J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa

The J-1 Exchange Visitor visa program, operated by the U.S. Department of State, allows foreign nationals (“FNs”) from any country to pursue a specific objective in the United States. A J-1 visa holder may enter the United States as a student, scholar, trainee, intern, teacher, professor, research scholar, specialist or leader in a field of specialized knowledge or skill, foreign medical graduate, summer student work/travel program participant, physician, international visitor, government visitor, camp counselor, or au pair. A J-1 Exchange Visitor must be coming to the United States for the purpose of instruction, observation, research, consulting, demonstrating specialized skills, or receiving training.

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program was designed to facilitate international exchange and is for individuals approved to participate in work- and study-based exchange visitor programs. The primary purpose is to expose foreign visitors to American methodologies, expertise, and culture, and subsequently have those visitors return to their countries to share that learning with others. The programs offered through the J-1 Visa enable FNs to come to the U.S. to pursue a specific objective in the U.S., such as through teaching, studying, conducting research, demonstrating special skills, or receiving on-the-job training. The categories that are most applicable to the private sector are the “Trainee” and “Intern” categories, each of which has different eligibility requirements.

The J-1 Trainee Visa allows foreign professionals to come to enhance their skills and expertise in their academic occupational fields through participation in a structure and guided training-based program. The permitted occupational fields include arts and culture; agriculture, forestry, and fishing; construction; education; health related occupations; hospitality and tourism; information media and communications; management, business, commerce and finance; public administration and law; and the sciences. The duration of participation in this category varies between 12 and 18 months, depending on the specific occupational training category. To be eligible for a J-1 Trainee Visa, the FN must:

  • Possess a degree or professional certificate from a foreign post-secondary academic institution and at least one (1) year of prior related work experience in his or her occupational field outside the U.S.; or
  • Possess five (5) years of work experience outside the U.S. in the occupational field in which they are seeking training.

The J-1 Intern Visa allows foreign college and university students or recent graduates to come to the U.S. to gain exposure to U.S. culture and to receive hands-on experience in U.S. business practices in their chosen occupational field. The duration of participation must not exceed 12 months. To be eligible for a J-1 intern visa, the FN must be a foreign national who:

  • Is currently enrolled in and pursuing studies at a foreign degree- or certificate-granting post-secondary academic institution outside the U.S.; or
  • Has graduated from such an institution no more than 12 months prior to their exchange visitor program start date.

The trainees and interns may not be placed in unskilled or casual labor positions, in positions that require or involve childcare or elder care, or in any positions that require more than 20% clerical or office support work. In addition, interns may not be placed in a position that involves medical patient care or contact, trainees may not be placed in positions that are filled or would be filled by full-time or part-time employees, and training cannot duplicate a trainee participant’s prior work experience or training.

To receive a J-1 visa, the FN must first apply to and be accepted by an Exchange Visitor Program designated by the U.S. Department of State. Upon acceptance, the Exchange Visitor Program will issue a DS-2019 and DS-7002 form, which are used to apply directly to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy to obtain the J-1 visa stamp. To qualify for the J-1 visa, the FN must prove s/he has sufficient financial resources, will be covered by health insurance the entire length of the J-1 program, and demonstrate that s/he has sufficient knowledge of the English language to participate in the program.

To help ensure that they will return to their home countries, exchange visitors must also prove that they have a residence abroad which they have no intention of abandoning. Some exchange visitors will be subject to a two-year home residency requirement, depending on the visitor’s home country and specific skills set. If subject to that requirement, the exchange visitor will not be able to change to another status while in the U.S., nor will they be able to apply for an H or L visa, or for status as a Permanent Resident, until the exchange visitor returns to their home country (or country of last residence) and physically resides there for two (2) years. While it is possible to waive this requirement in some cases, exchange visitors with a home residence requirement should be prepared to return to their home country after completion of their J-1 program.