Studying and working in America is an opportunity to not only gain knowledge and skills that can help progress a career, but also to learn about the culture and experience what it is like to live in the U.S. So how do you start the process of applying to educational programs and jobs and plan for moving to the states?
Participating in the J1 Exchange Visitor Program is one way international students are able to pursue experience and training in their intended field. Learn more about the J1 Visa as well as the rules and application process in this guide.
What is a J1 Visa?
A J1 Visa is a non-immigrant visa and one of the three types of international student visas issued by the U.S. State Department for foreign nationals who wish to study and work in the U.S.
The purpose of a J1 Visa is to allow foreign nationals to temporarily come to the U.S. for employment experience or academic training that is not available in their country. It is open to post-secondary and secondary students as well as to:
- Au pairs
- Camp counselors
- Government visitors
- Professors and research scholars
The visa is specifically for students who participate in an approved J1 Exchange Visitor Program.
What is a J1 Exchange Visitor Program?
This educational and cultural exchange program is approved by the Department of State and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It allows people in the U.S. to travel abroad for educational purposes and cultural enrichment and enables foreign nationals to have the same experiences in the U.S.
Are J1 Visa holders residents?
For tax purposes, J1 Visa holders are not considered residents unless they have a substantial presence in the U.S. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service defines a substantial presence as living in the U.S. for 122 days or more each year over a three-year period.
Are there alternative options to a J1 Visa for international students?
Instead of a J1 Visa, students may be able to apply for the F1 Visa or the M1 Visa.
- An F1 Visa is for vocational training
- An M1 Visa is for studying at a college, university, conservatory, seminary, or high school
Qualifications for an M1 or F1 Visa include:
- Proficiency in English: Typically, this is demonstrated by taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam. You can develop your English speaking, reading, and writing skills by taking classes or using language learning apps.
- Obtaining financial means to pay for all educational costs, living expenses, and travel costs
What is the difference between a J1 and F1 Visa?
A J1 Visa is for students who are participating in cultural and educational exchange programs. These programs don’t result in a degree, certificate, or diploma.
An F1 Visa is for students who have gained admission to complete a vocational training program at an approved school and will usually receive a degree, certificate, or diploma when they meet all of the program requirements.
What is the difference between a J1 and M1 Visa?
The M1 Visa is for students who are accepted to a degree, certificate, or diploma program by an approved college, university, conservatory, seminary, high school, private elementary school, or language learning school.
The J1 Visa is for students participating in cultural and educational exchange programs that don’t always end in degrees or certificates.
Who is eligible for a J1 Visa?
Under J1 Visa rules, you can earn a certificate or diploma while studying under a J1 Visa. You may also be able to earn a degree if you completed at least one year of a degree program in the same major in your home country. It is also possible to study full-time in a non-degree program.
Eligibility for a J1 Visa as a post-secondary student includes the following:
- Receive direct or indirect financing from the U.S. government, your home country, and a participating country or get your financing for the cost of your trip from a source other than your own funds
- Gain admission to an approved cultural and educational exchange program
- Be enrolled full-time in a educational program at a college or university
Is there an age limit for a J1 Visa?
For some types of J1 Visa programs, there are general age requirements. For example, only individuals aged 35 and younger can apply for an internship J1 Visa.
The college and university student J1 Visa does not have a general age requirement though. However, specific educational and cultural training programs may only accept applicants who are under a certain age.
What is a J1 Visa sponsor?
A J1 Visa sponsor is an educational institution or nonprofit organization that is approved to offer a J1 cultural and educational exchange program. The program that accepts you becomes your J1 Visa Sponsor. You generally need to have a sponsoring program to obtain a J1 Visa.
What is the foreign residency requirement and waiver?
Some people who receive J1 Visas are subject to the foreign residency requirement (also called home residency requirement). These individuals must return to their home countries and maintain a permanent residence there for two years before they can return to the U.S. on any type of visa. Students subject to the home residency requirement can apply for a J1 waiver by completing Form DS-3035.
What is a “No Objection” statement?
A No Objection statement is issued by your home country, stating that they don’t object to you remaining in the U.S. Your country’s laws and regulations determine how you can apply for one. You may need to have a No Objection statement to obtain a foreign residency requirement waiver.
Are there any new rules for J1 Visas?
With many schools switching to virtual classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs allowed some flexibility for existing J1 Visa rules. In some cases, individuals who were J1 Visa students at the time of shutdowns were able to temporarily participate in fully online or hybrid instruction. However, this option is generally not available for new J1 Visa applicants.
What programs are available under the J1 Visa?
J1 Visa programs for students can include:
- Non-degree study
- Full degree programs (provided you complete at least one year of study toward the degree in your home country)
- Certificate programs
- Diploma programs
The areas of study available depend on the programming offered by the school. The government doesn’t have any specific requirements regarding the fields that you can study.
Can a J1 Visa holder work in the U.S.?
Eligibility to work as a J1 Visa holder in the U.S. is up to your J1 Visa Sponsor. Educational and cultural programs may allow you to obtain on-campus or off-campus employment if you meet certain criteria, such as maintaining a minimum grade point average (GPA) at your host school. However, some programs may also not allow you to work while you are studying or in training programs.
