The J-1 Visa

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program was created to offer foreign nationals cultural and educational exchange opportunities in the United States through a variety of programs overseen by the U.S. State Department. The J-1 Visa programs are offered in the following categories:

  • Au Pair
  • Camp Counselor
  • College and University Student
  • Government Visitor
  • Intern
  • International Visitor (Department of State use)
  • Physician
  • Professor and Research Scholar
  • Secondary School Student
  • Short-Term Scholar
  • Specialist
  • Summer Work Travel
  • Teacher
  • Trainee

Each J-1 visa must be sponsored by an agency or organization that has an approved exchange program by the U.S. Department of State. For many J-1 visa programs, the visa sponsor is the approved agency or organization. The organization that the J-1 visa-holder is working for another entity is often called the host organization or host family for au-pairs.

The J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa. This means the visa is intended to be a temporary visa and is not a way for the applicant to remain in the U.S. indefinitely. Visa applicants will have to prove substantial ties to their home country in order to satisfy the consular officer that they will return there after the J-1 visa ends.

J-2 for Dependents

Spouses and minor children of J-1 visa holders are eligible for J-2 status. J-2 spouses of J-1 visa holders are eligible to file and obtain an Employment Authorization Document from the USCIS in order to work in the United States. However, their earned income may not be used to support the principal J-1 Visa holder.

The Two-Year Home Residency Requirement

Some J-1 programs subject their participants to a two-year home country residency requirement, which means that their J-1 participants must return to their home country and reside there for a minimum period of two years before being eligible to apply for other nonimmigrant visas or for U.S. permanent resident status also known as green cards. Programs that will exempt the J-1 visa holder from having to fulfill this requirement include:

  1. Government funded exchange program –  A program which was financed in whole or in part directly or indirectly by the U.S. government (such as Fulbright) or the government of the exchange visitor’s nationality or last residence;
  2. Graduate medical education or training – The exchange visitor entered the U.S. to receive graduate medical education or training through ECFMG;
  3. Specialized knowledge or skill included in the Exchange Visitor Skills List – Some countries deem the field of specialized knowledge or skill necessary to the development of the country. They appear on the State Department’s Exchange Visitor Skills List. If the J-1 exchange visitor is a national or permanent resident of such a country, and the skill is included on the list, the person is subject to the two-year home residency requirement.

In some cases, it may be possible to obtain a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement in order to stay in the U.S. To learn about the J-1 Waiver of the Two-Year Home Residency Requirement, please click here.

The J-1 visa is very complex and it is difficult to know in advance whether you will be subject to the two-year home residency requirement or not. If you are unsure whether this requirement applies to you or your situation, call our office, which has immigration attorneys who have experience with J-1 visas in order to assist you with your case. It is better for you to know in advance whether or not you will be subject to return home and what options you may have for a waiver before you come to the U.S.