Because the program is intended for cultural exchange, a wide range of individuals can come to the U.S. on a J-1 visa. In addition to visa holders, the exchange visitor program allows some minor unmarried children and spouses of visa holders to come to the U.S. as well. Immediate families can only travel with a J-1 visa holder if the specific sponsoring program allows it. If a program does permit it, qualifying spouses and children under the age of 21 can apply for a J-2 visa to travel to the U.S. with a person taking part in the J-1 program.
The requirements for the J-1 program varies depending on the cultural exchange program an applicant is interested in. However, everyone applying for a J-1 visa must meet the requirements of their sponsoring exchange program and must meet federal requirements.
While exchange visitors are responsible for meeting all requirements for entry into the United States and their exchange program, most sponsors of such programs assist their applicants by supplying them with detailed instructions to follow to gain entry into the U.S. on a J-1 visa.
The J-1 visa allows individuals to live, travel, train, teach, study, or work in the United States. The exact activities which are permitted are outlined in each specific program by the sponsor, and participants are generally limited to the activities which are described in the program. If an individual is coming to the United States on a J-1 visa to study, for example, they will not be allowed to work in the U.S.
The J-1 visa is a temporary visa. It does not provide a path to citizenship and J-1 visa holders who wish to apply for other non-immigrant visas or to become U.S. permanent residents will usually need to return to their home country for two years before applying, although there are a few exceptions.
In most cases, this visa is used to gain training or life and work experience before a visa holder returns to their home country. In fact, the main role of the visa is cultural exchange and learning, so the exchange visitor must not be engaged in regular employment. There must be a component of training, learning, getting work experience, or cultural exchange as part of any paid position.
Unlike most visas, applicants do not apply to the USCIS. Instead, they apply through a sponsor. The process is involved and does require close cooperation between the sponsoring organization and the applicant.
Sponsors who host exchange programs have to meet strict requirements with the U.S. Department of State and most organizations offering these programs have extensive experience, so they are poised to help if applicants have any questions. Since the process is involved and can require paying multiple fees, it is important to choose a program you are qualified for and where you have a strong chance for success.
There is no cap on the number of J-1 visas. However, there are restrictions within each program and some sponsors are very competitive, meaning that only a small percentage of applicants are admitted to the program. Since sponsors are responsible for screening applicants, selecting them, and monitoring them once they are in the U.S., most sponsors will not accept more applicants once their program is filled.
The length of stay on a J-1 visa varies depending on a few factors. There are limits on the amount of time each type of visitor can remain in the U.S. For example, trainees can remain for up to 18 months and interns can stay for a maximum of 12 months. However, sponsors can also choose to set a shorter limit. A sponsoring organization may choose to create a 15-month exchange program for trainees, in which case visas issued for that program would be issued for 15 months. Extensions may be possible if an applicant cannot complete the work they are intended to do by their sponsor in the time available.
An exchange program can be life changing and career-altering, but these programs can be competitive and applying can take months. If you have been previously found inadmissible to the U.S. or are having trouble securing entry into the United States, consult with Farmer Law PC to explore the options available to you.
Farmer Law can also help organizations interested in becoming hosts or employers of J-1 visitors. While most companies use third-party sponsors to choose and screen exchange visitors, it is possible to apply to the U.S. Department of State to become a sponsor. While the process is complex and requires a very detailed program description, evidence of financial ability to support a program, and proof of experience with international programs, organizations who are successful may benefit from having yearly international interns, trainees, students, or workers to help grow their organizations.