A J-1 visa is a type of US study and exchange visas that you can get for a temporary stay while on an exchange visitor program in the US. To qualify for a J-1 visa, the first thing you need to do is apply for an exchange program (study or work) through an assigned sponsor in the US. Only after you are accepted into a program, you can apply for a J-1 visa.

J-1 Visa Types

J-1 visa has several categories you can choose from depending on what exchange program you belong to:

CategoriesRequirements
Au Pair and EduCareTo get a J-1 visa for Au Pair, you must be between 18-26 years old, proficient in spoken English, and be a secondary school graduate. For Au pair, you will be placed with a host family for 12 months with the option to extend your visa for 6,9, or 12 months and more. Before you start your work with the host family, you will undergo a training program on working with children so you can be better prepared.
Camp CounselorFor the camp counselor category, you must have enough knowledge of the English language so you can interact with the campers, and you must be at least 18 years old. During the camp work, you will be paid and receive the same benefits as your American counterparts.
Government VisitorYou can apply for this category of the J-1 visa if you are selected by a US federal agency or local government to visit and engage in various activities to strengthen your relationship with America. During this time you can take part in observation tours, discussions, consultations, professional meetings, workshops, and so on.
InternTo qualify for a J-1 visa in the intern category, you must either be currently enrolled at a university or certificate-granting post-secondary academic institution outside of the US or, have graduated from one of these institutions in the last 12 months. The internship is offered only in some specific fields which include the following: Agriculture, forestry, and fishing. Arts and culture. Construction and Building Trades.Education, Social Sciences, Library Science, Counseling and Social Services.Health-Related Occupations.Hospitality and Tourism.Information Media and Communications.Management, Business, Commerce, and Finance.Public Administration and Law. andThe Sciences, Engineering, Architecture, Mathematics, and Industrial Occupations.
International VisitorYou have to be selected by the United States Department of State to qualify for this J-1 visa. As an international visitor, you must take part in consultations, observation, research, training, or demonstration of special skills and you must be a recognized individual in a special field.
PhysicianFor this J-1 visa, you must have completed your education and have adequate medical training to participate in the program. You will also need to provide a statement from your country (to show why you need to participate in the program and that you won’t overstay), and an agreement or contract from a US accredited medical school, hospital, or scientific institution. Additionally, you must complete one of the following: Part I or part II of the National Board of Medical Examiners ExaminationThe Foreign Medical Graduate ExamStep I and Step II Visa Qualifying medical Examiners (VQE)
Professor and Research ScholarTo get a J-1 visa as a professor and research scholar, you have to meet several criteria. For one, you must not be a candidate for a tenure track position, you mustn’t have been a part of the professorship program in the last 24 months, and you mustn’t have participated in a J-visa program in the last 12 months unless exceptions apply.
Short-term ScholarUsually, you can stay only up to six months with this type of J-visa. To get the short-term scholar J-visa, you must be a professor or research scholar or have a similar background education, and experience. You can contribute to special research projects, teach a semester at a college or university. For this program, you cannot extend your stay or change your category.  
SpecialistTo get a J-visa for the specialist category, you must be an expert in your field, and you must not be looking to be employed full-time in the United States. Under this category, you can usually stay for a year.
Student, college/ universityFor a student J-1 visa, you must be sponsored, and have your stay funded either by your home country via a government program, by the US, or by both governments. Usually, you can stay for up to two years, but the validity of this J-1 visa type changes according to the program you are participating in.
Student, secondaryFor this visa type, you must be at least 15 years old, but you cannot be older than 18 years and six months before the program starts. You must also have less than 11 years of primary school education, not including kindergarten and you must have not participated in a previous similar program under an F-1 visa or J-1 visa.  
Summer Work TravelYou can get a summer work visa if you are a student enrolled in a university and pursuing a degree, you must have completed at least one semester of your program to qualify for this visa. Additionally, you must have a job secured before you enter the US unless you are from a visa waiver country.
TeacherYou must have the qualifications to work in a primary or secondary school, and you must have a degree equivalent to a US bachelor’s degree in education or the academic subject you intend to teach. Moreover, you must be either employed in a teaching position in your country at the time of application, or you must have a minimum of 24 months of work experience as a teacher.
TraineeIf you want to qualify for the trainee visa category, you must have a degree or a professional certificate from a university or a similar institution. You must also have at least one year of work experience related to your occupation before applying for the program or five years of experience in the occupational field where you are seeking training.

How To Apply for a J-1 Visa?

To apply for a J-1 visa, you have to follow the steps listed below, but keep in mind that the order in which you follow the steps will change based on where you are applying from:

  1. Fill in the visa application form.
  2. Set up an interview with the embassy/consulate.
  3. Pay the application fee.
  4. Prepare your required documents.
  5. Attend your visa interview.
  6. Enter the United States.

Fill In the Visa Application Form

For your J-1 visa, you must complete the application form online and print the application form confirmation page- you can find the form here. You need to bring the confirmation page with you when you go to attend your visa interview.

During your online application, you must also upload your visa photo, in case the upload fails then bring a copy of your photo with you.

