The J-1 exchange visitor program was created to improve and develop international relations by providing research, education and training to foreign nationals who will then return home to employ the useful skills learned. J-1 visitors may include those receiving education, training or experience in diverse fields from research scholars to au pairs and business trainees to camp counselors. Complex rules govern extensions, restrictions on changing status and other consequences. Those considering J-1 programs should carefully consider the consequences, which can be extreme.
The J visa program is described at 22 CFR Section 514. Congress established the J visa category as part of the Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (later amended by the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961).
Because one of the policy goals of the exchange program is to provide training and experience to foreign nationals who will return to their home countries to employ those skills, Congress imposed a two-year foreign residence requirement for some J-1 candidates.
Type of J-1
Duration of Stay
|Trainees||Business trainees 18 months. Flight training 24 months|
Secondary school students one year
College students for the length of their academic program
College students in programs not conferring degree up to two years
Students in programs below doctoral level 18 months of training after completing degree
Post-doctoral training may last for 36 months after the degree is conferred
|Teachers||Primary and secondary school teachers are admissible for three years|
|College Professors and Research Scholars||College Professors and Research Scholars five years (*new* J-1 rule), and eligible for a six month extension if (1) the sponsor petitions for the extension, and (2) it is necessary to permit the J-1 candidate to complete a specific project or research activity. New 24 month bar to using J-1 program for professors/researchers after each use, but does not bar use of other nonimmigrant status types.|
|Specialists||Up to two years|
|Foreign Medical Graduates||Admission for length of the US internship or residency, usually seven years. Extension under some circumstances|
|Student Summer Work/Travel Programs||USIA rules do not provide maximum period of stay, but it is likely four month maximum applies to this category|
|Au Pairs||One year maximum stay|
|International Visitors||One year maximum stay|
|Government Visitors||18 month maximum stay|
|Camp Counselors||Four month maximum stay|
Extensions of stay may be granted where the sponsoring organization provides adequate justification. Extensions of stay are rarely granted.
Foreign nationals entering the United States in J-1 status may be subject to the two year home residence requirement. The two year home residence requirement provides that where a country indicated that it has a shortage of workers with specific skills, J-1 foreign nationals from that country with those skills will be required to return home for two years after their J-1 status expires. The two year home residence requirement is a complex subject discussed in greater detail here.
The USIA is responsible for administering the Foreign Exchange Visitor Program and the INS and US Department of State are responsible for setting and enforcing J Visitor admissibility requirements. Additionally, INS is responsible for expelling those J visitors who violate the conditions of their stay.
The Foreign Exchange Visitor Program was administered by the US Department of State from that program's inception in 1948 and until 1978. In 1978 the United States International Communication Agency (USICA) assumed primary administrative responsibility for this program and this agency was later renamed to the United States Information Agency (USIA). The US Department of State may soon retake primary responsibility for administering the Foreign Exchange Visitor Program.
J programs must be approved by the Director of the United States Information Agency. Approved programs are issued a designation and program number by the USIA, approved programs then issue Certificates of Eligibility to aliens seeking J-1 Exchange Visitor status.
The types of organizations that may qualify for exchange visitor programs are defined in 22 CFR section 514.3(a). These include educational institutions, government agencies, businesses and nonprofit entities.
Specific Qualifying Requirements
Acceptable Types of Sponsoring Entities
Under a 1990 amendment to USIA regulations, a sponsor must be a reputable organization that is a citizen of the United States. Citizen of the United States is defined at 22 CFR 514.2:
Foreign Exchange Program sponsors must designate a specific officer responsible for J Program administration and this designation must be set forth in the Exchange Program Application, Form IAP-37. That officer as well as alternate sponsoring officers must be United States citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents. 22 CFR 514.2.
The designated officer has definite responsibilities described in 22 CFR 514.11. Additionally, applicants are encouraged to designate one or more alternate responsible officers. 22 CFR 514.9(g).
Applying for Program Approval
Applications for program approval are submitted to USIA on form IAP-37. The sponsoring agency must develop and plan a formal exchange visitor program. This plan must set forth a detailed structure and purpose for the proposed program and the specific methods that the sponsor will use to comply with USIA regulations in administering the program. The exchange program application should also explain how the proposed program will promote mutual understanding and improve communication and improve communication between people in the United States and other countries through educational and cultural exchanges.
Each application is individually evaluated and judged by its proposed merits. This review process may last as long as six months. Upon approval, USIA designates the program as acceptable and the program sponsor may then issue J-1 visas.
Detailed instructions are included in the IAP-37 form packet issued by USIA upon request.
USIA designates an approved sponsoring organization with a program number. This number contains an identifier depending on the type of sponsor. These designations are listed in former 22 CFR 63.15, now 22 CFR 514.16, but the amended section does not list USIA categorical designations.
