Non-immigrants who participate in U.S. Department of State approved exchange programs by sharing their educational, artistic, and scientific knowledge and skills can apply for a J-1 Visa. There are two classifications of J-1 Visa:
(1) J-1 Visa that does not require the two-year residency requirement; and
(2) J-1 Visa that requires the two-year residency requirement.
With a J-1 Visa, the non-immigrant can travel in and out of the U. S. or stay continuously until the completion of the exchange program. J-1 Visa non-immigrants can work legally in the United States if permitted by the exchange program or if it is inclusive of the work to be done in the exchange program.
Qualifications for the J-1 Visa
Non-immigrants with the following academic or career background can qualify to apply for a J-1 Visa:
- Students from all academic levels;
- On-the-job Training recipients in firms, institutions, and agencies;
- Primary, Secondary, and Specialized Education Teachers;
- Professors who will teach or do research at higher learning institutions (i.e. universities);
- Research Scholars;
- Professionals who will be trained in the medical and allied fields; and
- International visitors who will travel, observe, consult, research, train, share, or demonstrate specialized knowledge or skills, or participate in organized people-to-people programs.
Other Requirements for J-1 Visa Holders
- J-1 Visa holders must also to meet the scholastic requirements of the exchange programs, including knowledge of English, or if not required, the exchange program must be able to demonstrate that it is designed to accommodate Non-English speaking J-1 Visa holders.
- For J-1 Visa holders who are entering the United States for graduate medical education or training, they must pass the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination in Medical Sciences and demonstrate competency in English before approval of the visa.
U. S. Department of State Exchange Visitor Program
The U.S. Department of State designates public and private entities to participate in the Exchange Visitor Program. Below is the list of U. S. Department of State Exchange Visitor Programs designated by specific categories. If you click on the categories, you will be directed to the link on the State Department page explaining each category of the J-1 Visa and links to some of the organizations one can apply to.
Two-Year Residency Requirement
Upon completion of the J-1 Visa program, certain J-1 Visa holders must return to their home countries or countries of last residence for at least two years in order to share the knowledge, skills, and expertise gained in the J-1 Visa program. The Department of State, pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 212(e), identified the three categories of J-1 Visa programs whose holders must meet the two-year residency requirement outside of the United States.
- Government funded exchange program - The program in which the exchange visitor was participating was financed in whole or in part directly or indirectly by the U.S. government or the government of the exchange visitor's nationality or last residence.
- Graduate medical education or training - The exchange visitor entered the U.S. to receive graduate medical education or training.
- Specialized knowledge or skill: Skills List - The exchange visitor is a national or permanent resident of a country which has deemed the field of specialized knowledge or skill necessary to the development of the country, as shown on the Exchange Visitor Skills List - http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_4514.html.
Two-Year Residency Waiver
Upon completion of the J-1 Visa exchange program, visa holders must return to their home countries or countries of last residence in order to meet the two-year residency requirement. They will not be able to adjust their status to that of the H, L, and K non-immigrant visas or to that of the lawful permanent residence status. However, there is a waiver that the J-1 Visa holder can apply for in order to overcome the two-year residency requirement. Different basis for the waiver are:
- Possible persecution on account of the J-1 Visa holder's race, religion or political opinion;
- Exceptional Hardship on United States citizen or Lawful permanent resident spouse or child;
- If the J-1 Visa holder's country issues a "no objection statement;"
- If a United States agency initiates interest in the J-1 Visa holder due to (1) public interest; and (2) that the two-year residency requirement would be "clearly detrimental" to the governmental agency's program or activity; and
- Foreign medical doctors who have a full-time offer to work at a health care facility in certain designated areas if they sign a three-year employment contract.
Change of Status for Other J-1 Visa Holders
Other J-1 Visa holders not subject to the two-year residency requirement may change their status to that of the H, L, K, and lawful permanent resident status (employment-based or family-based). They will have to still meet the requirements specified under each of the visas.
Dependents of J-1 Visa Holders
Spouses and minor children (unmarried and 20 years old and below) may accompany or follow-to-join the J-1 Visa holder. They will be issued the J-2 Visas. Dependents of the J-1 Visa holder may work or study in the United States. For employment, they will have to first apply for an employment authorization document from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the income from such employment is not needed to support the J-1 Visa holder.
Note: Obtaining a J-1 Visa can be a complicated process and, therefore, it is advisable to contact an Immigration Attorney to ensure a higher probability of success in the J-1 Visa process.