The J-1 Exchange Visitor

The purpose of the J-1 category is to provide foreign nationals with opportunities to participate in educational and cultural programs in the United States. It has been called "an anomaly in the U.S. immigration scheme" because it encompasses such a wide variety of eligible groups.

J-1 is available for the following types of individuals.

Program sponsors

To qualify as a J-1 exchange visitor the applicant alien must be sponsored by an organization approved by the U.S. Department of State. Until its abolishment in October 1999 the program was controlled by the United States Information Agency (USIA). Organizations controlled by foreign corporations or individuals can not act as J-1 sponsors.

Since a program sponsor plays the key role in determining the exchange visitor's eligibility, strict requirements are applied to a prospective sponsor.

It is also possible for an organization wishing to provide training to act as a "third party" by arranging with an existing program sponsor to participate under that sponsor's program.

Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement

See also: Waivers of Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement.

The purpose of this requirement is to have the home country of the exchange visitor benefit from his experience in the US. Anyone subject to this requirement is not eligible for an H, L, or immigrant status in the US unless he has resided the minimum of two years in his home country after completing his J-1 stay.

Aliens subject to requirement

Who is eligible? - A look at J-1 Categories

1. Students

Anyone enrolling into full-time formal courses at either the college or university level as well as in a secondary school may qualify in the J-1 student category.

A school that already has an F-1 program may find it useful to establish a J-1 program because both school and the student can find it sometimes more beneficial in comparison. For example, spouses and children of J-1 students (classified as J-2, see below) can apply to INS for work authorization in that status, while F-2 dependents can not.

Unlike F-1 schools, a J-1 school must be accredited by an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education. Also in order to enroll J-1 students one of the following three conditions must apply:

Employment in General

Working opportunities are available for J-1s both on and off-campus as long as they continue in (a) full course of study and (b) good academic standing. The J-1 schools are allowed to define "full course of study" themselves unlike F-1 schools which have to follow the government definition. Their employment may not exceed 20 hours per week. During official school breaks and annual vacation, full time employment is allowed.

J-1 students also have the possibility to take part in academic training. Academic training is available during both the course of study and after completion of studies for the maximum period of 18 months. If the academic training option is used, the employment must be directly related to the student's field of study.

On-Campus Employment

Similarly to F-1s, J-1 students are allowed to work on-campus with the responsible officer's authorization. INS approval is not required; however, the terms of scholarship, fellowship or assistantship must be followed.

Off-Campus Employment

Off-campus work is allowed in three situations.

An approval from the responsible officer is always required. Unlike an F-1, a J-1 student does not need an INS approval to work off-campus.

Length of Stay

Up to 24 months of post-secondary study for college and university students plus 18 months of academic training upon completion of studies. Another 18 month period of academic training is possible after spending a minimum of 5 months outside the U.S.

Up to 36 months of training work authorization upon completing a doctoral degree.

The period of stay can not exceed the time required to achieve a defined academic objective plus the practical training period. On top of this the J-1 has a period of 30 days in which to depart the US or apply to change/adjust status.

J-2 - Spouses and Children of J-1 Students

The spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 can follow the principal alien (J-1) to the US as J-2 dependents.

The J-2 dependent may remain in the US as long as the J-1 maintains a legal status. J-2 may travel abroad as long as his/her passport, visa, and I-94 are in order. Although the J-2 visa allows work, an INS permit is always required in advance.

Here is a checklist of items for J-2 dependents to submit to the INS regional office in order to apply for a work permit.

INS will issue an Employment Authorization Document (a credit card size plastic card) in about 60 to 90 days from receiving the application.


2. Teachers

An individual teaching full-time in an established primary or secondary school, or an established school offering specialized instruction, may qualify for J-1 status.

Length of Stay

Up to three years plus 30 days to depart the US.


3. Professors and Research Scholars

An alien primarily teaching, lecturing observing or consulting at a post-secondary accredited educational institutions, museums, libraries, etc. may be classified as "professors".

Term "research scholar", on the other hand, refers to an alien who conducts research, observes or consults in connection with research projects at research institutions, corporate research facilities, museums, libraries, or similar types of institutions.

Length of Stay

Up to three years plus 30 days to depart the US. The program sponsor may authorize a six-month extension. In case of direct funding from the US or foreign government, the maximum of six years may be applied.


4. Short Term Scholars

A professor, research scholar, or person with similar education or accomplishments coming to lecture, observe, consult, demonstrate special skills, and to participate in seminars for a period of up to six months, may be classified as short-term scholars.

Length of Stay

Up to six months. Unlike other J-1's there is no minimum stay requirement of three weeks.


