J Visas: Exchange Visitor

At the Law Office of Matthew I. Hirsch, we provide strategies, consultation and services relating to the J-1 visa category. The J-1 visa category is used by a diverse array of foreign visitors, including interns and trainees, foreign physicians, counselors at summer camps, researchers, au pairs and others. Because the J-1 visa is used by a wide range of companies, organizations and institutions, and because it covers a wide range of activities involving work, training and research, it can be a useful means for coming to the U.S.

  1. What is a J-1 exchange visa?
  2. How can I apply for a J-1 visa?
  3. What is the Form DS-2019?
  4. Can the J-1 visa be used for internship and training programs?
  5. What is the “two-year foreign residence requirement”?
  6. How do I know if a J-1 is subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement?
  7. How do I get a waiver of the two-year foreign residence requirement?
  8. Can my spouse or child come to the U.S. as well?
  9. Can my J-2 spouse obtain employment authorization?
  10. As a foreign medical graduate, can I get a waiver of the two-year foreign residence requirement?
  11. What is the Conrad 30 Waiver?

What is a J-1 exchange visa?

The J-1 visa is for “Exchange Visitors.” It is a non-immigrant visa, meaning that it is temporary in duration and specific in purpose. In general, the J-1 visa category for individuals approved to participate in work- and study-based exchange visitor programs.  However, the J-1 is used for a wide range of international visitors and workers including:

  • Participants in authorized au pair (child care) programs;
  • Participants in authorized summer camp and summer work/travel programs;
  • Participants in authorized internship and training programs;
  • Physicians in the U.S. for graduate medical training;
  • Professors and Research Scholars;
  • Participants in Short-term Teaching/Research Programs;
  • Some college/university students.

All J-1’s come to the U.S. as participants in exchange visitor programs that have been pre-screened and pre-authorized by the U.S. Department of State (DOS). In some cases, the sponsoring organization administers its own DOS-authorized exchange visitor program. In other cases, the DOS-authorized exchange visitor program is a third-party and acts as a conduit between the host organization and the J-1 program participant.

How can I apply for a J-1 visa?

To obtain a J-1 visa, the J-1 program participant must apply the visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. There are several steps to the visa application process. The order of these steps and how you complete them may vary depending on the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you apply. For a list of U.S. Embassies and Consulates, click here.

The first step in the visa application process is the filing of the Online Non-immigrant Visa Application, known as the Form DS-160. To go to the Form DS-160, click here.

As part of the on-line application process, the applicant will upload a passport-sized photograph. For information on specifications and requirements, click here.

After the DS-160 is filed, the applicant must schedule an in-person interview. Wait times for interview appointments vary by location, season and visa category. To view wait times for visa interviews at Embassies and Consulates around the world, click here.

Prior to the interview, applicants must pay the visa application fee. For current visa application fees, click here. Individuals from some countries are also required to pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee at the time of the interview. To see if you are required to pay the visa issuance reciprocity fee, click here.

During the visa interview, a Consular Officer will determine whether the applicant meets the requirements for a U.S. visa. To qualify for a J-1 visa, the Applicant must be a bona fide non-immigrant. This means that the applicant has residence outside the U.S. to which he/she intends to return and “ties” to the home country. The burden is always on the applicant to prove eligibility for a U.S. visa and, if denied, there is no right of appeal.

When going to an in-person visa interview, Applicants for J-1 visas need to bring:

  • A passport valid for travel to the U. S.  The passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the anticipated period of stay in the U. S.;
  • The confirmation page for the DS-160;
  • A receipt showing payment of the visa application fee;
  • Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status;
  • Evidence of financial resources adequate to pay travel, fees, lodging, food, books and other expenses;
  • Other documents which show ties to the home country.

Once granted a J-1 visa, the program participant may enter the United States no more than 30 days before the start of their program and be on valid J-1 status.

What is the Form DS-2019?

All Applications for J-1 visas must be accompanied by the Form DS-2019 or “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status.” The DS-2019 may be issued by DOS-authorized program sponsors to exchange visitors who meet program eligibility requirements. Once accepted to the exchange visitor program, the program participant is issued the DS-2019, as evidence of acceptance to the program.

