J-1 Visa: Exchange Visitor Visa (US Exchange Programs)
- What is an Exchange Program?
- What is an Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa?
- When Can a B-1 or B-2 Visitor Visa Be Used Instead of a J-1 Visa?
- Exchange Visitors Cannot Travel on the Visa Waiver Program
- Can I Enter on a US Visitor Visa (B-1 or B-2 Visa) and Change Status to a J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa?
- Am I Eligible for a J-1 Visa / Exchange Visitor Visa?
- How Do I Apply for an Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa?
- Documents Required for an Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa
- Fees for an Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa
- Visa Ineligibility / Visa Waiver
- Visa Denials - Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa
- Bringing Family Members of a J-1 Exchange Visitor
- My J-1 Visa Has Been Issued - When Can I Travel to the US?
- Admission through a US Port of Entry on an Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa
- How Long Can I Stay in the US After My Exchange Program Ends?
- How Do I Extend My Stay on a J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa?
- Staying Beyond My Authorized Stay in the US and Being Out of Status
- J-1 Visa Foreign Residence Requirement
- HELP! with My Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa
If you are looking for a US student exchange program in which to participate,
see US Student Exchange Programs.
If you are interested in learning how you may waive the 2-year foreign residency requirement, see J-1 Visa Waiver of the Foreign Residence Requirement for Exchange Visitors.
What is an Exchange Program?
An exchange program is a situation in which two or more countries have made arrangements for their citizens to visit each other's country reciprocally for similar purposes such as to study, make professional contacts, teach, or conduct research. The United States operates a number of exchange programs with other countries, and persons who are accepted into an exchange program are issued a special class of visa that identifies them. For information on finding a student exchange program in which to participate, see US Student Exchange Programs.
What is an Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa?
An Exchange Visitor Visa is a nonimmigrant (temporary) visa that allow foreign nationals to enter the United States to participate in an exchange program. There are two classifications: the J-1 Visa is for educational and cultural exchange programs designated by the U.S. State Department, and the Q-1 Visa (a Temporary Worker Visa) is for international cultural exchange programs designated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This page discusses the J-1 Visa.
The "J" exchange visitor program is designed to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills in the fields of education, arts, and sciences. Participants include students at all academic levels; trainees obtaining on-the-job training with firms, institutions, and agencies; teachers of primary, secondary, and specialized schools; professors coming to teach or do research at institutions of higher learning; research scholars; professional trainees in the medical and allied fields; and international visitors coming for the purpose of travel, observation, consultation, research, training, sharing, or demonstrating specialized knowledge or skills, or participating in organized people-to-people programs.
When Can a B-1 or B-2 Visitor Visa Be Used Instead of a J-1 Visa?
In certain circumstances, some activities that are done on an Exchange Visitor Visa are also permitted on a business (B-1) or tourist (B-2) visitor visa. Short periods of study, or study which is recreational, and not vocational, and incidental to the trip, is permitted on a B visitor visa. The determining factor is the traveler's primary purpose in coming to the U.S. Any kind of study that would earn credit or certification is not permitted on a B visitor visa. As an example, if you are taking a vacation to the U.S., and during this vacation you would like to take a two-day cooking class for your enjoyment, and there is no credit earned, then this would be permitted on a B visitor visa. A consular officer will determine the visa category you will need based on the purpose of your travel, and your supporting documentation.
Exchange Visitors Cannot Travel on the Visa Waiver Program
Exchange visitor program participants cannot travel on the Visa Waiver Program, nor can they travel on a B-1 or B-2 Visitor Visa. Those travelers coming on the Visa Waiver Program to participate in an exchange program may be denied admission to the US by the US immigration inspector at the port of entry.
Can I Enter on a US Visitor Visa (B-1 or B-2 Visa) and Change Status to a J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa?
If you want an earlier entry in the US (more than 30 days prior to the course start date), you must qualify for, and obtain a US Visitor Visa (B-1 or B-2 Visa); however, this is strongly discouraged. If you travel to the US on a B visitor visa before beginning an exchange program, you must obtain a change of visa classification from the B status to that of J. You must file USCIS Form I-539, Application for Change of Nonimmigrant Status, with application fee, and also submit the required Form DS-2019 to the office where the application is made. Please be aware that you cannot start your exchange visitor program until the change of status is approved, and therefore in view of the processing time to your change status in the US, you may be in danger of missing your entire exchange program waiting approval of change of visa status.