Description of Program Sponsor
|G-1||United States Information Agency (USIA)|
|G-2||Agency for International Development (AID)|
|G-3||Department of State (DOS)|
|G-4||International agencies or organizations in which the US government participates|
|G-5||Other national, state, or local government agencies|
|P-1||Educational institutions, schools, colleges, universities, seminaries, libraries, museums, and institutions devoted to scientific and technological research|
|P-2||Hospitals and related institutions|
|P-3||Non-profit associations, foundations, and institutions|
|P-4||Business and industrial concerns|
Exchange visitor programs are closely monitored by USIA, DOS and INS. These programs provide valuable cultural exchanges and impart valuable training as well as facilitating the exchange of ideas. Abuse of J Programs, including improperly filling staff vacancies, is dealt with severely. And improper use subjects meritorious Exchange Visitor Programs to unwarranted scrutiny and restrictions.
USIA will suspend or revoke exchange visitor designation for willful or negligent violations of regulations, patterns of willful or negligent failure to comply with regulations or other misconduct described at 22 CFR Section 514.50.
Organizations without Exchange-Visitor designations may apply to qualify J-1 exchange visitors through an umbrella sponsoring organization provided that they meet the requirements of that organization. Two of the largest international organizations are:
Each umbrella program sponsor has different eligibility and reporting requirements. Each requires initial proof of the nature of the training program and the candidate's qualifications. Additionally, each requires reports on the progress and status of each J-1 candidate's program. The umbrella program sponsor then follows strict reporting requirements to convey this information to the USIA.
Program sponsors must comply with all federal, state, local and professional regulations applicable to the nature of its program. For example a California law school sponsor must maintain ABA accreditation in addition to complying with California State Bar legal education requirements. This includes withholding required taxes from income paid to exchange visitors. But wages paid to exchange visitors are exempt from taxes under FICA, FUTA, and the Railroad Retirement Act.
Required Administrative Activities
Sponsors must develop a selection system for foreign exchange visitors with essentially the same standards applicable to certifying 501(c)(3) scholarship funds, a process familiar to most colleges and universities.
The sponsor must devise a system for determining the eligibility of potential exchange visitors as well as whether the sponsor's program is appropriate for the applicant taking into consideration the applicant's experience, level of education as well as the applicant's educational and career goals.
Finally, the sponsor must retain all records related to its exchange program and its exchange visitors for at least three years. 22 CFR 514.10(g)(h).
Sponsors must inform USIA immediately and in writing when an exchange visitor participating in that sponsor's program completes the program or withdraws from the program 30 days or more before the proposed completion date listed on that visitor's Form IAP-66. Sponsors must also inform USIA of changes in responsible officers, alternate responsible officers, the location of the sponsoring organization, changes in ownership or any serious problem that might bring the USIA or the sponsor program into disrepute. 22 CFR 514.13.
Each designated visitor exchange program must file an annual report with USIA. This report must summarize that year's program and activities, provide an accurate accounting of all issued Forms IAP-66. See 71 Interpreter Releases 1569 (Nov. 18, 1994).
Sponsors must provide insurance coverage of US$50,000 per accident or illness, coverage for repatriation of remains of US$7,500, and coverage for medical evacuation of the visitor to his or her home country of $10,000.
This insurance policy must satisfy several requirements described in 22 CFR 514.14(c), it must be:
Underwritten by companies that have specified ratings;
With prior USIA authorization, nongovernmental sponsors may self-insure to meet these requirements. 22 CFR 514.14(e).
The Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 imposes additional reporting requirements on exchange visitor programs. IIRAIRA Section 641 requires the US Attorney General to collect information from approved sponsoring colleges and universities with F, J and M visa programs for beneficiaries from at least five foreign countries. The Attorney General is free to choose the initial five countries, but she must collect at least the following information:
The training category of exchange visitors is the most highly scrutinized because of businesses' potential inappropriate use of this category to fill vacant positions. Training sponsors must certify that their training programs are not designed to recruit and train aliens for employment in the United States and that trainees will not be placed in positions that displace full-time or part-time employees. 22 CFR 514.22(f)(4).
Appropriate training must be on-the-job training which is defined as an individual's observation of and participation in given tasks demonstrated by experienced workers for the purpose of acquiring competency in such tasks. 22 CFR 514.2.
This category is most similar to the H-1B skilled worker category, but lasts only one year. The purpose of the specialist category is to provide foreign specialists the opportunity to observe American institutions and methods of practice, and to share their specialized knowledge with their American colleagues. 22 CFR 514.26(b).
A J-1 specialist must be an individual who is an expert in a field of specialized knowledge or skill coming to the United States for observing, consulting, or demonstrating special skills. 22 CFR 514.4(g).
The difference between J-1 and H-1B visas is that the J-1 is for the purpose of exchange and requires temporary intent while the H-1B is for the purpose of employment and permits dual or future permanent intent. Cotten & Yenkin, J Status: Exchange Visitors 9-32, in NAFSA: Association of International Educators, Adviser's Manual of Federal Regulations Affecting Foreign Students and Scholars (Alex Bedrosian ed., 1992).