Set Up an Interview With the Embassy/ Consulate

After you fill in the application form, you must schedule an appointment with your local embassy or consulate, to attend your visa interview– you can find the nearest visa office here. The waiting time to set a date for the interview varies depending on many factors such as the influx of applicants, the staff at hand, the season, and the location.

Pay the Application Fee

There are some cases where you may be required to pay the visa fee before you attend your interview, in these cases, you must bring your receipt with you to the visa office. However, you must check with your sponsor for the program before you pay the fee since sometimes the program will cover your visa expenses as well.

Prepare Your Required Documents

Before you attend the visa interview, you must prepare several documents (see below the full list). All your documents must be English, and if required, have an apostille stamp.

Attend Your Visa Interview

You have to attend the interview at a consulate or embassy, where a consular officer will determine whether you are qualified to receive a J-1 visa. At this point in the application process, you may be asked to submit your fingerprints, but this may change from country to country. Before you leave, you have to make arrangements to receive your passport and visa. 

After your visa interview is finished and your visa is granted, you may also be required to submit an issuance fee. However, keep in mind that not all nationalities have to pay this fee, especially if your program covers all costs. 

Enter the United States

Now that you have received your J-1 visa, you can travel to the United States of America. However, a visa will not always guarantee entry into the country. At the airport, officers from the Department of Homeland Security may decide to deny you entry into the country.

At the border patrol, you will be asked to submit your passport, visa, and your DS-2019 form, and if you are allowed to enter the country you will receive an admission stamp or paper form I-94.

J-1 Visa Requirements

When you apply for a J-1 visa, you need to prepare the following documents:

  • Passport. Your passport must be valid for at least six months after you depart from the country unless there are specific exemptions depending on where you are from.
  • Photograph. You must submit your photograph when you complete the visa application form online. If your photo is not uploading, then bring a physical copy but, please make sure to follow the instructions on how to take your visa photo.
  • Nonimmigrant visa application form. You have to fill in form DS-160 online and bring the confirmation page with you to the embassy/consulate.
  • Visa fee receipt. If you are required to pay the visa fee before your interview, bring your receipt.
  • Form DS- 2019. After you are accepted into your exchange program, your sponsor registers you into SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System). Afterward, you will receive this DS form, and you may be required to pay a form fee- you have to check with your program sponsor since they might cover the expenses.
  • Form DS- 7002. If you’re a participant in the J-1 trainee and intern categories, you will also need this form.
  • J1 visa health insurance. You must have health insurance coverage and it is the sponsor’s responsibility to ensure that you have purchased one.

Please keep in mind that other documents may sometimes be required, you should contact your local visa office to see a detailed list of the required documents.

How Much Does a J-1 Visa Cost?

A J-1 visa costs around $160. However, this fee is not the same for all countries, and will most likely change depending on what category of the J-1 visa you have applied for.

How Long Can I Stay With a J-1 Visa?

You can stay with a J-1 visa for up to two or three years. However, the length at which you are allowed to stay in the US under J-1 visa changes depending on what program you applied for.

For example, if you are a university student, your visa is valid as long as your study program lasts, but with a short-term scholar, you can only stay for six months. Usually, all J-1 visa holders are given a 30 day grace period after their visa expires to arrange their travel back home.

J-1 Visa Extension

You can get your J-1 visa extended by requesting an extension of your program. Your sponsor officer, who is responsible for you, can extend your program to the maximum regulatory period, a period that changes from program to program. You will receive a new Form DS-2019 stating the extension period.

To get an extension beyond the maximum allowed extension, your officer must send a request/petition to the Department of State on your behalf justifying the extension. For this type of extension, you (or your sponsor) must pay a non-refundable fee of $367.

What Is the Two-Year Home Residency Requirement?

A J-1 visa is issued with several conditions attached, one of which is that after your program is over and your visa expires, you have to return to your home country and live for two years. You are subject to this condition if you are a part of a:

  • Government-funded Exchange Program.
  • Specialized Knowledge or Skill.
  • Graduate Medical Education/Training.

During this time, you cannot apply for the following visas:

How to Apply for a Waiver Request of the Two-Year Residency?

You can apply for a waiver of the two-year residency requirement by sending a request to waive the condition to the Department of State, Waiver Review Division. You can apply for a waiver only if you have strong reasons why you cannot fulfill this requirement, which include the following:

  • You have a no-objection statement from your country.
  • You have a request for work by an interested US federal government agency.
  • You may be persecuted if you go back to your country.
  • Your US citizen spouse and children may suffer exceptional hardship if you go back.
  • You have a request to stay from the Conrad State 30 Program.

Can I Bring My Dependents on a J-1 Visa?

Yes, but you can only bring your children and your spouse. Your family members have to apply separately for a J-2 visa to join you after you go to the US.

Can I Change My Category under a J-1 Visa?

Yes, you can change your category provided that you have strong reasons for changing your category and that you will still stay close to your original objective for the exchange program.

The officer that is responsible for you must send an electronic request to change your category to the Department of State on your behalf, and the Department will request a fee of $367 to approve the request.

Can I Change My Exchange Program?

You can change your program provided that you remain in the same category. You must also have a new sponsor who will send a request for transfer to the Department of State and pay a fee of $367. Your old officer must release you from your previous program to be eligible for transfer.

If the transfer is approved, you will get a new DS-2019 form showcasing the change.