Education & Resources
Employer Guides
International Student Guides
Green Card Guides
Citizenship Guides
Other Guides
Important Links
J Visa
Exchange Visitor (J) Visas
Overview - About the Exchange Visitor Program

The Exchange Visitor Program is carried out under the provisions of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961, as amended. The purpose of the Act is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchanges. International educational and cultural exchanges are one of the most effective means of developing lasting and meaningful relationships. They provide an extremely valuable opportunity to experience the United States and our way of life. Foreign nationals come to the United States to participate in a wide variety of educational and cultural exchange programs.

The Exchange Visitor Program is administered by the Office of Exchange Coordination and Designation in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Visit the Exchange Visitor Program to learn more about program eligibility requirements, regulations and much more. At the conclusion of their program, Exchange Visitor program participants are expected to return to the home countries to utilize the experience and skills they have acquired while in the United States. Learn more about exchange related programs and opportunities.

In carrying out the responsibilities of the Exchange Visitor Program, the Department designates public and private entities to act as exchange sponsors. Designated sponsoring organizations facilitate the entry of foreign nationals into the United States as exchange visitors to complete the objectives of one of the exchange visitor program categories, which are:

  • Au pair
  • Camp Counselor
  • Student, college/university
  • Student, secondary
  • Government Visitor
  • International Visitor (reserved for U.S. Department of State use)
  • Alien physician
  • Professor
  • Research Scholar
  • Short-term Scholar
  • Specialist
  • Summer work/travel
  • Teacher
  • Trainee

Each category of exchange has specific requirements and regulations.

Overview – About the Exchange Visitor Visa

A citizen of a foreign country, who wishes to enter the United States, generally must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. The type of visa you must have is defined by immigration law, and relates to the purpose of your travel.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides the exchange visitor (J) nonimmigrant visa category for persons who are approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States. This means that before you can apply at an American Embassy or Consulate for a J visa you must apply, meet the requirements, and be accepted for one of the Exchange Visitor Program categories through a designated sponsoring organization. If you are accepted as a participant in an exchange program, the sponsor will provide you with information and documents necessary to apply for the J visa to enter the United States.

Changes introduced shortly after September 11, 2001 involve extensive and ongoing review of visa issuing practices as they relate to our national security. Visa applications are now subject to a greater degree of scrutiny than in the past. Applicants affected by these procedures are informed of the need for additional screening at the time they submit their applications. So it is important to apply for your visa well in advance of your travel departure date.

A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to the United States port-of entry, and request permission from the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. immigration inspector to enter the United States. A visa does not guarantee entry into the United States.

Qualifying for an Exchange Visitor Visa

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is very specific with regard to the requirements, which must be met by applicants to qualify for the exchange visitor (J) visa. The consular officer will determine whether you qualify for the visa. Applicants must demonstrate that they properly meet the requirements to be issued an exchange visitor visa, including the following:

  • That they plan to remain in the U.S. for a temporary, specific, limited period;
  • Evidence of funds to cover expenses in the United States;
  • Evidence of compelling social and economic ties abroad; and other binding ties which will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit.
What is SEVIS and SEVP? What should you know about it?

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is designed to help the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State better monitor school and exchange programs and F, M and J category visitors. Exchange visitor and student information is maintained in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is an Internet-based system that maintains accurate and current information on non-immigrant students (F and M visa), exchange visitors (J visa), and their dependents (F-2, M-2, and J-2). SEVIS enables schools and program sponsors to transmit mandatory information and event notifications via the Internet, to the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State (DOS) throughout a student or exchange visitor's stay in the United States. Select SEVIS to go to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Internet site and learn more.

