What is a J-1 Visa and Who Qualifies?
A J-1 visa allows foreign nationals to come to the US to participate in an exchange program to promote the sharing of knowledge and skills in education, arts, and sciences.
- In summary, to be eligible for a J-1 visa, you must
- i) be coming to work, study, teach, train, or consult in a specific exchange program approved by the Department of State (DOS) through its Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs,
- ii) have been accepted into the program,
- iii) have enough financial ability to cover expenses in the US, and
- iv) have sufficient knowledge of English to participate in the program.
The DOS has approved over 1500 exchange programs. Some of the applicants eligible for J-1 visas are: students, teachers, professors, trainees seeking on-the-job training at companies or agencies, international visitors entering the US demonstrate specialized skills, Au Pair domestic workers for host families, and professional trainees in the medical field, including medical school graduates (foreign physicians).
Knowledge of English is proven by taking and passing the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), unless the foreigner is from country where English is an official language.
Proof of financial support can generally established an affidavit of support including the affiant’s financial documents, and financial documents of the foreign national’s proving that there are sufficient funds available to cover the expenses for one year of studies.
When can I Obtain a J-1 Visa?
There are no limits set on the number of J-1 visas which may be issued every year; therefore one may apply any time of the year. You would apply at the consulate and the visa is usually issued within a month or two from the date the application is submitted.
What are the Benefits and Limitations of J-1 Visas?
You may enter the US up to 90 days before your authorized program begins. While on J-1 status, you even study part-time, as long as it does not interfere with your program. J-1 dependents may also obtain work authorization as long as employment is not used to support the principal J-1.
The duration of stay depends on the type of program you will be participating in. For example, many trainees may stay for the duration of the program, plus 18 months of practical training. Teacher programs can last up to 3 years. International cultural exchange visitors can stay for 1 year. Foreign medical students can stay in their internship/residency for up to 7 years.* There is a 30 day grace period. The main drawback in J-1 is the 2-year home residency requirement. In many J-1 visa programs, you must return to your home country for 2 years before you can apply for admission to the US, change status, or apply for a green card.
May I Apply for a Waiver to the 2-year Home Residency Requirement?
- The home residence requirement may be waived under the following methods:
- i) a no objection letter from the foreign national’s home country’s government, (about 5 moths to process)
- ii) Interested US Government Agency (IGA, which is a U.S. government agency that financially supports your program or has a strong interest in your area of research or study) requesting that the DOS waive the requirement in which the DOS and USCIS must agree, (around 4.5 months to process)
- iii) fear of persecution upon return to home country, (around 8 months to process)
- iv) hardship to a US Citizen spouse or child, (around 8 months to process) or
- v) a designated state health agency requests a waiver on behalf of doctors who have been offered a full-time position with a medical facility serving areas with a shortage of medical professionals. Waiver procedure and timing to file vary. You should generally apply for a J-1 waiver at least 6-12 months before the end of your residency program if you are a physician.*Note that a waiver is generally not available to medical residents or interns who received medical training in the US, and foreign medical graduates sponsored by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates can not apply for a waiver based on “no objection.” Medical residents should try for H-1B Visa ideally, unless your program does not sponsor H-1B visas or if you have not passed USMLE Step 3, which is required for H-1B visa issuance
What is the Attorney’s Role in a J-1 Waiver Application?
Once you enter the US on J-1, and decide you wish to return, change status, you may need to apply for a waiver to the 2-year home residency requirement. Waivers, such as the hardship waiver, are granted based on discretion of adjudication officers, therefore they should be prepared with care. An attorney will be able to ensure the necessary documentation is provided in a waiver application, and is able to assess the chances that a waiver will be successful.
An attorney may be of assistance in preparing a change of status application in the US, but otherwise, an attorney is generally not involved in assisting those who are overseas seeking admission in J-1 status. No legal assistance would be required for J-1 extensions. For effectuating an extension, you should contact the responsible officer of your program.
To discuss J-1 visas and other alternatives with an experienced immigration lawyer from the Shah Peerally Law Group, feel free to contact us by email or call us at 510-742-5887.
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