A J-1 visa is available to people entering the United States to participate in an exchange visitor program. The J visa is primarily an exchange visitor’s visa. It is a non-immigrant visa, which means that an individual may only remain in the United States for a specific period of time, for the purpose of obtaining further academic qualifications or gaining practical experience/training in a specific area of knowledge or expertise, as part of an established program. The time period granted concurs with the time period given by the school or agency to allow for completion of the course or training authorized, plus a 30-day grace period to depart the United States. Overstays of 180 days or more can result in a 3 or 10 year bar to re-enter the United States upon departure from the United States.

This visa allows people from all over the world to apply to come to the United States to enhance their knowledge and skills in a particular area of expertise through the use of an established J-1 program. Once this has been achieved, individuals are expected to return to their home country. The purpose of the J-1 visa is to have foreign nationals learn and train in the United States so that they are able to contribute in a more insightful way in their area of expertise upon return to their home countries.

The J-1 visa is unlike most other visas. First, as mentioned above, it is an exchange visa and must be reciprocated where possible. Second, unlike any other visa, it is not controlled by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) along with the Department of Justice. J-1 programs are governed by the United States Information Agency (USIA), which is an independent federal organization, and may, in the future, be merged with the State Department. Third, like some other visas, employment is permitted, but only on the condition that it supplements training purposes. Fourth, like other visas which permit work, a program sponsor is required. Such program sponsors are selected by the USIA. The USIA has the authority to delete a sponsor from a program if the law has been violated by this sponsor.

Many J-1 visas carry with them a two-year home country requirement. People subject to this requirement are expected to return to their home countries for two years at the conclusion of their J programs. People subject to this requirement are not allowed to get H visas, L visas or permanent residency until the home country residency is fulfilled. However, there are waivers of this requirement available.

Note: If you wish to engage in cultural activities by participating in practical training/employment and sharing of history, culture and traditions of your home country, you may want to consider applying for a Q visa. The employer seeking to employ you must file an I-129 petition with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Who May Apply for a J-1 Visa?

There are 11 categories of J-1 visas. If any of these categories applies to you, you may be eligible to apply for this visa.

  • Students
  • Short-term Scholars
  • Trainees
  • Teachers
  • Professors and Research Scholars
  • Specialists
  • Alien Physicians
  • International Visitors
  • Government Visitors
  • Camp Counselors
  • Au Pairs

How to Apply for a J-1 Visa

You must apply to one of the sponsors designated by USIA. Listing of sponsors may be available from schools and other institutions. The program sponsor will supply you with Form IAP-66. You should sign this form and take it to the American Consulate in the country where you are currently residing to apply for the J-1 visa. Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years old can qualify as J-2 dependents.

Program sponsors include: local/state agencies; federal government agencies; international agencies/organizations of which the US is a member and have offices in the United States (e.g. United Nations); a reputable organization which is a “citizen of the United States,” e.g. an organization whose principal place of business is situated within the United States; and schools and universities.

Issuance of J-1 Visa and Admission to the United States

Persons seeking a J-1 visa must present the following information:

  • documentation of acceptance by an exchange program;
  • sufficient funds to cover expenses;
  • sufficient knowledge of the English language to undertake the program; and
  • proof of having a residence outside the United States which you have no intention of abandoning.

Transfer of Sponsors

You may transfer from one sponsor to another if the purpose of the second sponsor is to complete the objective of the first one. The alien must be making clear progress toward the objective outlined in the Form IAP-66.

Maintenance of Status

One must engage in a full-time course of study, research or teaching with an educational objective as described on Form IAP-66. Failure to maintain status has serious implications. Also, if you overstay your J-1 visa for 180 days or more and depart the United States, you can face a three- or ten-year bar to re-entry.

Extensions of Stay

Due to the fact that time period given for all J-1 visas concurs with length of time requested to complete objective, requests for extensions are infrequent. Extensions will be approved only if additional time is needed to complete the program and it is clear that the individual intends to depart the United States in accordance with the objectives of the J-1 program. Change of category within this program is rarely permitted, on the basis that the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services and USIA see such a transfer as a change in original objective.


Authorized employment is granted:

  • for unforeseen financial need;
  • for furthering skills and knowledge of the alien;
  • upon written approval by the Responsible Officer

Two-year Home Country Residency Requirement

All persons on J-1 visas, regardless of category, may be subject to the two-year home country residency requirement. This implies that, once your period of stay expires, together with your 30-day grace period to exit the country, you MUST return to your home country, or country in which you last permanently resided, prior to obtaining an H, L, or permanent residency visa, for two years.

However, this requirement may be waived using one of these routes:

1. Asylum

This may be approached in one of two ways

The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services may grant asylum, depending on the circumstances, which would waive the 2-year requirement.
The USIA can also review your claimed well-founded fear of persecution as a basis for recommending a waiver.

2. Exceptional Hardship

If your return to your home country would impose exceptional hardship on a United States citizen or permanent resident, due to different culture, racial problems, religious problems, medical problems etc., this may be grounds for USIA to recommend a waiver.

3. Interested Government Agency

If the program in which you were involved required you to undertake work which is of interest to a United States Government Agency, that agency can sponsor you for a waiver.

4. No Objection Letter

A letter sent by your home government directly to the USIA stating that they have no objection to the waiver may be the basis for a waiver request.

Note: The article above may not contain current information.

See also…

F-1 and J-1 Student Visas

Immigration Law