5. Specialists

An alien who is an expert in a field of specialized knowledge or skill coming to consult, observe or demonstrate special skills may be classified as a specialist.

Professors and research scholars as well as physicians are specifically excluded because they have their own resepective J-1 categories.

Length of Stay

Up to one year plus 30 days to depart the US.


6. Trainees

There are currently three nonimmigrant classifications available for training or exchange programs for aliens seeking classroom and/or on-the-job training in the United States. These three are J-1 exchange visitors, Q exchange visitors, and H-3 trainees.

Each classification has different requirements for the program sponsor and the alien, and each allows slightly different activities in the US. It is crucial that both the sponsor and alien carefully review their options to find the most appropriate one for their needs.

Length of Stay

Up to 18 months plus 30 days to depart the US. Flight training trainees may receive a visa up to 24 months.


7. International Visitors

This category is for aliens who are recognized or potential leaders, to participate in observation tours, discussions, consultation, professional meetings, conferences, workshops and travel.

Length of Stay

Up to one year plus 30 days to depart the US.


8. Government Visitors

This category is exclusively for U.S. federal, state or local government agencies. They may sponsor aliens who are recognized as influential or distinguished persons. Such people could include editors, business persons, government officials participating in people-to-people programs in observation tours, discussions, consultation, professional meetings, conferences, workshops, and travel.

Length of Stay

Up to 18 months.


9. Physicians

Graduates of foreign medical schools pursuing graduate medical education or training at U.S. accredited schools of medicine may qualify as J-1 physicians.

Length of Stay

Up to seven years plus 30 days to depart th US.


10. Camp Counselors

Aliens who are at least 18 years of age and bona fide youth workers, students, teachers, or individuals with specialized skills are classifiable as summer camp counselors. To qualify an alien must not have participated previously more than once in a U.S. camp counselor exchange program, unless such "triple dippers" constitute less than 10% of the program sponsor's total participants from the previous year.

Length of Stay

Up to four months.


11. Au Pairs

U.S. families are offered a way to obtain child care through the J-1 Au Pair category. Individuals throughout the world from 18 to 26 years old who are secondary school graduates, proficient in English, personally interviewed by organizational representatives, have satisfactorily completed a physical, and successfully passed a background test may participate.

To qualify, the au pair must have completed the following:

This category started in 1988 and there are concerns that this program is not used as an educational or cultural program but as a work program in order to circumvent immigration requirements applicable to unskilled workers.

Working Conditions

The maximum number of hours per week is 45. Also a ten hour cap of work per day is applicable. The au pair must register and attend classes of an accredited US post-secondary school for at least six academic credits of educational courses or equivalent.

The au pair is entitled to at least one and a half days off per week, one complete weekend off each month and two weeks of paid vacation.

Length of Stay

Up to one year.



The first step for anyone wishing to participate in J-1 exchange program is to contact a designated program sponsor. Once the prospective exchange visitor is selected for participation, the sponsor issues a Form IAP-66 directly to him. No INS petition is required.

The second phase depends on the whereabouts of prospective J-1. If he is abroad he will apply through a US Consulate but if the alien is already in the US in some other nonimmigrant status he applies through the INS service center of his area.

Application Procedure Abroad

The J-1 applicant must submit the appropriate package of documents to the US Consulate in his country. This includes Form OF-156 which is always required for a nonimmigrant alien, plus the IAP-66 issued to him by the sponsor. If the spouse and minor unmarried children of the principal alien wish to follow him to the US they can apply for J-2 visas at the same time with proper evidence of relationship to the principal alien.

The consular officer writes the sponsor's program number under the visa stamp in the alien's passport. Copies 1-3 of the IAP-66 are returned to the alien who is obliged to present them together with his visa to the INS officer at a US port of entry.

At the port of entry the INS will provide the alien with I-94 card/entry stamp and will keep copies 1-2 of the IAP-66. Copy 3 of the IAP-66 is the alien's proof of his status in the US. The length of stay is marked on the I-94, usually as "D/S" which means the alien is allowed to stay in the US for the duration of status shown on his IAP-66 plus 30 days for travel.

Application Procedure in the US

In case the alien is already in the US and wishes to change his status from another nonimmigrant category to J-1 he needs make an application to the INS service center serving his area. The application package includces the Form I-539: Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, the original I-94 form and the IAP-66.

Waivers of the two-year home country physical presence requirement

The INS may grant a waiver of the two-year requirement on one of five bases.


Forms and Documents Checklist



For in-depth information, contact Capriotti & Associates to schedule a consultation appointment.

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