This article provides a general overview of the J1 visa, including how to obtain the visa and an outline of the application process. Also included are brief descriptions of the most popular program categories and information on both studying and working in the US on the J visa.
A J1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa issued to individuals who would like to visit the US as part of a work and travel program, or as a short-term international student or scholar. While there are many categories available, the J1 visa program is one of the most unique, allowing individuals to both study and work at the same time.
The J1 Exchange Visitor Program was created in 1961 to help strengthen international relations with the United States through job training and educational experience. Unique to this program, J1 visitors have the opportunity to visit the US for a short duration to continue their education or receive hands-on training in the professional workplace, and then implement their new skills upon returning to their home country.
All J1 applicants are required to meet strict eligibility criteria, including proficiency in the English language, and be sponsored through a university, private organization, or government program. Depending on the specific type of work or educational program you choose, along with the organization that sponsors your visa, your dependents may have the ability to accompany you to the US. The dependents of a J1 visa holder (spouses and non-married children under the age of 21) are issued a J2 visa and are required to follow the same application process as their sponsor.
The eligibility criteria for the J1 visa will vary based on the program category that you choose, as well as the organization that sponsors your visa — so please contact your sponsor for full details concerning your particular program. That being said, all participants for the J1 visa must be proficient in English and carry adequate health insurance. In nearly all cases, you may also be required to schedule an individual interview with the US Embassy or Consulate in your home country before your J1 visa will be granted.
When you visit the United States on a J1 visa, your ability to work as well as the kind of work you are able to perform will depend on the nature of your program. For individuals on work-based exchange programs, such as au pairs or camp counselors, you will be visiting the United States with the expectation to perform a specific job and will not have the ability to work outside of your program.
If you have chosen to travel to the US on a study-related program, such as an international scholar or high school student, you may have the option to work on campus in pursuant to a fellowship, assistantship or scholarship up to 20 hours a week, assuming you are in good academic standing. If you are interested in seeking employment, be sure to verify with your sponsor how many hours per week you are able work when school is out of session during holidays or vacation periods. It is also important to recognize that most jobs available to exchange visitors don’t pay exceptionally well. Your paycheck should cover basic living expenses, but few visitors find it will cover much more than the necessities.
There are many opportunities to study in the United States on a J1 visa, based off of the program category that you choose. As you can see from the list above, you could visit the US as a short-term scholar, teacher, trainee, intern, researcher, or even as a college or university student, to name a few of the most popular programs. With this in mind, even if don’t choose to partake in an educational-based program through a college or university, the J1 program as a whole was designed to help provide hands-on training in a variety of fields. Exchange visitors who are part of work and travel programs or other non-educational routs will still be learning new skills and experiencing a new culture daily – without ever needing to step foot inside of a classroom.
Upon the completion of your exchange program, J1 visa holders have a 30 day “grace period” to leave the United States. Keep in mind that you cannot travel outside of the US during your current exchange program, or after your visa has expired. Unfortunately, if you would like to leave the States at any point during your program you will be required to apply for a brand new J1 visa in your home country in order to continue your program.