The J visa is very broad and has over thirteen sub-categories. For this reason, many people are eligible for entry using this visa. The J visa is also full of "invisible" pitfalls, like the two-year home residency requirement. The J-1 visa is ideal for an applicant who does not have University degree (and is therefore not eligible for other employment visas) but would like to train underneath an employer in the U.S. for a limited period of time. This visa is also ideal for a college student working during summer months or a research scholar entering to lecture or participate in a workshop, conference or seminar. Depending on the category, a J-1 visa is issued anywhere from three to eighteen months. Generally the time period allotted cannot be extended. To obtain this visa, the person must apply at the U.S. consulate in their home country.
This article focuses on the most commonly used Exchange Visitor Category which is comprised of trainees and interns.
Requirements for a Trainee J-1 Visa:
Trainees are people who have a degree from a foreign university and at least one year of related work experience gained from a foreign employer OR people who have at least 5 years related work experience gained from a foreign employer. Those graduates with degrees from U.S. Institutions are not eligible for the internship category.
Requirements for an Intern J-1 Visa:
Interns are people who are either enrolled in and pursing academic studies outside of the United States or who have graduated from a foreign university no more than 12 months before the exchange visitor program start date. Those graduates with degrees from U.S. Institutions are not eligible for the internship category.
Other Eligibility Factors for the J-1 Trainee and Intern Categories:
For both the Trainee and Intern Exchange Visitor Categories, applicants must meet these additional factors:
- Non-immigrant intent, i.e. a firm desire and intent to return to the home country after the authorized grant of stay
- Strong home ties
- General purpose of entry is to lecture, study, conduct research or receive training
- Have proficiency in English language skills
- Training must be in the applicant's specific occupational field
- The trainee must demonstrate he or she is training-not working-and that their training will not displace a U.S. worker
- Be Interviewed by the Program Sponsor via Phone, In Person or Web-Cam
Definition of Program Sponsor and Host Organization:
Several private agencies are certified to evaluate, process and approve J-1 applications on behalf of the U.S. government. These agencies also monitor J-1 visa holders during their period of stay in the U.S. These agencies are called Program Sponsors.
The Host Organization is the actual company who runs the applicants training program. This organization must submit the initial exchange visitor application and training program to the Program Sponsor and report in during the training program to report any changes or an applicant's departure from the program.
Allowable J-1 Occupational Categories for Trainee and Intern Programs:
Several categories are excluded from the trainee and intern exchange visitor programs. Applicants may not train in unskilled labor jobs, positions with more than 20% clerical work, medical fields (including medication, physical therapy, nursing, dentistry, social work, psychological counseling, veterinary medicine and early childhood education.
Length of the Intern and Trainee Programs:
Interns are allowed a maximum program length of twelve months. Trainees are given a maximum length of eighteen months with the exception of hospitality and tourism programs, which are only given twelve months.
Extensions are not allowed for either program. However, after an applicant departs the U.S., he or she may apply for a new intern or training program after two years.
Importance of Non-Immigrant Intent:
The U.S. Consulate will deny any visa application where they think an applicant is going to overstay their trip to the United States. Non-Immigrant intent means that the applicant has no intention of remaining in the U.S. past the time allowed by the U.S. government. An applicant proves non-immigrant intent through behavior, detailing the reason for the trip, providing convincing documentation of this purpose (approval notices, employer brochures) and demonstrating strong home ties.
Definition and Importance of Strong Home Ties:
Strong Home Ties are people, things or circumstances that bind you to your home country. Strong Home Ties include owning a business; longstanding employment; minor children; a large family unit; business, religious and social memberships; ownership of houses, boats, cars.
The U.S. Consulate will not issue a J-1 visa to anyone who cannot demonstrate strong home ties. According to their logic, if a person has strong home ties, this means he or she will not want to remain in the U.S. longer than the time period given by DHS. However if a person cannot show strong home times, that person presents a much larger risk of an overstay violation once inside the United States.
The Two Year Home Residency Requirement:
Some applicants are subject to the Two Year Home Residency Requirement. It is important to determine if this criteria applies before entering on the J-1 visa. If subject, the applicant must return to their home country for two years before he or she is eligible for different status in the United States, such as an H-1B or a green card. This two-year requirement even applies if a person becomes engaged to a U.S. Citizen.
Fortunately, it is often possible to obtain a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement. An application is made to the U.S. Department of State and requires involvement from the home country's Consulate in Washington D.C. Once the waiver is obtained, an applicant can then apply for change to another status or for a green card via marriage to a U.S. Citizen. Click here for more information on J Waivers.
Other J Categories:
The J visa has thirteen categories:
- Post-secondary students
- Summer Work Travel
- Secondary Students
- Short-Term Scholars
- Professors and Research Scholars
- International Visitor
- Government Visitor
- Camp Counselor
- Au Pair
Procedures to Obtain J-1 Status and a J-1 Visa:
There is a two step process for all applicants. First the host organization and trainee an application with the sponsoring agency, who processes the application. If approved, verification of this is sent to the trainee abroad. He or she then applies for the J-1 visa at the U.S. consulate in their home country.
The U.S. Consulate generally issues a multiple entry J-1 visa that is good for the program's full time period. This visa means the recipient may apply for entry to the United States within the time periods listed on the J-1 visa. This visa does not guarantee entry to the United States. This visa does not determine the length of time a person may remain in the United States. All this visa does is allow the recipient to ask for entry to the United States at the port of entry (airport, seaport, land entry). At the port of entry, a DHS officer will then determine if the applicant is allowed to enter the U.S. and for how long. An J-1 visa holder is normally given authorized stay consistent with the training program's length. The officer will note the visa category and "duration of stay" on an I-94 card and then staple this card into the applicant's passport. The J-1 visitor must leave the U.S. within 60 days of their program's competition unless having applied for an extension or change of status to a new non-immigrant visa category.
It is very difficult for applicants to change status from one non-immigrant category to J-1 status. Normally, applicants will need to depart the U.S. for a specified period of time before following the procedures outlined above.
Other Business Visas That Might Apply:
In addition to J-1 visas, DHS also grants business immigration visas to foreign workers with bachelor's degrees, investors, intra-company transfer employees and applicants seeking on-the-job training. Some categories require a bachelor's degree, but several work visas exist for those lacking a four year college level degree. For more information about these business immigration visas, please read these articles:
- B-1 and B-2 VISAS: Business and Pleasure
- F-1 VISA: Employment Options for Students
- E-2 VISA: Investors
- H-1B Visa: Speciality Employees
- H-3 Visa: Training Visa
- L-1 A and L-1B VISA: Managers, Executives and Specialized Knowledge Employees
- O VISA: Persons of Extraordinary Ability
- P Visa: Internationally Recognized Athletes, Artists, Entertainers and Culturally Unique Entertainers
- TN VISA: Canadian and Mexican Workers