J-1 Exchange Visitor Visas

The J-1 Visa Exchange allows qualified foreign nationals entrance into the United States for an approved exchange program. Programs that fall within the J-1 category, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), are generally for the purpose of teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, receiving training, or to receive graduate medical education or training.

To begin the J-1 process, applicants must first contact a designated sponsor which facilitates the exchange program. There is wide variety of exchange programs available and includes the following qualified individuals:

  • Professors or scholars
  • Research assistants
  • Students
  • Trainees
  • Teachers
  • Specialists
  • Nannies/Au pairs
  • Camp counselors

If the exchange sponsor approves the application, the applicant will be enrolled in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). The sponsor will provide the applicant with a Form DS-2019, which will then be included in the applicant's documentation provided to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Accepted exchange visitors may stay in the United States only for as long as their Form DS-2019 indicates, although they may arrive up to 30 days before their J-1 program begins.

Exchange Visitor Waiver

Under the J-1 program, some exchange visitors must return to their home countries for a period of two years once their exchange visitors program has ended. This is also known as the foreign residence requirement. According to the U.S. Department of State, exchange visitors are subject to this requirement for one or more of the following reasons.

  • Government Funded Exchange Program – Visitors participated in an exchange program that was funded in whole or in part by a U.S. government agency, the visitors' home country's government, or an international organization that received funding from the U.S. government or the visitors' home country's government.
  • Specialized Knowledge or Skill – Visitors participated in an exchange program involving an area of study or field of specialized knowledge that has been designated as necessary for further development of the visitors' home country and appears on the Exchange Visitors Skills List for the visitors' home countries.
  • Graduate Medical Education/Training – Visitors participated in an exchange program to receive graduate medical education or training.

Exchange visitors normally are first made aware of this requirement during their application process, if they are subject to the foreign residence requirement. Visitors who are unsure of whether they are subject to this requirement may request that the Department of State issue an advisory opinion about their status.

Reasons for Obtaining a Waiver

Exchange visitors who wish to obtain a waiver to the foreign residence requirement have five bases from which to choose, as provided for by the Department of State:

  1. No Objection Statement – The visitor's home country may issue a No Objection Statement that it has no objection to waiving the requirement for the visitor.
  2. Request by an Interested U.S. Federal Government Agency – If the visitor is participating in a project that is of interest to the U.S. government, and the visitor's departure would be detrimental to the project, the relevant government agency may request a waiver of the foreign residency requirement.
  3. Persecution – Exchange visitors who believe they will be persecuted based on race, religion, or political opinion if they return to their home country may apply for a persecution waiver.
  4. Exceptional Hardship to a U.S. Citizen – If the visitors can demonstrate that their departure from the United States would cause exceptional hardship to their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse or child, they may apply for an exceptional hardship waiver.
  5. Request by a Designated State Public Health Department – If the visitors are a foreign medical graduate who obtained exchange visitor status to pursue graduate medical training or education, they may request a waiver of the foreign residency requirement based on the request of a designated State Public Health Department or its equivalent.
Contact an Immigration Lawyer to Help with Your J-1 Waiver

Samuel C. Berger, P.C. can help families, individuals and businesses with their immigration needs. Please contact our office at (212) 380-8117 or email us today for more information about a confidential consultation.