Non-Immigrant: J-1 Visa - Exchange Visitor Program


The U.S. sponsor must proceed through an Exchange-Visitor Program designated by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), the government agency that oversees and approves all such programs. Sponsors may:

  • Proceed through already-established programs within their own organizations;
  • Bring J visa holders to the U.S. through another organization's program, provided the eligibility requirements of that organization are met;
  • Establish their own exchange-visitor program by applying to the USIA.

There are eight types of programs through which sponsors may bring exchange-visitors to the United States. Those program types cover students, short-term scholars, business trainees, teachers, professors, research scholars, specialists, foreign medical graduates, summer travel/work for students, au pairs, and other visitors (currently including international visitors, government visitors, and camp counselors). Application to be a program sponsor is limited to these types of programs, but an organization may sponsor more than one program type.

Duration of Stay

The permissible period of stay for exchange-visitors varies depending on the exchange-visitor category in which the visitor is admitted. Note the following:

  • Students are admitted for the anticipated length of their academic program,
  • Short-term scholars are admitted for only six months,
  • Business trainees are admitted for only eighteen months,
  • Teachers may be admitted for a three year period,
  • College professors and research scholars usually for a three year period,
  • Specialists admitted for up to one year,
  • Foreign medical graduates may be admitted for the length of their program, with a usual maximum of seven years.

Special Limitations

Two-year Foreign Residence Requirement. A two-year foreign residence requirement is imposed on some categories of exchange aliens once their U.S. stay is completed. Any J-1 exchange visitor subject to the foreign residence requirement is ineligible for permanent residence or non-immigrant visas in the H or L category until she/he spends two years after completion of stay in his or her home country or country of last residence. Some waivers of the requirement are granted in special cases, as discussed below.

Exchange visitors are most often subject to the foreign residence requirement because of their field of training and expertise appears on a SKILLS LIST maintained by the USIA. This list is a record of those skills in each country deemed to be in short supply. The rationale for imposing the foreign residence requirement in cases in which the field of training appears on the skills list for the alien's home country is that the alien should use his/her training in his/her home country before being permitted to bring those skills into use in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Options for Obtaining J-1 Two-Year Foreign Residence Waivers

Not all J-1 Exchange Visitors are subject to the two-year home country requirement. This rule requires many J-1 visa holders to be physically present in their country of nationality or last residence for at least two years after termination of their J status before they can receive an H or L nonimmigrant visa or permanent resident status. The two year foreign residence requirement only attaches to an exchange visitor who:

  1. Enter the United States to participate in an exchange visitor program financed in whole or part, directly or indirectly, by an agency of the United States Government or by a government of his or her nationality or last residence.
  2. Is a national or resident of a country which the USIA has designated on its "Skills List" as requiring the services of persons engaged in the field of specialized knowledge or skill in which the exchange visitor was engaged. An exchange visitor who is not governmentally financed is subject to the two-year rule if his or her country of either residence or nationality appear on the Skills List at the time the J visa was issued or at the time a change of status to J-1 was granted.
  3. Came to the U.S. or acquired J status to receive "graduate medical education or training." However, a J-1 physician who engaged in research, teaching, consultation or non-clinically oriented training with only incidental patient contact is not subject tot he foreign residence requirement unless thy receive governmental funding or the Skills List applies to them.

There are four ways for a J-1 visa holder to obtain a waiver of his/her two-year home country requirement:

  1. Interested Government Agency Waiver
    A statement from a U.S. government agency to the United States Information Agency (USIA) in favor to a waiver. These "Interested Government Agency" waiver requests can come from any federal agency. Examples of Interested Government Agencies include, but are not limited to:
    1. Department of Health and Human Services
    2. Appalachian Regional Commission Waiver Request
    3. Department of Veteran Affairs
    4. Department of Agriculture and Interior
    5. Department of Education
    6. National Science Foundation
    7. Department of Commerce
  2. No-Objection Waiver
    A "No Objection" letter from the exchange visitor's country of nationality or last permanent residence to the USIA, sent through official diplomatic channels, which states that the foreign government does not object to the granting of a waiver. Most embassies in Washington are familiar with No-Objection statements and they have a specific person assigned to such matters.

  3. Hardship Waiver
    A finding by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) that the exchange visitor's U.S. Citizen or permanent resident spouse or child would face exceptional hardship if a waiver is not granted.

  4. Persecution Waiver
    A finding by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) that the exchange visitor will face persecution if forced to return to his or her home country.