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What is a J-1 Visa?

This article provides a general overview of the J-1 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 J-1 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 (non-degree seeking) international student or scholar. There are many different categories available, and the J-1 visa program is one of the most unique, sometimes allowing individuals to both study and work at the same time.

The J-1 Visa Program

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, J-1 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 J-1 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, along with the organization that sponsors the visa, dependents may also be able to travel to the US as well. The dependents of a J-1 visa holder (spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21) are issued a J-2 visa and are required to follow the same application process as the J-1 visa holder.

Popular Program Categories for J-1 Visa Holders

University Exchange Program

Some colleges and universities in the US have exchange programs with institutions outside of the US, so that they are literally able to “exchange” students between their two campuses. With these programs, students typically continue to pay their tuition to their home institution and then obtain a J-1 visa for the semester or year that they’ll be studying in the US.

Short-Term Scholar Program

Every year, professors and research scholars teach and conduct research at US colleges and universities for up to 6 months.

Au Pair Program

Individuals between the ages of 18 to 26 can come to the US for up to two years, live with a family, study at a US institution, and provide childcare to the family they live with.


University students or recent graduates can also come to the US to learn about US culture and receive hands-on experience in their chosen occupation.

Work & Travel Program

Students who are enrolled full-time at a post-secondary school can come to the United States to work and travel during the winter, spring, and summer seasons.

Camp Counselor

Individuals 18 years and older can work with American youth at US summer camps as a camp counselor or teacher.

High School/Secondary School

High school students can study for a semester or year at an accredited public or private high school and live with an American host family or boarding school.
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J-1 Visa Qualification Requirements

The eligibility criteria for the J-1 visa will vary based on the program category that you choose, as well as the organization that sponsors the visa — please contact the sponsor for full details concerning a particular program. That being said, all participants in the J-1 visa program must be proficient in English and carry adequate health insurance. In nearly all cases, J-1 visa holders may also be required to schedule an individual interview with the US Embassy or Consulate in their home country before their J-1 visa is granted.

How Do You Get a J-1 Visa?

Step 1

First you must find a designated sponsor, approved by the US Department of State, and receive acceptance into their program. As mentioned above, there are many different programs that you could be a part of, all issuing a J-1 visa and offering hands-on experiences that may be unavailable in your home country.

Step 2

After you’ve been accepted into the program of your choice you must then submit a “DS-2019 Form,” also known as the “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1 Status”. This form will include a short description of the exchange program that you’ve chosen (including the start and end date of your program), an estimated cost of your program and the category of exchange. Be sure to complete this two page form honestly, as it will help you get an interview with the US consulate and ultimately be granted your visa.

Don’t forget to submit additional DS-2019 forms for any dependents who may accompany you to the US.

Step 3

The next step is to pay what is called a “SEVIS I-901” fee to the Department of Homeland Security as part of your application. Along with a few additional forms, you will also need to submit a valid passport (with validity for at least six months after your intended period of stay in the United States) and a colored photograph of yourself as part of your J-1 visa application.

Step 4

As the final step of the J-1 application process, you will most likely be required to interview at a local US embassy or consulate. Generally, applicants 13 and younger, along with adults over 80, don’t require an interview unless specifically requested by the consulate.

Working On a J-1 Visa

When you visit the United States on a J-1 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.

J-2 visa holders must obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the Department of Homeland Security before they are eligible to work in the US.
If you have chosen to travel to the US on a study-related program, such as an exchange student, 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 to 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 may cover basic living expenses, but few visitors find it will cover much more than the necessities.

Studying On a J-1 Visa

There are many opportunities to study in the United States on a J-1 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 you don’t choose to partake in an educational-based program through a college or university, the J-1 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 routes will still be learning new skills and experiencing a new culture daily – without ever needing to step foot inside of a classroom.

Returning Home

Upon the completion of your exchange program, J-1 visa holders have a 30 day “grace period” before they are required to leave the United States. Keep in mind that, unless you have a J visa with “multiple entries,” 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 and you don’t have a multiple entries visa, you will be required to apply for a brand new J-1 visa in your home country in order to continue your program.

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