Am I Eligible for a J-1 Visa / Exchange Visitor Visa?
To qualify for an Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa, you must demonstrate sufficient funds to cover all expenses, or funds must be provided by the sponsoring organization in the form of a scholarship or other stipend.
You also must have sufficient scholastic preparation to participate in the designated program, including knowledge of the English language, or the exchange program must be designed to accommodate non-English speaking participants.
J-1 Exchange Visitors coming for graduate medical education or training must meet certain special requirements. They include having passed the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination in Medical Sciences, demonstrating competency in English, being automatically subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement, and being subject to time limits on the duration of their program. Physicians coming to the United States on exchange visitor programs for the purpose of observation, consultation, teaching, or research in which there is little or no patient care are not subject to the above requirements.
How Do I Apply for an Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa?
Generally you should apply for the Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa at the US Embassy or US Consulate with jurisdiction over your place of permanent residence. Although you may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa outside your country of permanent residence.
As part of the Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa application process, you must have an interview at the US Embassy consular section if you are from age 14 through 79, with few exceptions. Persons age 13 and younger, and age 80 and older, generally do not require an interview, unless requested by the US Embassy or US Consulate. The waiting time for an interview appointment can vary, so apply for your Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa early. Visa wait times for interview appointments, and visa processing time information for each U.S. Embassy or Consulate worldwide, is available on our website at Visa Wait Times. Learn how to schedule an appointment for an interview, pay the application processing fee, review embassy specific instructions, and much more by visiting the US Embassy or US Consulate website where you will apply.
During the Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa application process, usually at the interview, an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan will quickly be taken. Some J-1 Visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the interview by a Consular Officer.
- DS 2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status, which is provided to you by your program sponsor.
- All J Visa trainee or intern visa applicants (based on Box 7 on form) must also present Training/Internship Placement Plan, Form DS-7002 when applying for a visa.
- Online Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application. Some US Embassies and US Consulates that have not converted to this new online process may require older nonimmigrant application forms. See Form DS-160 for more information.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must complete an application.
- One (1) 2x2 photograph. See the required photo format explained in Nonimmigrant Visa Photograph Requirements;
- You must demonstrate to the consular officer that you have binding ties to a residence outside the United States which you have no intention of abandoning, and that you are coming to the U.S. for a temporary period. It is impossible to specify the exact form the evidence should take since circumstances vary greatly.
- Nonimmigrant visa application processing fee. For current fees of State Department government services, see Fees for US Visa Services. You will need to provide a receipt showing the visa application processing fee has been paid, when you come for your visa interview.
- Visa issuance fee. Additionally, if the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa is issued, there may be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee. See the US Visa Reciprocity Tables to find out if you must pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee and what the amount is. Note that US Government sponsored J-Visa exchange visitors and their dependents are not required to pay any applicable reciprocity fees.
Visa Ineligibility / Visa Waiver
There are categories of persons ineligible to receive visas under U.S. law. In some instances an applicant who is ineligible, but who is otherwise properly classifiable as a J-1 Exchange Visitor, may apply for a waiver of ineligibility and be issued a visa if the waiver is approved. If you are found to be ineligible, the consular officer will advise you of any waivers.
Visa Denials - Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa
If you are denied a J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa, you may apply again if there is new evidence to overcome the basis for the refusal. In the absence of new evidence, consular officers are not obligated to re-examine such cases. For more information, see Visa Denied, Visa Refused Under 214b (Nonimmigrant Visa Denials, Visa Refusals).
Bringing Family Members of a J-1 Exchange Visitor
The J-1 Visa allows you to bring a wife, husband, or children under the age of 21, as long as your sponsor approves. The application process is the same as yours (including the issuance of a DS-2019 for each of them). They will accompany you in derivative status, meaning that their visas will be dependent on your nonimmigrant status. If you change your status, your family must change their status. If you lose your status, your family will also lose their status. Your wife / husband and children may apply for employment authorization (by filing USCIS Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization), and they may study in the US without also being required to apply for an F-1 Student Visa or changing to F-1 status.
If your wife, husband, or children do not intend to reside in the U.S. with you, but rather visit for vacations only, they may be eligible to apply for B-2 Visitor Visas (Tourist Visas), or if qualified, travel without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program.
