J – Cultural Exchange Visas

The cultural exchange visa, or J visa, is used by individuals to promote a cultural and educational exchange between the US and foreign nations. J visa holders visit the US and share their culture
and knowledge with Americans while gaining expertise or experiences that they share in their
home countries to facilitate the exchange of ideas across international borders. The categories
of individuals eligible for a J-1 visa include:

  • Au pair
  • Camp counselor
  • College, university, and secondary students
  • Government visitor
  • International visitor (reserved for U.S. Department of State use)
  • Intern
  • Physician
  • Professor
  • Research scholar
  • Short-term scholar
  • Specialist
  • Summer work or travel
  • Teacher at a primary or secondary school
  • Trainee

Each visitor exchange category has unique requirements and is designed for specific uses.  J visa holders may come to the US for a period of three months to three years, depending on the type of program. Foreign nationals may obtain J visa status by applying through an approved sponsoring organization. Sponsoring organizations include schools, private companies, or other organizations approved by the US Department of State (DOS).  All J visa exchange visitor
applicants must have a SEVIS-generated DS 2019 issued by the DOS-designated sponsor, which they submit when they are applying for their exchange visitor visa. The most common types of J visa holders are described below.

  • J-1 Trainees

J-1 trainee visas enable individuals to participate in on-the job training and internships with private companies, institutions, and other agencies. The individual must possess a degree or professional certificate from a foreign post-secondary academic institution and at least one year of prior related work experience in their occupational field outside the US or five years of work experience outside the US in the occupational field. The individual must apply for J-1 visa status through a DOS-designated program sponsor. These J-1 trainee visas are valid for a period of 3 to 18 months and may be used for any of the following occupational categories: arts and culture; information media and communication; education; social sciences, library science, counseling, and social services; management, business, commerce, and finance; health related occupations; aviation; the sciences, engineering, architecture, mathematics, and industrial occupations; construction and building trades; agriculture, forestry and fishing; and public administration and law.

The training program provides exchange visitors the opportunity to enhance their skills in their chosen field through participation in a structured training program and to improve their knowledge of American techniques, methodologies, or expertise within their field of endeavor. Employers may not use the J-1 trainee program for ordinary employment or work purposes, but only as a training or cultural exchange program.

J-1 Students

This category provides foreign students the opportunity to study at a degree-granting post-
secondary accredited educational institution. J-1 student visa holders are admitted to the US
for the length of their program and also receive a period of authorized practical training similar
to students in F status. This period ranges from 18 months for undergraduate and pre-doctoral
training to 36 months for post-doctoral training. J-1 visa holders need not apply to the USCIS
for work authorization, as they are work authorized as incident to their J-1 status as long as
the employment is within the program guidelines as approved by the Department of State
Organizations may employ J-1 student visa holders if the following conditions are met:

  • The student is in the United States primarily to study rather than engage in academic
  • The work is directly related to the student’s major field of study at the post-secondary
accredited educational institution listed on the Form DS-2019; and
  • The student is in good academic standing.

In addition, some J-1students who demonstrate economic necessity may accept outside employment. To obtain employment, all J-1 student visa holders must provide the employer with a letter from the responsible officer authorizing the period of practical training and the Form DS-2019, as well as a passport and I-94 denoting admission in J-1 status.

  • J-1 Professors or Research Scholars

As participants in these program categories, foreign professors and research scholars engage
in research, teaching, and lecturing with their American colleagues. Foreign nationals participating
in a program for research scholars at a US university may engage in post-doctoral research with
an outside employer through the university’s exchange program if allowed under the terms of the university’s program.

  • Spouses and Dependents of J-1 Visa Holders

The spouses and dependents of J visa holders are eligible for J-2 visa status for the period of
time depending on the principal J-1 visa holder’s program’s duration. J-2 visa holders may obtain permission from the USCIS for employment authorization as long as the employment is for their
own support and not for the support of the J-1 recipient.

  • Two-Year Return Requirement

Some J visa holders must reside in their home country for two years after completion of their
program before they are eligible to apply for permanent resident status, an immigrant visa,
or H, L, or K non-immigrant status. This two-year return requirement applies to those
individuals who:

  • Participated in a program which received funding from the US government or
from the foreign national’s government;
  • Are nationals or residents of countries designated by the US government as
clearly requiring the services of persons engaged in the foreign national’s field
of specialization (subject to the “skills list”); or
  • Came to the US or obtained a J visa to receive graduate medical training on
or after January 10, 1977.

Waivers of the two-year return requirement may be sought in the following cases:

  • Exceptional hardship to a US citizen or permanent resident spouse, parent,
or child of the status holder;
  • Fear of persecution on account of nationality, race, religion, political opinion,
or membership in a particular social group;
  • Request by an interested US government agency;
  • Request by a designated state Department of Health or its equivalent (only
available for medical doctors); or
  • Proof that the foreign national’s home country does not object to the grant of
the waiver (not available for medical doctors).

Individuals wishing to apply for a waiver of the two-year return requirement apply to the
Department of State which will then issue appropriate instructions depending on the type
of waiver sought.

Copyright © 2009 Law Offices of Melissa Harms All rights reserved.

The above discussion is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. Individuals should visit a licensed attorney to evaluate the legal circumstances surrounding their situation and to receive appropriate legal advice.