If you are interested in obtaining a temporary American work or study experience while putting your foreign education or skills to good use, the J-1 visa may be for you!
Also known as the “Exchange Visitor Visa”, the J-1 visa is a nonimmigrant status providing opportunities for students, scholars, or specific workers to share their experience and diversity, while gaining further knowledge and experience in the United States, in virtually any state.
Because the J-1 visa involves applicants from around the world, the United States Department of State (DOS hereinafter) is the primary agency applicant’s will deal with. The DOS established categories of professions or academics eligible for a temporary stay in the United States including:
– Au Pair’s – Specialist
– Government Visitor – Student in college
– Physician – Short term scholars
– Professor and Research Scholar – Trainees, and more
The defined categories are either public sector experiences (government and public education) or private sector exchange opportunities.
Created by and monitored by the United States DOS, BridgeUSA is the point of reference for important information for applicants, sponsors of programs, and more. They want to literally bridge experiences for foreign applicants to come to the United States. BridgeUSA facilitates and monitors not only the application process, but the duration of stay of any applicant U.S. bound.
Through BridgeUSA, applicants can find more in depth information to determine if their occupation or education qualifies them for an exchange visitor visa. Every category has its own distinct qualifications for eligibility. Purpose of visit, experience in home country, visitor eligibility, and duration of U.S. visit are distinctly defined for each mentioned category.
The only common factor shared with all exchange visitor categories is that every applicant is required to have a significant education and/or work experience in their home country. This means that those without the specified education or experience do not qualify for a J-1 visa.
Apart from that, all categories vary in different aspects. Duration of time applicant’s can remain in the U.S. depends on their category, with a range of one day, up to 7 years. Categories also vary in allowing repeat participation: some can repeat the program and remain in the United States, some must leave the United States for 2 years to repeat, and other categories simply require that the applicant goes back home.
I think I qualify! What’s next?
If you are currently involved in an academic or career experience listed by the DOS, and have the required home country position, education, and/or expertise, a J-1 visa may be on the horizon!
Step 1 Find a program and sponsor. The DOS decides which programs and sponsors are involved in the exchange visitor experience. Once you’ve decided on a program, you must reach out to them directly as every program and sponsor has their own specific set of qualifications, requirements, and fees. General visa requirements within all programs include English proficiency and access to medical insurance.
If selected by a program, the J-1 visa journey continues! Without application and acceptance into a DOS designated program, you cannot continue the J-1 process.
Once you have a program and a sponsor, they are with you for the entirety of this process, from beginning to end, from your home country to the United States and back. They will begin by giving you Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status. Form DS-2019 can only be issued and filled out by your sponsor, who will provide the DOS with all information about your stay, your program, your experience and more.
Step 2 Receiving Form DS-2019 brings you to your visa application and an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate. A general visa application, DS-160, is required for all applicants. Once the DOS determines that an application fulfills all requirements, a visa to the United States is issued, and the adventure begins!
FYI’S for J-1 Visa Holders
Congratulations on your J-1 visa and welcome to the United States! Your J-1 visa will allow you to enter the country within 30 days of starting your program. You receive Form I-94 upon arrival to document your entry.
Your sponsor will be by your side throughout the duration of program, making sure you have everything you need for a successful stay. Even before travelling to the United States, your sponsor is required to orient you to life in the United States. In the United States, they are required to monitor you to make sure you are actually completing the requirements of the program and visa.
If your category and/or program specifically allows for it, your spouse and/or unmarried children under 21 may join you in the United States with a J-2 visa. They may be allowed to work and study while here. Unfortunately, not all categories and/or programs allow for family unity.
For the categories that will be working in the United States, you are only allowed to work within your specific category and for your specific program/sponsor. You cannot work or be involved with any other category, program or employment while in the United States.
In addition to complying with category and program requirements, you must also comply with the limitations of your stay. As mentioned above, every category has a different duration of stay allowed for each applicant.
When your program is completed, it’s time to go home! If you do not leave the United States within 30 days, the DOS considers you out-of-status. This can potentially hurt your chances of ever obtaining another visa or entering the United States in the future.
If your exchange program to the United States includes government funding, graduate medical education or training, or your skills are deemed necessary back home, you are under a 2 year home country physical presence requirement. You must go back home to your country once your program is over, for at least 2 years, before ever getting a new visa/legal status and returning to the United States.
As always, there are some exceptions. Applicant’s who can’t complete the 2 year home country requirement can apply for a waiver if their situation fulfills one of five requirements.
Even if you aren’t subject to the 2 year home country presence requirement but your stay expires before you complete your program, you might be able to extend! If your sponsor deems it necessary, they submit a new DS-2019 to explain why it’s necessary for you to stay, and for how long. If approved by the DOS, you may remain and continue the work to be done.
Having a J-1 visa in the land of opportunity may provide further unexpected opportunities which can covert your temporary stay into a permanent one. J-1 visas are nonimmigrant visas, issued without intent to establish permanent residency. However, if someone wants to sponsor you for a job, or you are marrying someone with legal status, you may find yourself in need of a green card. Assuming all requirements are fulfilled, the United States could become your permanent home.
Please note: None of the above should be construed as personal legal advice. Considering the complexity of immigration applications, and if you are interested in applying for an J-1 visa, please consult with a potential program and an immigration attorney.
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