Most exchange visitors are eligible to change status from J-1 to another nonimmigrant status, for example H-1B. These applications are filed at the regional INS Service Center with jurisdiction over the place of employment on INS Form I-539. (See INS Forms download page). The only exception is for foreign medical graduates coming to the United States for graduate medical education, and these exchange visitors may only change status to H-1B and then, only under very limited circumstances. Charles Gordon, et. al, Immigration Law and Procedure, Section 22.05; INA Section 248.
Please note that changes of status may be subject to the two-year foreign residency requirement discussed below.
J candidates must qualify under the specific rules of the sponsoring program. Those rules differ by program and are available from specific program administrators. J candidates seeking to qualify for a specific Foreign Exchange Visitor Program should contact the administrator for that program.
Once the candidate meets the requirements of the Exchange Visitor Program sponsor, that organization issues the Certificate of Eligibility and the alien then takes that certificate to the appropriate US Consulate to apply for the J-1 Visa.
The designated program sponsor issues Form IAP-66 to the qualifying exchange visitor. This form describes the specific J candidate's program requirements as well as the length of stay. This form must be completed by both the sponsoring organization and exchange visitor.
The exchange visitor presents completed Form IAP-66 to the US Consulate abroad which issues the visa. Then, the exchange visitor must submit both the J-1 visa issued by the US Consulate abroad as well as the IAP-66 to the INS Officer at the Port of Entry. The exchange visitor should retain the pink copy of Form IAP-66 because it is necessary for brief absences from the United States and for extending the visa.
Certain J Visa candidates may have a two year foreign residency requirement after being present in the United States under any J-1 program. Those candidates must return to their country of nationality or last residence for a period of at least two years before applying for an immigrant visa or an H or L category visa. It is not sufficient to leave the United States for two years. Only time accrued in the alien's country of nationality or last residence will count toward the two year requirement. The alien's period of residence in the home country is counted cumulatively.
The J candidates subject to the two year foreign residence requirement include:
An alien "whose participation in the program for which he came to the United States was financed in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, by an agency of the Government of the United States or by the government of the country of his nationality or his last residence;
An alien "who at the time of admission or acquisition of status under section 101(a)(15)(J) was a national or resident of a country which the Director of the United States Information Agency pursuant to regulations prescribed by him, had designated as clearly requiring the skills of persons engaged in the field of specialized knowledge or skill in which the alien was engaged;" and
The most difficult waiver cases to win are those involving an exchange visitor whose visit was financed in whole or in part by the US government or the government of the alien's country of nationality or last residence, but cases where the US government financed the visit are the most difficult. Where the alien's country of nationality or last residence paid for the visit, it is possible to obtain a "no objection" letter from that country declaring that it does not
Business and industrial trainees are whose field of training or expertise appears on the USIA Skills List are subject to the home residence requirement. The USIA Skills List is developed by the US Department of State which surveys foreign countries as to which skills are currently in shortage. Generally, industrialized countries, including those in Western Europe and Japan are not on the USIA Skills List.
USIA Skills List (.pdf 381kb-- Note: this is a 70 page document published in the Federal Register; to find your country in this document, click on the hyperlink, wait to download the .pdf file, and then either press CTRL+F in Adobe Acrobat Reader, type in the name of the word(s) you are searching for, and click the OK button. Acrobat will find each instance of your search term in the document).
Aliens subject to the two year foreign residence requirement may qualify for a waiver under section 212(e) "upon the favorable recommendation of the Director of the United States Information Agency, pursuant to the request of an interested United States Government agency, or of the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization after he has determined that departure from the United States would impose exceptional hardship upon the alien's spouse or child (if such spouse or child is a citizen of the United States or a lawfully resident alien), or the alien cannot return to the country of his nationality or last residence because he would be subject to persecution on account of race, religion, or political opinion." USCIS adjudicates applications for this waiver and may grant them only if doing so is in the public interest.
The Director of the United States Information Agency may also recommend a waiver if the alien's native country or country of last residence provides a written statement stating that it has no objection to the waiver being issued. But this waiver is not available to foreign students receiving graduate medical education or training.
At the consular interview, the applicant presents the signed IAP-66 issued by the program sponsor or umbrella sponsor. This form is executed in quadruplicate with the following page color designations: (1) white copy is sent to the INS; (2) the yellow copy used to be sent to the USIA, but is sent to the US Department of State as of 1999; (3) the pink copy is retained by the participant as proof of possession of the visa for for reentries into the United States; and (4) the green copy is retained by the sponsoring organization.
Although many J-1 candidates are subject to the two-year home residence requirement discussed above, the US consular officer makes an independent determination of the alien applicant's intention to return to his or her home country at the end of the training program. Thus, the alien applicant must be prepared to satisfy the same showing of ties to the home country and an intention to return home when the training program ends. This inquiry may include questions regarding the alien trainee's plans for using his or her newly learned skills in his or her home country.