If you are a citizen of a foreign country and wish to enter the United States, you must obtain a visa to be granted entry. Visas are either temporary (i.e. nonimmigrant visas) or permanent (i.e. immigrant visas). Exchange visitor, or J-1, visas are nonimmigrant visas for individuals that are approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the U.S.
Getting Accepted to the Exchange Visitor Program
Prior to applying for your J-1 Visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, you must be granted acceptance into the exchange visitor program through a sponsoring organization. You must also choose an appropriate Exchange Visitor Program Category. There are 14 categories to choose from, which are listed below:
- Au pair and EduCare
- Camp Counselor
- Government Visitor
- International Visitor (Dept. of State use)
- Professor and Research Scholar
- Short-term Scholar
- Student, college/university
- Student, secondary
- Summer Work Travel
There are also four Exchange Visitor Pilot Programs:
- Summer Work Travel Pilot Program: Australians
- Summer Work Travel Pilot Program: New Zealanders
- Intern Work Travel Pilot Program: Irish
- WEST (Work, English Study, and Travel) Program: South Koreans
Find out about the requirements for each J-1 visa category listed above.
Entering and Exiting the United States Legally
A valid visa allows aliens to travel into the U.S. and request permission to enter past security. Unfortunately, just having a visa does not guarantee entry into the country. Officials at the port of entry have the authority to permit your entry into the U.S. or deny it. Once in the country legally, exchange visitors are given an additional 30 days after their program end date for domestic travel in the U.S. and/or to prepare for departure from the country.
What About My Spouse and Children?
If you are applying for a J-1 visa, then your spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21 may apply for a J-2 visa. Doing so will allow them to accompany you as you enter into the country or to also join you at a later date to reside with you during your J program, if this is permitted for your exchange program category.
Your J-1 visa sponsor must also issue separate DS-2019 Forms for each family member. These are required when your family members apply for visas, along with a copy of the primary visa holder’s J-1 visa and proof of relationship. If you have any school-aged children, they are permitted to attend school while in the U.S. on J-2 visas. They are not required to obtain student (F) visas in this case.
Failing to Leave the U.S. on Time
If you fail to leave the country on time, you be out of status under U.S. law, which means you will be automatically voided from the program. If your multiple entry visa was voided due to you being out of status, you will not be allowed into the United States for future entries. A failure to depart the United States on time may also result in visa ineligibility in the future.