J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa Overview

The J-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa open to visitors from other countries who come into the United States for certain work and study related purposes. J-1 applicants can earn visas for teaching, studying, research, training, consulting, and other similar purposes.


There are 15 different categories of visitors who can qualify for a J-1 visa. These 15 categories include:

  1. Au Pairs – individuals who help with childcare and housework in exchange for shelter
  2. Camp counselors
  3. Students at colleges or universities
  4. Secondary school students
  5. Government visitors
  6. International visitors
  7. Physicians
  8. Professors
  9. Research scholars
  10. Short term scholars
  11. Specialists
  12. Summer work travel
  13. Teachers
  14. Trainees
  15. Interns

All categories of J-1 visitors are required to demonstrate sufficiency in the English language through a proficiency test or interview with their sponsoring program. All J-1 visitors and any of their J-2 dependents must also have medical insurance. Along with these requirements, different visitor categories may have other specific requirements. For examples, trainees must either have a degree and 1 year of experience in a certain field or 5 years of experience in the field. Teachers must have a bachelor’s equivalent degree and two full years of experience teaching after earning the degree.


To apply for a J-1 visa, applicants must first find a public or private entity to sponsor their program. Sponsors must be approved by the Department of State and must fund at least 50% of the program. Sponsors must enter the name of the applicant on the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Once a sponsor enters an applicant, the sponsor will get a DS-2019 form to fill out with the applicant to apply for the program. J-1 applicants may also apply for their spouse and unmarried children to receive a J-2 classification. After applying for the program, applicants must schedule and attend a visa interview. Waiting times for these interviews are heavily dependent on an applicant’s home country, and applicants can check approximate wait times for J-1 and other nonimmigrant visas through the Department of State website.


Fees for J-1 visas vary. When sponsors enter an applicant’s name into SEVIS, the sponsor incurs a $220 fee. Sponsors sometimes cover this fee and sometimes charge it to the applicant. Additionally, applicants typically pay a $185 nonimmigrant visa processing fee, but this fee is waived for certain government programs. Additionally, applicants must sometimes pay a reciprocity fee.

During the J-1 program, visa holders may apply for work authorization. The duration of the program depends on the category of the applicant and may range from a few months to several years. Throughout the program, J-1 visa holders keep in contact with a “responsible officer” from their sponsor to check on visa holders and ensure they are following visa requirements. Once the J-1 visa program ends, visa holders must return to their home country for at least 2 years.

2-Year Home Residency

J-1 visa holders and any J-2 dependents are required to return to their home country for two years before being eligible for citizenship in the U.S. under certain circumstances. This requirement kicks in if the J-1 visa holder gets funding from any government or international organization for the program, if the J-1 visa holder’s skills appeared on the skills list indicating need for certain skills in home countries, or if the J-1 visa holder received graduate medical education under the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates. Under the second prong, the skills list, home countries indicate specialized skills needed in the home country. A guide to specialized skills by country on the Federal Registrar website.

J-1 visa holders who fall under the 2-year residence requirement may get a waiver if they fall under one of five bases:

  1. The visa-holder’s home country may issue a statement saying it has no objection to the visa holder staying in the United States and becoming a lawful permanent resident.
  2. A U.S. federal agency can request an interested government agency waiver if a J-1 holder’s departure would be detrimental to the agency’s interest or work on a special project.
  3. A visa-holder may apply for a persecution waiver if he or she fears persecution based on race, religion, or political opinion if returned to his or her home country.
  4. If a visa-holder’s departure would cause exceptional hardship to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse or child.
  5. If the visa-holder is a foreign medical graduate, they may apply for the Conrad State 30 Program.

Under the Conrad State 30 Program, foreign medical graduates may get a waiver for the home residency if:

  1. The visa-holder was admitted under § 101(a)(15)(J) of the INA,
  2. The visa-holder entered into a full-time employment contract for 3 years at a designated health care facility for at least 3 years,
  3. The visa-holder obtains a no objection statement from their home country, AND
  4. The visa-holder agrees to begin employment at a health care facility within 90 days of the waiver receipt.

For more information about the J-1 visa visit the Department of State website and feel free to contact our office.