Applying For J-1 Visas as Part of a Non-U.S. Citizen Exchange Visitor Program

Calendar Icon Updated January 15, 2019

The Exchange Visitor Program is also known as the J-1 Visa program. It is for individuals who want to travel to the United States for the purpose of teaching, conducting research, studying as a student or to gain on-the-job training and experience. Depending on the program, an exchange visitor visa participant may stay for as little as a few weeks or as long as several years.

Exchange Visitor visas are extremely popular with more than 300,000 participants from over 200 countries who come to the United States annually under a J-1 visa. Of these, about 80 percent are under 30 years old. There are also in excess of 1,400 U.S. profit, non-profit and government sponsors who are designated as approved by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. 

Whether you’re a student, physician, scholar, teacher or summer work participant or any other qualified participant in one of the 14 programs under the Exchange Visitor Program visa umbrella, you might be a bit intimidated by the requirements and unique characteristics of each of the programs. Navigating through the visa process can be a bit intimidating because there are several forms to keep track of and timeframes to be kept.

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Visitor Exchange Program Categories and Descriptions

Program Category Details
Au Pair
  • Participants continue their education while living with an American family. In return, the family receives childcare services.
  • Participants must speak English; be between 18 and 26 years old; be a secondary school graduate; pass a stringent background investigation and complete an in-person interview.
  • Can stay with host family for 12 months with an option to extend for up to an additional 12 months.
  • Must receive at least 32 hours of childcare training before starting. Can provide up to 45 hours a week of childcare to a host family.
  • Must complete at least 6 hours of academic credit while in the program.
  • Participants will enjoy room and board plus compensation for childcare services.
  • Program sponsors must make sure au pairs and host families comply with all specified criteria, including training, school work, housing and pay.
  • Host families must be U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents, fluent in English; provide the au pair with a two week vacation for each 12 month exchange term; provide three meals a day and suitable private living quarters; pay up to $500 for the cost of the au pair’s educational course work.
Camp Counselor
  • Participants must be proficient in English; be at least 18 years old; be a college student, youth worker, teacher or a person with specialized skills.
  • Must be paid the same as American counterparts at camps.
  • Job must be primarily as a camp counselor, not in another capacity such as an administrator or front line laborer.
  • Program sponsors must conduct a thorough screening process; ensure participants are covered by health insurance; maintain SEVIS records; monitor and provide assistance to participants as needed.
College and University Student
  • Students must be financed directly or indirectly by the United States government, an international organization with a pre-existing relationship with the U.S., or be primarily funded by a source other than their own funds or from their family.
  • Students must participate in an educational curriculum or internship that meets objectives for a degree program in their native country.
  • Students can participate as a full time college student until completion of their degree, or participate in a non-degree program for up to 2 years.
  • In some instances, students are allowed to work part-time as long as they maintain good academic standing.
  • Sponsors are required to conduct sufficient background checks and continue to monitor the student during their academics.
Government Visitor
  • Distinguished international visitors may be invited by a federal, state or local government agency to build and strengthen relationships with American counterparts.
  • They may engage in conferences, workshops, lectures, professional meetings, tours and related activities.
  • Participants are limited to 18 months.
  • Foreign college students or those who have recently graduated may come to the U.S. to get hands-on experience and exposure to American business practices and culture in a chosen field.
  • Students must have graduated within the previous 12 months prior to the time their internship exchange begins.
  • Sponsors are required to gather appropriate information from employer hosts, and also get proof that a Worker’s Compensation Insurance Policy is in place.
  • Employers must complete a Form DS-7002 and must verify that the internship is consistent with the skills and experience of the participant; have sufficient resources available to ensure the internship is valid; ensure that the intern has a meaningful experience through training, seminars, department rotation, on-the-job training and other related activities.
International Visitor
  • Participants must be recognized leaders or someone with specialized skills who seeks to strengthen personal and professional ties with Americans and American institutions.
  • Visitors must be selected by the U.S. Department of State and may take part in research, training or consultations.
  • The maximum participation time is one year.
  • Alien physicians can take part in U.S. graduate level medical education programs at accredited U.S. medical schools.
  • They must demonstrate adequate prior education and training sufficient to succeed in a U.S. program.
  • Must be competent in written and oral English.
  • Must provide a statement from their native country that there is a need for the particular type of training in their native land the physician is seeking.
  • Participants must prove they have an agreement with a U.S. medical school prior to being granted a visa.
  • The only sponsor of this program is the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates. The ECFMG must verify that applicants meet all J-1 visa requirements. Upon doing so, they will issue a DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status.
Professor and Research Scholar
  • Participants take part in the exchange of research, ideas and related activities between U.S. and foreign academic and research institutions.
  • Must not have taken part in a research scholar program in the preceding 24 months.
  • Sponsors must screen and monitor participants to make sure they are progressing in their work and that they are taking part in American cross-cultural programs.
Secondary School Student
  • Students from other countries can come to the United States to live with a host family and study at a public or private high school.
  • Students must be at least 15 years old but not older than 18 years and 6 months. They must have not finished more than 11 years of primary and secondary schooling.
  • Students cannot work full- or part-time jobs.
  • They cannot live with relatives as part of this program.
  • Program sponsors must screen potential students and host families. They must ensure families have adequate financial resources. No more than two students may be placed in a host family home.
  • Host families are required to provide a bed, three meals a day, transportation and other adequate living accommodations.
Short-Term Scholar
  • Professors or other academic professionals can come to the United States for a short time duration to conduct research, provide lectures, consult, train or demonstrate their special skills at universities, libraries, museums or other cultural institutions.
  • Maximum stay is 6 months. No extensions are allowed.
  • Specialists are experts who offer opportunities to increase the exchange of knowledge and ideas with their U.S. counterparts.
  • This is a temporary stay and must not be used for the goal of seeking long-term employment in the U.S.
  • Maximum stay is one year.
Summer Work Travel
  • This program is for college students who want to travel and seek temporary work in the United States. Students must be proficient in English and provide proof of enrollment in a university or college outside of the United States.
  • Under this program, foreign teachers may come to the United States for the purpose of teaching at an accredited primary or secondary school. Teachers must be proficient in English and have a minimum of three years of teaching experience. They must also be able to demonstrate they are of good character and reputation.
  • This program allows foreign nationals to come to the United States to gain experience and exposure to American business practices and culture in their chosen field of occupation.
  • Participants must have at least one year of experience in their field and a degree or professional certificate from their native country. Trainees cannot work in unskilled labor positions, child or elder care or in any position that requires patient contact or care.