All exchange visitor applicants must have a SEVIS generated DS 2019 issued by a Department of State designated sponsor, which they submit when they are applying for their exchange visitor visa. The consular officer will need to verify your DS 2019 record electronically through the SEVIS system in order to process your exchange visitor visa application to conclusion. Unless otherwise exempt, participants whose SEVIS DS-2019 was issued on or after September 1, 2004 must pay a SEVIS I-901 Fee to the Department of Homeland Security for each individual program. The fee may be paid either through a special web site, via Western Union, or by mail. See SEVIS-901 Fee or SEVIS for further information on how to pay the fee.

Refer to the SEVP Fact Sheet for the current SEVIS fees, effective 10/27/2008.

Where and When Do I Need to Apply for My Visa?

Applicants may apply for their visa as soon as they are prepared to do so. Exchange visitor visa applicants are encouraged to apply for their visa early to provide ample time for visa processing. Applicants for visas should generally apply at the American Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence.

Applying for an Exchange Visitor Visa - Required Documentation

As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy consular section is required for visa applicants from age 14 through 79. Persons age 13 and younger, and age 80 and older, generally do not require an interview, unless requested by embassy or consulate. The waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so early visa application is strongly encouraged. Visa wait times for interview appointments and visa processing time information for each U.S. Embassy or Consulate worldwide is available on our website at Visa Wait Times , and on most embassy websites. If you are authorized by your sponsor to be accompanied by your spouse (husband or wife) and children, they will also be given a Form DS-2019 and they can apply at the same time. During the visa application process, usually at the interview, an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan will be quickly taken. Some visa applications require further administrative processing , which takes additional time after the visa applicant's interview by a Consular Officer. You may apply for your visa at an Embassy or Consulate any time before the beginning of your exchange program.Each visa applicant must submit these forms and documentation, and submit fees as explained below:

  • DS 2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status. You will need to submit a SEVIS generated Form, DS-2019, which was provided to you by your program sponsor. All exchange visitors, including their spouses and dependents must be registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), an Internet- based system that maintains accurate and current information on non-immigrant students and exchange visitors and their dependents (J-2 visa holders). Your program sponsor is responsible for entering your information for the DS 2019 Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status into SEVIS. Exchange visitors not part of a U.S. Government- sponsored program will also have to pay a SEVIS I-901 fee for each program. Questions regarding your exchange program should be directed to your program sponsor.
  • A Training/Internship Placement Plan, Form DS-7002. All exchange visitor (J visa) trainee or intern visa applicants with DS-2019 forms dated on or after July 19, 2007 (based on Box 7 on form) must also present Training/Internship Placement Plan, Form DS-7002 when applying for your visa. If your Form DS-2019 is issued prior to July 19, 2007 a Form DS-7002 is not required. For more information about the new rules for trainee and intern programs, see the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Exchange Visitor Program, Private Sector Programs
  • An application, Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-156, completed and signed. The DS-156 must be the March 2006 date, electronic "e-form application." Select Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-156 to access the electronic version of the DS-156. Important Notice: At certain U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad, nonimmigrant visa applicants are now required to apply visa using the new DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application, instead of the nonimmigrant application forms DS-156, 157, 158, and other related forms. Learn more and find out which Embassies have converted to the DS-160 Online process.
  • A Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-157 provides additional information about your travel plans. Submission of this completed form is required for all male applicants between 16-45 years of age. It is also required for all applicants from state sponsors of terrorism age 16 and over, irrespective of gender, without exception. Four countries are now designated as state sponsors of terrorism, including Cuba, Syria, Sudan, and Iran. Select Special Processing Procedures to learn more. You should know that a consular officer may require any nonimmigrant visa applicant to complete this form. Here is Form, DS-157 .
  • A Contact Information and Work History, Form DS-158, completed.
  • A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must complete an application;
  • One (1) 2x2 photograph. See the required photo format explained in Nonimmigrant Photograph Requirements .
Spouses and Children

Spouses and/or children under the age of 21 who wish to accompany or join the principal exchange visitor (J) visa holder in the United States for the duration of his/her stay require exchange visitor visas (derivative J visas). The application procedure is the same as that for a primary visa applicant. The sponsor must approve the accompaniment of the spouse and/or children and who will each be issued their own Form DS-2019. This form is used to obtain the required visa and the spouse and dependents can enter the U.S. at the same time as the principal exchange visitor or at a later date.