The Form DS-2019 is a two-page document that identifies the program sponsor and the exchange visitor. The form also includes a brief description of the exchange program, including beginning and end dates, a breakdown of estimated financial support and contact information. To be valid, the form must be signed by both the program sponsor and the program participant.

Can the J-1 visa be used for internship and training programs?

Yes! One of the most common uses of the J-1 visa is for participants in internship and training programs. In general, intern programs have a maximum duration of twelve months; trainee programs have a maximum duration of eighteen months.

Training programs are designed to allow foreign professionals to come to the U.S. to gain exposure to U.S. culture and to receive training in U.S. business practices in their chosen occupational field. To be a trainee, a program participant must have a post-secondary degree related to the field of the training, plus one year of related work experience outside of the United States or five years of related work experience outside the U.S.

Internship programs are designed to allow foreign college and university students or recent graduates to come to the U.S. to gain exposure to U.S. culture and to receive hands-on experience in U.S. business practices in their chosen occupational field. To be an intern, a program participant must be currently enrolled in a post-secondary, degree-granting academic program outside the U.S. or have graduated within the past twelve months from a post-secondary academic institution outside the U.S.

In general, to come to the U.S. as either an intern or trainee, the program participant must locate an appropriate internship or training opportunity with a Host Company, then go through a DOS-authorized program sponsor such as the International Exchange Center of the AIC, the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), Cultural Vistas (formerly AIPT), Pan Atlantic SMS Group or other appropriate program sponsor.

The program sponsor acts as the conduit between the Program Participant and the Host Company and is responsible for ensuring that both sides comply with applicable requirements for DOS-authorized exchange visitor programs. Program sponsors are authorized to work with host companies and trainees/interns only in specific fields, for example: Hospitality, Arts and Culture, Social Sciences, Information Media, Management, Finance, Sciences, Engineering, Architecture, Mathematics and others. Before choosing a program sponsor, it is important to check whether it is authorized to sponsor interns and trainees in your field of interest.

What is the “two-year foreign residence requirement”?

Some J-1 exchange visitors are subject to the “two-year foreign residence requirement.” Arising under INA Section 212(e), this bars certain exchange visitors from applying for lawful permanent residence (green card) or for an H or L visa, until he/she has returned to the home country for a cumulative period of at least two years. Arising under INA Section 212(e), the purpose of the two-year requirement is to ensure that people who come to the U.S. for certain kinds of training and education take their skills and knowledge back to the home country.

The “two-year foreign residence requirement” does not prohibit temporary travel to the U.S. It does mean that, until the two-year requirement is met, exchange visitors may not:

  • Change status in the U.S. to temporary worker (H) or intracompany transferee (L);
  • Adjust status in the U.S. to immigrant visa/lawful permanent resident status;
  • Receive an immigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate; or
  • Receive a temporary worker (H), intracompany transferee (L), or fiancé (K) visa.

How do I know if a J-1 is subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement?

Some J-1 exchange visitors are subject to this obligation; others are not. In general, program participants are made aware of the two-year foreign residence requirement when they agree to participate in the exchange visitor programs or at their visa interviews. Usually, the Form DS-2019 and/or the J-1 visa are annotated to indicate that the person is or is not subject to INA Section 212(e).

Program participants are normally subject to the two-year home-country physical presence requirement for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Government funded Exchange Program: the exchange visitor is part of a program funded in whole or in part by a U.S. government agency, or by an agency of the participant’s home country or by an international organization that received funding from the government of the U.S. or home country.
  • Specialized Knowledge or Skill – the exchange visitor is engaged in an area of study or field of specialized knowledge that has been designated as necessary for further development of the home country as reflected by the Exchange Visitor Skills List for your home country.
  • Graduate Medical Education/Training – the exchange visitor is engaged in graduate medical education or training in the U.S.

Please note that spouses and children of J-1 exchange visitors who are subject to the “two-year” rule are also subject to this requirement.

If you are unsure whether this requirement applies, it is possible to obtain an advisory opinion from the U.S. Department of State, Waiver Review Division. An advisory opinion is a review of the exchange visitor program documents to determine if the exchange visitor is subject to this requirement.  For information about how to request a Advisory Opinion or obtain additional information about the two-year foreign residence requirement, please contact us.

