The J-1 Visa category is for participation in various types of exchange programs. These may include students, researchers, medical trainees or interns. The purpose of the J-1 Visa Program is to promote the exchange of people, knowledge, and skills in the fields of education, arts, and sciences.
We most frequently deal with J-1 Visas for professional development and training. Organizations in the US then sponsor J-1 programs, who then place trainees at a US company for up to an 18 month training period.
Individuals considering a J-1 Visa should note the “2 year home residence requirement (HRR)” or 212(e) restriction. This provision requires certain J-1 holders to return to their countries of last residence for at least 2 years after finishing their J-1 programs before returning to the US. Certain categories, such as the B visitor visa, F-1 student, E-3 for Australian professionals or O-1 for individuals with extraordinary ability, may be available to those who have not satisfied the HRR.
Some may have a 2 year home residence requirement because their area of expertise appears on the J-1 Skills List. The J-1 Skills List contains skills that countries around the world have identified as being in shortage. Other J-1 holders may have a 212(e) requirement for another reason, such as direct or indirect government funding or medical training.
Skills List based waivers can be relatively easy to obtain with a “No Objection” letter from the home government. However, J-1 Visa visitors from some countries and/or in certain occupations will have an extremely difficult time obtaining a “No Objection” J-1 waiver. Other J visa holders with 212(e) restrictions will have difficulty obtaining any type of waiver. This includes those with direct or indirect government funding (i.e., Fulbright)–for whom waivers are nearly impossible.
So, before obtaining a J-1 Visa, one should carefully consider whether the 212(e) requirement applies, and if so, how difficult it will be to complete or to waive.
In addition to training and professional development programs, the J-1 has several other categories. Participants include students at all academic levels; trainees obtaining on-the-job training with private companies, institutions, and agencies; teachers of primary, secondary, and specialized schools; professors coming to teach or perform research at institutions of higher learning; research scholars; professional trainees in the medical and allied fields; and international visitors coming for the purpose of travel, observation, consultation, research, training, sharing, or demonstrating specialized knowledge or skills, or participating in organized people-to-people programs.
General requirements for J-1 visa applicants include evidence of the following:
J-1 Visa exchange visitors coming to the US for graduate medical education or training must meet certain special requirements. These include having passed the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination in Medical Sciences; and demonstrating competency in English.
Medical Education and Training J-1’s are subject to the 2 year J-1 Home Residence Requirement (the foreign residence requirement, the home physical presence requirement or §212(e) restriction). They are also subject to time limits on the duration of their program. Physicians coming to the US on J-1 exchange visitor programs for observation, consultation, teaching, or research in which there is little or no patient care are not subject to the above requirements.
Employment while in J-1 Visa status depends upon the terms of the J-1 Visa Program. Participants in programs that provide on-the-job training, teaching, research, or other activities involving paid employment may accept such employment. Participants in programs that do not involve work may not accept outside employment.
The spouse and minor children of principal J-1 Visa applicants may apply for derivative J-2 Visas. The J-2 categories allows dependents to accompany or follow to join the principal J-1 Visa applicant. To do so, dependents should present a copy of the principal’s Form IAP-66 or DS-2019 at a US Consulate. They must show sufficient financial resources to cover all expenses while in the US. Dependents may apply to USCIS for authorization to accept employment in the US. Note that in cases where the principal J-1 Visa is subject to the home residency requirement, derivative J-2 Visa holders will also be subject to the home residency requirement.
The Program Designation Branch in the Bureau of Education, Cultural Exchanges and Academic Programs (ECA) handles J-1 Visa extensions, category changes, and program transfers. You must contact them directly at (202) 203-5096 if you have questions about one of these issues. To obtain an extension of the 30-day post-program voluntary departure status, you must contact USCIS. To obtain an extension beyond the maximum limitation of stay of your exchange visitor program, you must contact the responsible officer or alternate responsible officer at your institution.
To obtain copies of lost DSP, IAP-66 or DS-2019 forms, contact the responsible officer or alternate responsible officer of the exchange visitor program(s) in which the J-1 exchange visitor participated while on the J-1 Visa.