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The purpose of the J-1 visa category is to provide training to foreign nationals. The skills, which the exchange visitors gain in the U.S., are to be utilized in their home countries upon their return. The Exchange Visitor Program allows foreign nationals to temporarily visit the U.S. in order to teach, lecture, study, observe, conduct research, consult, train, or demonstrate special skills. There must be a U.S. employer as well as an approved educational or cultural program administered by a sponsoring organization, which has been designated by the U.S. Department of State. The sponsoring organization oversees and approves all such programs. There are fourteen different exchange visitor program categories, which are as follows:

  • Alien Physician
  • Au Pair
  • Camp Counselor
  • Government Visitor
  • Intern
  • International Visitor (reserved for U.S. Department of State use)
  • Professor and Research Scholar
  • Short-Term Scholar
  • Specialist
  • Student, College/University
  • Student, Secondary School
  • Summer Work/Travel
  • Teacher
  • Trainee

The trainee program may be useful for foreign nationals who are not eligible for H-1B classification. It allows foreign nationals to enhance their skills in their occupational fields for a duration not to exceed 18 months.

To be eligible as a J-1 trainee, the foreign national must have:

  1. A degree or professional certificate from a foreign post-secondary academic institution and at least one year of prior related work experience in his or her occupational field outside the United States; or
  2. Five years of work experience outside the United States in the occupational field in which he or she is seeking training.

The J-1 internship program is very similar to the trainee program. However, the maximum duration of a J-1 internship is 12 months.

Training programs and internship programs are available in the following fields:

  • Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing
  • Arts and Culture
  • Construction and Building Trades
  • Education, Social Sciences, Library Science, Counseling and Social Services
  • Health Related Occupations
  • Hospitality and Tourism
  • Information Media and Communications
  • Management, Business, Commerce and Finance
  • Public Administration and Law
  • The Sciences, Engineering, Architecture, Mathematics, and Industrial Occupations.

J-1 interns cannot work in unskilled or casual labor positions, in positions that require or involve child care or elder care, or in any kind of position that involves medical patient care or contact. In addition, interns are not allowed to work in positions that require more than 20% clerical or office support work.

To be eligible to participate in a J-1 internship, the foreign national must:

  1. Be currently enrolled in and pursuing studies at a foreign degree-granting post-secondary academic institution or a certificate-granting post-secondary academic institution outside the United States; or
  2. Have graduated from such an institution no more than 12 months prior to his or her exchange visitor program start date.

The length of time a J-1 can stay in the U.S. is determined by his or her program. For example, college and university students may be admitted to the U.S. for the length of their academic programs. In addition, students may receive training after the completion of a degree program. For J-1 students in degree programs below the doctoral level, 18 months of training is permissible; whereas post-doctoral training is permissible for 36 months.

Some J-1 exchange visitors are subject to a two-year home residency requirement upon completion of the exchange program. The requirement is usually based on a skills list for the exchange visitor’s home country or because the exchange visitor received government funding for his or her J-1 activities. All J-1 exchange visitors who receive graduate medical education or training are subject to the two-year home residency requirement. A skills list sets forth skills which are deemed to be in short supply in the home country. The J-1 exchange visitor is supposed to bring back the skills and knowledge acquired in the U.S. to the home country and utilize them there. The United Kingdom and most other industrialized countries do not have skills lists.

For those who require a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement, there are four types of J-1 waivers available:

  • Persecution – the J-1 exchange visitor will suffer persecution on account of race, religion or political opinion in your home country if you return.
  • Exceptional Hardship – the J-1 exchange visitor’s U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or child would experience exceptional hardship if required to accompany the J-1 exchange visitor back to his or her home country or remain in the U.S. without him or her.

  • Interested Government Agency – the J-1 exchange visitor must be sponsored by an interested governmental agency (IGA). The request by the IGA must explain that: (1) the granting of the waiver is in the public interest; and (2) the J-1 exchange visitor’s compliance with the two-year home residence requirement would be detrimental to a program or activity of interest to the IGA.
  • No Objection – the J-1 exchange visitor’s home country’s government indicates no objection to his or her remaining in the U.S. This type of waiver is not available to international medical graduates.

Dependents of J-1 Exchange Visitors: J-2

Unlike the dependents of F-1 students, J-2 dependents may be eligible to work in the U.S. However, they must file a Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and show that their income is not needed to support the J‑1 exchange visitor.

How to Apply for a J-1 Visa

The first step is to find a sponsoring organization. Sometimes a prospective employer will already have an approved exchange program. In which case, there will already be a sponsoring organization. If not, once a sponsoring organization has been found, a detailed training plan must be drafted (for J-1 trainees and interns), and the host company’s application must be completed and submitted to the sponsoring organization. Once the program and application have been approved, the sponsoring program will issue a DS-2019 (formerly IAP-66). The DS-2019 will be generated by the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (“SEVIS”), which is an internet-based system for maintaining information on nonimmigrant students, exchange visitors and their dependents. The DS-2019 must be brought to the visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

The Visa Application

Once the DS-2019 has been issued, the foreign national should apply for a J-1 visa, unless the foreign national is already in the U.S. in valid J-1 status or another status and has either been granted an extension of status or a change of status. Then a visa will only be needed to reenter the U.S. after the foreign national travels abroad. All nonimmigrant visa applicants between the ages of 14 and 79 must attend a personal visa interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. The following is needed when applying for a J-1 visa:

  1. A DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application, which must be completed and submitted online. A passport-style photograph must also be scanned and uploaded when completing the DS-160.
  2. A valid passport. There should be at least six months of unexpired validity and at least one blank page to insert the machine-readable visa.
  3. The SEVIS-generated DS-2019 provided by the sponsoring organization.
  4. For a J-1 trainee or intern visa applicant, a completed, signed and dated DS-7002, Training/Internship Placement Plan.
  5. Evidence that you plan to remain in the U.S. for a temporary, specific, limited period, that you have sufficient funds to cover your expenses while you are in the U.S., and that you have compelling social and economic ties to the country in which you apply for the visa ensuring that you will return to that country at the end of your J-1 program.
  6. Payment of the visa issuance fee, where required. Please contact Ferman Law which can advise as to which nationalities must pay a visa issuance fee and the fee amount.

How We Can Help You

At Ferman Law, we will review with you the feasibility of the J-1 visa category. We will find for you a sponsoring organization. We will assist you and your prospective U.S. employer with the drafting of the detailed training program and the completion of the sponsoring organization’s application. Upon the approval of the training program and application, we will schedule your visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, prepare the necessary visa application forms for you and your dependents, and assist you with the collection of the supporting materials. We will then prepare you for the visa interview.

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