Work - The spouse and/or children of an exchange visitor in the U.S. may not work in J-2 status. If employment is desired, the dependent must make an application to DHS, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and be approved for permission to work. They must file Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization with the USCIS office that serves the area where they live for a work permit (employment authorization document). To learn more, select How Do I Get a Work Permit (Employment Authorization Document)?

Study- The spouse and/or children of an exchange visitor visa holder who are in the U.S. on an exchange visitor visa may study in the U.S. without also being required to apply for a student (F-1) visa or change to F-1 status.

Spouses and/or children who do not intend to reside in the United States with the principal visa holder, but visit for vacations only, may be eligible to apply for visitor (B-2) visas , or if qualified, travel without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program .

Family Members Following to Join the Exchange Visitor

The spouse and children can also apply for visas after the principal applicant has already traveled. In general, they must present the following:

  • Form DS 2019, SEVIS generated, and approved by the sponsor
  • Proof that the principal applicant (the person who received the DS-2019 or IAP-66) is maintaining his/her J visa status
  • Copy of the J-1's (principal applicant's) visa
  • Proof of relationship to the principal applicant
  • Proof of sufficient money to cover all expenses in the United States
  • Spouses and children of exchange visitors may not enter the United States before the principal visitor enters for the first time.
Two-Year Home-Country Physical Presence (Foreign Residence) Requirement

When you agree to participate in an Exchange Visitor Program and your program falls under the conditions explained below, you will be subject to the two-year home-country physical presence (foreign residence) requirement. This means you will be required to return to your home country for two years at the end of your exchange visitor program. This requirement under immigration law is based on Section 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended.

Two-year Home-Country Physical Presence Requirement Conditions - An exchange visitor is subject to the two-year home country physical presence requirement, INA 212(e) requirement, if the following conditions exist:

  • Government funded exchange program - The program in which the exchange visitor was participating was financed in whole or in part directly or indirectly by the United States government or the government of the exchange visitor's nationality or last residence;
  • Graduate medical education or training - The exchange visitor entered the United States to receive graduate medical education or training;
  • Specialized knowledge or skill: Skills List - The exchange visitor is a national or permanent resident of a country which has deemed the field of specialized knowledge or skill necessary to the development of the country, as shown on the Exchange Visitor Skills List. Review the Exchange Visitor Skills List 2009 .

Change of Status and Waivers of Requirement - If the exchange visitor is subject to the two-year home-country physical presence (foreign residence) requirement, to INA 212(e) requirement, he or she cannot change his/her status to that of H, L, K, or immigrant lawful permanent resident (LPR) until he or she has returned to his/her home country for at least two-years or received a waiver of that requirement. Such waivers may be requested and if approved, obtained under these five separate bases:

  • No Objection Statement;
  • Exceptional Hardship;
  • Persecution;
  • Conrad Program, or
  • Interested Government Agency

For information about waivers, eligibility and process, see Waiver of the J Visa Two-Year Foreign Residence Requirement 212(e) .

My Visa Has Been Issued- When Can I Travel to the U.S.?
  • Be advised of the Department of Homeland Security regulation which requires that all J exchange visitors, and J-2 spouse and dependents enter the U.S. 30 days or less in advance of the applicant's program start date as shown on the Form DS-2019. Please consider this date carefully when making travel plans to the U.S. Immigration officers may deny you entry into the United States at your expense if you attempt to enter more that 30 days before your program start date. The 30-day limitation does not apply to current exchange participants who are returning to continue with their exchange program.
  • If you want an earlier entry in the U.S. (more than 30 days prior to the course start date), you must qualify for, and obtain a visitor visa, as explained below; however, this is strongly discouraged.

If you need to apply for an J visa or have any other questions, click here >