The Process for Obtaining a J-1 Visa

The J-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows foreign nationals to visit the United States for cultural, business and professional exchange purposes. One major program that utilizes the J-1 visa is the United States Department of State’s J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program. The Exchange Visitor Program includes categories of foreign nationals such as academic scholars, interns, doctors, teachers and childcare providers (also known as Au Pairs). Whether you are eligible and want to apply for a J-1 visa, consult with your immigration attorney.

J-1 Visa Eligibility

The exact eligibility requirements will depend on the specific Exchange Visitor Program, with most requirements being program specific. However, several conditions always required include:

  • The ability to speak and understand English proficiently
  • Having health insurance that provides certain minimum benefits
  • A Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) issued Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status
  • Not otherwise inadmissible into the United States
J-1 Visa Application Process

Before applying for a J-1 visa, the individual first contact a designated sponsor. Designated sponsors are organizations that oversee and handle the application process of their respective Exchange Visitor Programs. The designated sponsor will also screen individuals to make sure they are eligible for their specific program. Most designated sponsors will charge program fees. The amount of these fees will be different for each designated sponsor and depend on the specific Exchange Visitor Program.

  • J-1 Visas for Au Pairs

After acceptance into a specific Exchange Visitor Program, the designated sponsor will issue Form DS-2019. This form will contain basic information, including a description of the program, the duration of the program and how much it costs.

There will also be a SEVIS I-901 fee, which is usually either $35 or $180. If the program is federally sponsored, there is no SEVIS I-901 fee. However, this fee is sometimes included by the designated sponsor with the program fees. If this is the case, individuals must get a receipt showing the SEVIS I-901 fee has been paid for by the designated sponsor.

Now that Form DS-2019 has been issued to the individual, they can apply for the J-1 visa at a US embassy or consulate (unless the individual is from Canada; see below for the J-1 visa process for Canadians). This is most easily done by completing the J-1 visa application, using Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. It is important to complete these forms with your immigration lawyer properly to prevent denial or delay.

Once the DS-160 is complete, the individual will pay the J-1 visa application processing fee (about $160) and contact the US embassy or consulate to schedule a personal interview. These personal interviews are usually not required when the individual is under 13 years of age or older than 80 years of age.

  • Form DS 2019: The Importance of Accurately Completing Immigration Forms
  • Form DS-160: The Importance of Accurately Completing Immigration Forms

The purpose of the interview is to confirm the individual is eligible to enter the United States and participate in the specific Exchange Visitor Program. Another thing the consular office interviewing the individual will look for is any evidence that the individual is planning a temporary visit to the United States and isn’t really planning on immigrating permanently. Because of the importance of this interview, even if your purposes are pure you should consider a “dry run” interview with your immigration attorney. If the J-1 visa is granted, depending on the individual’s home country, the individual may have to pay a visa issuance fee (sometimes called a reciprocity fee).

Individuals will have to time the J-1 visa application process correctly, since there can be delays or wait times during the application process. Also, individuals are not allowed to enter the United States more than 30 days before their program begins.

J-1 Visa Application Process for Canadians

Individuals in Canada have a much easier time in obtaining a J-1 visa. Once Form DS-2019 is obtained, no Form DS-160 or formal interview at a US embassy or consulate is required. Instead, the individual will simply travel to the United States, present Form DS-2019 to a US Customs and Border Protection officer and ask for a J-1 visa. A brief interview will be conducted, and assuming the individual is otherwise eligible for the J-1 visa, he or she will be allowed to enter the United States with a J-1 visa.

What if a J-1 Visa Holder Wants to Stay in the United States?

After the Exchange Visitor Program is over, the J-1 visa holder must return to their home country. Extensions are possible depending on the specific program and an immigration lawyer can help you secure such an extension. Even if an extension is granted, most J-1 visa holders will need to return to their home country for two years. The purpose of the Exchange Visitor Program is cultural, educational and professional exchange. If the J-1 visa holder never has to return home, this exchange wouldn’t be taking place. This two year requirement can be waived in the following five situations:

  • The individual’s home country provides a “no-objection” statement, stating that the home country has no problem if the individual doesn’t return home
  • A US citizen or permanent resident would experience a severe hardship if the individual had to return home
  • The individual will face persecution if forced to return home
  • The US government has an interest in keeping the individual in the United States
  • A designated state health department requests that the individual stay in the United States
When Does the J-1 Visa Expire?

The J-1 visa will expire when the individual’s program is completed, although there is a 30 day grace period where the individual is allowed to settle his or her affairs before returning home. Individuals may travel within the United States, but once they leave the United States during this 30 day grace period, they will not be able to return unless another visa or method of entry is obtained.

Don’t Compromise Your Ability to Secure a J-1 Visa

Obtaining a J-1 visa or extended your time to legally remain in the United States is far from a guaranteed thing. If you want to minimize your exposure to error, inadmissibility, denial of a visa or extension, retain knowledgeable and experienced immigration counsel. A failure to prepare can mean leaving outside of the United States looking in.

Call the New York immigration lawyers and former New York City prosecutors at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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