How do I get a waiver of the two-year foreign residence requirement?

U.S. immigration law allows some individuals who are subject to the “two-year rule” to obtain a waiver of the requirement. The waiver can be issued by the  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) upon a recommendation by the Waiver Review Division of the U.S. Department of State.  The four grounds for waiver are:

  1. No Objection Statement: this waiver requires a statement from the home country, through diplomatic channels to the Waiver Review Branch, confirming that it has no objection to the J-1 remaining in the U.S. on a temporary or permanent basis;
  2. Request from Interested Government Agency: this waiver requires a request from a U.S. government agency which confirms that compliance with the two-year home-country rule would be detrimental to its interest;
  3. Persecution: this waiver requires evidence that the J-1 visa holder would be persecuted based by reason of race, religion or political opinion if compelled to return to the home country;
  4. Exceptional Hardship:  this waiver requires evidence that compliance with the two-year home-country rule would exceptional hardship to the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse or child of the J-1 visa holder.

The waiver of INA Section 212(e) can be crucial to a person’s personal or professional plans. Apply for a waiver can be complex. Please contact us for further information regarding the procedures and requirements associated with waivers of INA Section 212(e).

Can my spouse or child come to the U.S. as well?

Spouses and dependent children of J-1 visa holders can usually apply for J-2 visas. The application procedure is the same as that for the primary visa applicant. The program sponsor must approve the accompaniment of the spouse and/or children and each accompanying family member must be issued a separate Form DS-2019. Again, please note that, if the J-1 visa holder is subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement, then his/her accompanying family members will also be subject to the two-year rule.

Can my J-2 spouse obtain employment authorization?

In general, a J-2 visa holder can work in the U.S.  To be employment authorized, the J-2 visa holder must first file CIS Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with the U.S. CIS. Once the I-765 is approved, the CIS will issue the Employment Authorization Document. Once the EAD is issued, the J-2 visa holder may apply for a Social Security Number and may be legally employed in the U.S. without sponsorship by a U.S. employer.

As a foreign medical graduate, can I get a waiver of the two-year foreign residence requirement?

Foreign Medical Graduates (FMG’s) are subject to more restrictive standards for waivers of the two-year rule. FMG’s may apply for a waiver under the “exceptional hardship”, “threat of persecution” or “interested government agency” provisions. The most common method used by FMG’s to obtain a waiver of the two-year rule is a request from an interested government agency, or IGA. Currently, there are four different types of IGA waivers available:

  1. Appalachian Regional Commission 
  2. Veterans Administration
  3. Conrad State 30
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

What is the Conrad 30 Waiver?

The Conrad 30 Waiver allows FMG’s to apply for a waiver for the two-year residence requirement upon completion of the J-1 exchange visitor program. The program is intended to address shortages of qualified doctors in medically underserved areas.

In general, to qualify for a waiver through the Conrad 30 program, the FMG must agree to be employed full-time at a health care facility in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA), a  Medically Underserved Area (MUA), or a Medically Underserved Population (MUP).  To find a region designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as eligible for the Conrad 30 program, click here.

The J-1 medical doctor must practice medicine for at least three years in an area designated by HHS as a HPSA, MUA, or MUP. Once the Conrad 30 waiver recipient has fulfilled the contractual terms and conditions, including the three-years of employment at the designated health care facility, the foreign physician (and his or her spouse and/or child) will become eligible to apply for an immigrant visa, lawful permanent residence in the U.S. or an H or L visa.

If waiver recipient fails to fulfill the contractual terms and conditions required for the waiver, he or she (and his or her spouse and/or child) will once again be subject to the two-year rule.

For additional information about the Conrad 30 Program for Foreign Medical Graduates, click here.

The J-1 visa category covers a wide range of activities and can be used by individuals, companies and institutions for temporary admission to the U.S. within one of the specified subcategories. The J-1 visa has many facets to it and can provide both opportunities and challenges for foreign students, seasonal and short-term workers, au pairs, researchers, educators, physicians and others. For more information about the J-1 category, contact us.