Can a J1 Visa holder work part-time?
If your educational and cultural program gives you permission, you can work part-time in the U.S. on a J1 Visa. Some possible part-time work could include popular side hustles for immigrants, depending on the program’s rules.
Can I drive an Uber on a J1 Visa?
You may be able to drive an Uber while on a J1 Visa, but, again, it depends on the rules of your sponsoring educational and cultural program.
How to apply for a J1 Visa
There are several steps to follow when applying for a J1 Visa. They include:
- Applying to a cultural and educational exchange program.
- Paying a SEVIS I-901 fee, if required.
- Completing Form DS-160 online.
- Submitting a photo that complies with the U.S. State Department guidelines.
- Paying a J1 Visa application fee.
- Scheduling and participating in an interview in the U.S. Consulate or Embassy.
What are statements of compliance?
Statements of compliance are forms that your J1 Visa sponsoring program or the host school where you will be studying will give you to sign after you are accepted. They advise you of certain rules, such as a need for obtaining private health insurance while studying in the U.S.
When you sign, you are saying that the program or school advised you of these requirements.
What documents do you need to apply for a J1 Visa?
You’ll need the following documents for your J1 Visa application.
- A passport that enables you to travel in the U.S. and doesn’t expire for at least 6 months after the end of your program
- Form DS-2019, the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status, which you will receive from the cultural and educational program that accepts you
In addition, you should also gather information that shows you intend to depart the U.S. after your visa ends, and that you can pay for your own travel costs when you’re preparing for your visa application. Some documents you may wish to gather include:
- Bank account information
- A monthly budget that you have prepared
- List of family members in your home country
- Apartment lease or deed to a home or property
- Utility bills in your name
- Lease or title for a vehicle in your name
- Letter from an employer or your university stating you will have a job or a place at your current school when you return home
How much does it cost to get a J1 Visa?
You will likely need to pay at least three fees to get a J1 Visa. They include:
- An application fee, which costs $160 as of July 2022
- SEVIS fee, which costs $220 as of July 2022
- Issue fee, which varies based on your nationality
What is an alien registration number for a J1 Visa?
An alien registration number is an identification number given to green card holders in the U.S. You normally won’t receive one as a J1 Visa holder.
When should you apply for a J1 Visa?
You’ll need to apply for a J1 Visa early enough to allow for processing time but not so early that the issuance date is more than 120 days before the program begins. This is because the U.S. Department of State will issue a J1 Visa up to 120 days before the start of your educational and cultural exchange program. You can request entry to the U.S. at a Port of Entry up to 30 days before the start of the program.
Your sponsoring program can also give you advice about when to apply, or you can contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
How long does it take to get a J1 Visa?
The amount of time it takes to get a J1 visa varies. You’ll likely experience wait times when scheduling an appointment. Check the U.S. State Department website for details about how long the interview wait time is currently.
After your interview, there will be additional wait times while your application is processed and the State Department decides whether to approve your application.
How to stay in the U.S. after your J1 Visa expires
The length of the cultural and educational program that you’re participating in determines how long you can stay in the U.S. You can usually stay for up to 60 days after the end date of your program. Once your J1 Visa expires, you usually need to return to your home country.
If you want to extend your stay, you’ll need to apply for an extension or change in status by completing Form I-539 before your J1 Visa expires. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommends that you complete the application at least 45 days before the expiration date on your J1 Visa.
Can you extend a J1 Visa in the U.S.?
You may be able to extend a J1 Visa if:
- Your J1 Visa hasn’t expired
- You complied with all rules and requirements for your J1 Visa
- You didn’t commit any crimes during your stay in the U.S.
- You complete the necessary application Form I-539
- Your passport is still valid and isn’t set to expire during your extended stay
Can you get a J1 Visa twice?
You may be able to get a J1 Visa twice if you participate in a different cultural or educational program under another status. For example, you could potentially apply for an intern or trainee J1 visa after your educational J1 visa is done. However, you will likely have to return to your home country and complete the residency requirement before you apply.
Can you change a J1 Visa to an F1 Visa?
If you gain admission to an approved F1 Visa vocational training program, you may be able to request a change in status by completing Form I-539. USCIS may require you to return home and complete your residency requirement before you can begin the vocational training program, or they may grant a deferrment until the end of the F1 training program.
Can a J1 Visa convert to a green card?
In some cases, you may be able to apply for a green card while you have a J1 Visa. You’ll need to obtain a No Objection statement from your home country. In addition, you may need to prove that you would face persecution or financial hardship if you returned home.
You’ll also need to apply for and obtain a J1 residency requirement waiver (by completing Form DS-3035) before you submit your migration petition. An immigration attorney can provide you with specific information regarding the likelihood of getting a green card.
Can you change a J1 Visa to an H1B Visa?
You may be able to change a J1 Visa to an H1B Visa if you get a job offer from a U.S. employer and obtain a J1 residency requirement waiver. To do so, you will likely need to complete Form I-539. The best way to successfully change your visa is to contact an immigration attorney for advice.
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