J-1 Exchange Visitors

The J program offers many opportunities for many kinds of short-term work, study, and research in the United States. This includes summer work in resorts for college students, internships, and short-term intra-company transferees who would not qualify under the L category.

The J categories include: college and graduate students with substantial financial sponsorship from an independent source (may obtain 18 months of work authorization, up to 36 months for post-docs); post-secondary students engaged in summer work and travel; high school students (one year foreign exchange programs); short-term scholars (six months maximum); trainees in a specific field of endeavor (18 month maximum, except 24 months for flight instruction); primary and secondary school teachers (3 year maximum); professors and research scholars (now 5 years, may not be tenure-track); other specialists coming to teach, consult or demonstrate special skills (one year); doctors engaged in graduate medical education (must be sponsored by the Educational Commission on Foreign Medical Graduates); invited guests of the Department of State (one year); invited guests of federal, state or local government agencies (18 months); camp counselors (must be 18 years of age, stay limited to 4 months per year, no limit on number of years); and au pairs (combined child care and college level study, one year, may be extended for second year).

All J visitors must be sponsored by a government organization or private exchange program approved by the Department of State. The key to success in using the J visa is to find the sponsor that is right for you. Many sponsors can authorize you to work for a third-party employer which is not itself an exchange program.

Once you have been approved by a sponsor, the sponsor issues a form DS-2019, similar to the I-20 issued to F or M students. This form is then used to obtain a visa stamp from a U.S. consulate abroad. Canadian citizens don’t need visas and apply directly at the border with their DS-2019. It is also possible to apply for a change of status to J-1. All J nonimmigrants must demonstrate the necessary nonimmigrant intent, that is, that you will return to your home country once your authorized stay is completed. Spouses and dependents of J-1s are admitted as J-2s. A major advantage of the J category is that J-2 dependents can apply for work authorization. All J visitors must have proof of a specialized form of health insurance to cover them in the U.S. This is usually arranged through the sponsor.

Many J visitors are subject to section 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This prohibits a former J from acquiring H or L temporary worker status, or permanent residence, until the person has lived for two years in her country of nationality or last permanent residence. Today, there are three categories subject to 212(e): visitors financed by the U.S. government or the visitor’s home government (for instance, Fulbright scholars); visitors who have obtained new skills which are listed on the “skills list” for the person’s home country; and (3) visitors who have received graduate medical education. J-2s are subject to 212(e) as well if the principal J visitor is. There are several waivers available. If a person is subject to 212(e) solely due to the skills list, a “no objection” letter from the embassy of the home country will normally result in a waiver. Waivers are available if the return of the visitor to her home country will result in exceptional hardship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or child, or persecution based on race, religion, or political opinion. Finally, a waiver may be granted based on a request by an interested government agency. This may include a medical appointment in a V.A. Hospital, or a request by a state for service by a physician in a medically underserved area.

Look before you leap! We can help you find the J program that is right for you!