The Exchange Visitor Program (J) non-immigrant visa category is for individuals approved to participate in work and study-based exchange visitor programs. The J-1 visa is intended for students needing practical training that is not available in their home country to complete their academic program.
The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program was created to help strengthen international relations with the United States through job training and educational experience. Unique to this program, J-1 visitors have the opportunity to visit the U.S. for a short duration to continue their education or receive hands-on training in the professional workplace, and then implement their new skills upon returning to their home country.
While there are many different categories of exchange programs available, and while all have a specific criterion that must be met, all J-1 applicants are required to meet the obligations below:
- Proficiency in the English language;
- Be sponsored through a university, private organization, or government program;
- Provide evidence of funds to cover expenses while in the U.S.
- Provide evidence of compelling social and economic ties abroad which will ensure their return abroad at the completion of their training. and
- Must carry adequate health insurance.
Working on a J-1 Visa
When you visit the United States on a J-1 visa, your ability to work as well as the kind of work you are able to perform will depend on the nature of your program. For individuals on work-based exchange programs, such as au pairs or camp counselors, you will be visiting the U.S. with the expectation to perform a specific job and will not have the ability to work outside of your program.
If you have chosen to travel to the U.S. on a study-related program, such as an international scholar or high school student, you may have the option to work on campus pursuant to a fellowship, assistantship or scholarship up to 20 hours a week, assuming you are in good academic standing. If you are interested in seeking employment, be sure to verify with your sponsor how many hours per week you are able work when school is out of session during holidays or vacation periods.
Studying on a J-1 Visa
There are many opportunities to study in the U.S. on a J-1 visa, based on the program category that you choose. You could visit the U.S. as a short-term scholar, teacher, trainee, intern, researcher, or even as a college or university student, to name a few of the most popular programs. With this in mind, even if you don’t choose to take part in an educational-based program through a college or university, the J-1 program as a whole was designed to help provide hands-on training in a variety of fields. Exchange visitors who are part of work and travel programs or other non-educational routs will still be learning new skills and experiencing a new culture daily – without ever needing to step foot inside of a classroom.
Upon the completion of your exchange program, J-1 visa holders have a 30 day “grace period” to leave the U.S. Keep in mind that you cannot travel outside of the US during your current exchange program and unfortunately, if you would like to leave the U.S. at any point during your program you will be required to apply for a brand new J-1 visa in your home country in order to continue your program.
Health Insurance Requirements
If you are traveling to the U.S. on a J-1 visa, you will be required to carry medical health insurance for the full duration of your program. Your sponsor may provide students and their dependents with health insurance, however if health insurance is not provided by the sponsor you will be required to enroll in a private health insurance plan. Either way, the US Department of State has minimum J-1 health insurance requirements that your insurance plan must meet (which also applies to J2 visa holders).
Period of Stay
The length of time for which you will be allowed to stay in the U.S. on a J-1 exchange visitor visa depends on the type of program you will be participating in and the dates of your planned participation. In order to obtain a J-1 visa, you will need to present a Certificate of Eligibility form which will list the specific dates you are expected to be participating in the program.
Upon entering the U.S. with your J-1 visa, you will be authorized to remain only up to the final date indicated on the Certificate of Eligibility. USCIS regulations, however, place some maximum time limits on J-1 visas according to the type of program.
You may be eligible to extend your stay under the J-1 Visa if your total period of stay does not exceed the maximum duration of stay for the program and your program sponsor agrees to your extension.
Family of J-1 Visa Holders
Depending on the specific type of work or educational program you choose, along with the organization that sponsors your visa, your dependents may have the ability to accompany you to the U.S. The dependents of a J-1 visa holder (spouses and non-married children under the age of 21) are issued a J-2 visa and are required to follow the same application process as their sponsor. However, J-2 eligibility depends on the specific program in which the J-1 exchange visitor is enrolled. For example, the exchange categories of au pair, camp counselor, secondary work student, and summer work travel do not allow for J-2 eligibility. In addition, some specific programs within categories that generally permit J-2 visas do not.