My J-1 Visa Has Been Issued - When Can I Travel to the US?
All beginning (initial) J-1 exchange visitors and J-2 spouse and dependents must enter the US 30 days or less in advance of the program start date as shown on the Form DS-2019. The 30-day limitation does not apply to current exchange participants who are returning to continue with their exchange program.
If you want an earlier entry in the US (more than 30 days prior to the course start date), you must qualify for, and obtain a US Visitor Visa (B Visa), but this is strongly discouraged as explained above.
Admission through a US Port of Entry on an Exchange Visitor Visa / J-1 Visa
You should be aware that a US Visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. A visa is issued by a Department of State Consular Office abroad, but a separate U.S. agency, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), has authority to deny admission at the port of entry. Also, the period for which you are authorized to remain in the U.S. is determined by the CBP, not the Department of State Consular Office. At the port of entry, a CBP official must authorize your admission to the U.S. At that time, the CBP official will provide you with a stamped I-94 Form (Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 Card), which will include your admission number to the U.S. and which will note how long you are permitted to stay in the U.S. For more information, see:
- Inspection Process for U.S. Entry
- I-94 Form (Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 Card)
- Length of Stay is Determined by My I-94 Form (Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 Card) -- NOT My Visa
Upon arrival (at an international airport, seaport or land border crossing), you will be enrolled in the US-VISIT entry-exit program. In addition, some travelers will also need to register their entry into and their departure from the U.S. with the Special Registration program.
Exchange visitors must have their Form DS-2019 in their possession each time they enter the US.
Note that unless previously canceled, a visa is valid until its expiration date. Therefore, if you have a valid U.S. visitor visa in an expired passport, you may use it (keep it in the old passport) along with a new valid passport for travel and admission to the United States.
How Long Can I Stay in the US After My Exchange Program Ends?
The initial admission of an exchange visitor, wife / husband and children may not exceed the period specified on Form DS-2019, plus a period of 30 days only for domestic travel and/or to prepare for and depart from the US.
How Do I Extend My Stay on a J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa?
If you wish to stay beyond the time indicated on your DS-2019, see Adjustments to the J-1 Status.
Staying Beyond My Authorized Stay in the US and Being Out of Status
You should carefully consider the dates of your authorized stay and make sure you are following the procedures under U.S. immigration laws. It is important that you depart the U.S. on or before the last day you are authorized to be in the U.S. on any given trip, based on the specified end date on your I-94 Form (Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 Card). Failure to depart the U.S. will cause you to be out-of-status.
- Staying beyond the period of time authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and being out-of-status in the U.S. is a violation of U.S. immigration law. You may become ineligible for a visa in the future for return travel to the United States.
- Staying unlawfully in the United States beyond the date Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authorized--even by one day--results in your visa automatically being voided. In this situation, you are required to reapply for a new nonimmigrant visa, generally in your country of nationality.
If you forget to turn in your I-94 Arrival-Departure Record, see How to Record Departure from the US After the Fact.
J-1 Visa Foreign Residence Requirement
J -1 Visa exchange visitors are subject to a two-year foreign residence requirement when they participate under the conditions listed below. If you are on a J-1 Visa, this means that you cannot change your status to that of H, L, K, or immigrant lawful permanent resident (Green Card) until you have returned to your home country for at least two years or received a waiver of that requirement.
- A government funded exchange program. The program is financed in whole or in part directly or indirectly by the US government or the government of your nationality or last residence
- Graduate medical education or training. You entered the US to receive graduate medical education or training
- Specialized knowledge or skill. You are 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
- Have a specific question? To help you find an answer quickly, we have placed "Ask a Visa & Immigration Lawyer" boxes on this page. Simply type a question in any of the boxes to receive a response online from a visa and immigration lawyer.
- For assistance in your country, contact the nearest U.S. Consulate.
- For inquiries on visa cases in progress overseas, contact the appropriate U.S. Embassy or Consulate handling your case.
- You can email the State Department's J-1 Exchange Visitor Program at: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
- For assistance within the U.S., you may contact the State Department's J-1 Exchange Visitor Program at: 202-632-2805
- For information on finding a student exchange program in which to participate, see US Student Exchange Programs.
- For additional advice or guidance on US student exchange programs if you are outside the US, see Assistance in Your Country.