Exchange Visitor Program Details

In most cases, J-1 visa applicants are sponsored by a United States based organization or hosted by American families or employers. Sponsors will screen candidates to make sure they are eligible for a particular program, and all participants must prove they are proficient in English and have medical insurance for the duration of their stay in the United States. 

Sponsors will issue a Certificate of Eligibility of Exchange Visitor Status, Form DS-2019 after J-1 applicants have registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

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I acknowledge and understand that by submitting this Contact Request form through clicking "Check Eligibility!", I provide my express consent to the following: (1) That I am bound by LLC’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use; (2) That I am not required to submit this form, and thereby agree to all terms located herein, as a condition to receive any property, goods, or services that may be offered, and that I may revoke my consent at any time.

Sponsors must make sure program participants have adequate information and understand contractual obligations before a participant leaves their home country. Sponsors must also conduct an orientation for participants after they arrive in the U.S. 

In some instances, when your exchange visitor program ends, you will be required to return to your home country for two years. Depending on the program, J-1 Visa holders may also be able to extend their visa and visitor status beyond what is listed on their Form-2019.

Applying for an Exchange Visitor Program Visa

There are several steps you must take to apply for a J-1 Visa. The exact steps will vary slightly depending on your country of origin, however, these are the general steps you must follow to apply.

  • Once you have secured a sponsoring organization, complete the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160. 
  • When you have done so, print the application confirmation page and be prepared to bring it to an interview that will be scheduled at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence. 
  • As part of completing the application you will need to upload a photo of yourself as well. Photos must be in color, taken within the last six months, and meet other requirements
  • Applicants must prove they meet all criteria during an interview by a U.S. consular official. If you are 13 or younger, or 80 or older, an interview will generally not be required, however, officials reserve the right to interview anyone no matter what their age is.  
  • Applicants must also pay a nonimmigrant visa application fee. Currently, the application fee is $160, but is subject to change.

For families and spouses of J-1 Visa holders

Spouses and dependents who are unmarried children under the age of 21 of J-1 visa holders can apply for a J-2 visa. This gives them the right to travel with or later join a J-1 visa holder in the U.S. Eligibility varies by program, and some programs do not allow for a J-2 visa at all.  

For more information

Go to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs website page for the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa.

Visit the Department of State’s J-1 Visa home page.

View our Ultimate Guide to Visas.

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