialized skills, or receive on-the-job training. In addition, there are 2 categories that are publicly funded: International Visitors and Government Visitors.  Here is a complete list of exchange programs available for a J-1 visa:

  • College and university students
  • Secondary school students
  • Short-term scholars
  • Trainees
  • Interns
  • Teachers
  • Professors and research scholars
  • Specialists
  • Alien physicians
  • International and government visitors
  • Camp counselors
  • Summer work/travel students
  • Au pairs
  • Special education exchange visitors

How can I qualify for a J-1 visa?

The criteria for your eligibility will depend on your J-1 visa program category.  For some categories, you must do a personal interview in order to qualify for the program.  In addition to program-specific criteria, you must have sufficient English proficiency to participate effectively in your program, and also demonstrate that you intend to leave the U.S. at the end of your J-1 visa program.  

Do I need an employer to apply for a J-1 visa?

Since J-1 visas are not designated for direct employment, you would need a “sponsor” for your J-1 visa, which could be the U.S. government, an academic institution, or a private organization designated by the State Department.  Your program sponsor will support and monitor your stay during your entire program. U.S. companies wishing to improve their business with international talents or training foreign nationals to start overseas branches or expand internationally may also greatly benefit from the J-1 visa program. Once the U.S. host company finds a designated sponsor, the sponsor will administer the exchange program and connect the host company with J-1 visa participants from all over the world.  

How long can I stay in the U.S. under J-1 visa?

Your authorized stay in the U.S. under J-1 visa will depend on the length of your program.  Regardless of the validity period of the J-1 visa stamp you will receive on your passport, you can only stay during the program period indicated on your Form DS-2019 issued by your program sponsor.  You can enter up to 30 days before the starting date of your program on the DS-2019 to get ready, and you may stay in the U.S. for up to 30 days after your program ends (“grace period”).

Can I quit my program early or work for a different employer?

You can withdraw from your exchange program earlier than the original end date without completing it, but be careful to remember that you will not get the 30 days grace period.  You must plan your withdrawal carefully, as you will have to depart the U.S. right away. As a J-1 visa holder, you may only perform the activity listed on your Form DS-2019 provided by your sponsor and you may not work or engage in unauthorized activities with another employer.

Can I bring my family members?

Depending on your program category, you may bring your spouse or children under the age of 21 as your dependents under J-2 visa.  The exchange categories of au pair, camp counselor, secondary school student, and summer work travel do not permit J-2 visas for family members.  Other J-2 visa holders can legally work in the U.S. as long as they obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) from the USCIS. All J-2 visa holders may also engage in full or part-time study in the U.S. without having to obtain a separate F-1 student visa.