Since 1961, the Exchange Visitor Program, or EVP, has been one of the preferred routes enabling international residents to temporarily live in the United States and be a part of several different educational or training programs. The EVP was originally envisioned as a diplomatic effort to strengthen ties between the United States and other nations to foster international cooperation, particularly in the areas of education and culture.
Due to its diplomatic roots, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State oversees the program, along with the host organizations and sponsors. The Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security are responsible for making sure the program is run in compliance with the applicable regulations.
Each year, more than 400,000 foreign exchange visitors participate in the program. The EVP is considered very flexible because it has 15 different categories, permitting visitors with different backgrounds and educational levels to travel to the U.S. The primary goals of the Exchange Visitor Program are to allow participants to engage broadly with Americans, share their culture, strengthen their English language abilities, and learn new skills or build skills that will help them in future careers.
What is the Exchange Visitor J-1 Visa?
To participate in the EVP, potential visitors must apply for the J-1 visa. The J-1 visa is a temporary, nonimmigrant visa issued only to exchange visitors.
The Exchange Visitor Visa includes different categories:
- Au pair and EduCare
- Camp Counselor
- Government Visitor
- International Visitor (for the Department of State)
- Professor and Research Scholar
- Short-term Scholar
- Student, college/university
- Student, secondary
- Summer Work Travel
There are also special Exchange Visitor Pilot Programs available for the citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and South Korea.
What are the J-1 Visa Requirements?
There are several important steps and documents involved in applying for a J-1 visa:
An aspiring J-1 visa applicant needs a sponsor. Sponsors include more than 1,500 academic, for-profit, nonprofit, and federal, state, and local government entities. The program sponsors take on responsibility for screening and selecting eligible applicants. Though a few companies that host J-1 exchange program visitors are also sponsors, most applicants work with third-party sponsor organizations that have the staff, resources, and experience to guide them through the process and provide support during the program.
To apply for a J-1 visa, you must submit the following j-1 visa documents to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country:
- Form DS-2019 – Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status
- Passport – Must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the United States (unless exempt per the Six-Month Club)
- 2x2 Digital Image or Photo – Must be in color and taken within the last 6 months
- Form DS-160 – Nonimmigrant Visa Application
- Form DS-7002 – Training/Internship Placement Plan (for J-1 Intern and Trainee programs only)
- Visa Application Payment Fee Receipt – Applies if you are required to pay before the interview
For most applicants, the next step is the visa interview. Anyone between the ages of 14 to 79 will need one.
Keep in mind that the J-1 visa is for nonimmigrants who intend to return to their home country. Therefore, you may want to be prepared to demonstrate the ties you have to your home country and your plans for returning after your program.
A consular officer may request additional documents that should prove the following:
- The purpose of travel
- The intention to depart the U.S. after travel
- The ability to pay all travel costs
Waiting times for the interview can vary, so make sure to get your visa application in promptly to avoid any travel complications.
J-1 Visa Requirements for Canadians
Canadian citizens do not need to apply for the J-1 Visa to participate in an exchange program. However, the Form DS-2019 is required for entry into the U.S. under the EVP. Canadian students can get this form from the academic institution or exchange program they have been accepted to attend. When crossing the border to begin the program, make sure to bring the original copy with you along with the other required documentation.
How Much Does a J-1 Visa Cost?
Once you have been accepted into a specific program through a designated sponsoring organization, you will be registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). In most cases, you must then pay the SEVIS I-901 fee, which is currently $220 for an Intern and Trainee program or $35 for a short-term program. Your sponsor may pay this fee for you, but check with them to make sure.
Next, when you apply for the visa with the U.S. State Department, you will also have to pay a non-refundable visa application fee of $160. Depending on where you are from, you may also need to pay a visa issuance fee. The amount of the fee varies based on nationality.
You can check to see if you will have to pay the issuance fee here.
Can J-1 Visa Holders Work and Get Paid in the U.S.?
While the J-1 visa is an exchange visa, participants can receive compensation. J-1 visas cannot be used for ordinary employment outside of the EVP program since J-1 visa holders are only allowed to perform the activity listed on their Form DS-2019 and as stated in the regulations for that category of exchange.
J-1 visa holders can be paid. In fact, the treatment and compensation of all J-1 visa holders must be comparable to U.S. workers in similar positions. The program must also meet all federal, state, and local wage and labor laws.
How Long Does the J-1 Visa Last?
One reason the J-1 visa provides so much flexibility is that it can range from a few weeks to several years depending on the specific EVP category and the host program requirements. For example, interns may remain in the United States for up to 12 months, but trainees may remain for up to 18 months (trainees in the field of hospitality may remain in the US up to 12 months only). The host organization providing the EVP program decides whether the J-1 visa holder will remain the maximum amount of time or a shorter period based on the duration of the program.
When considering your travel arrangements, please note that you may not arrive more than 30 days before the program’s start date shown on your DS-2019. Once your EVP program is over, you will have a grace period of 30 days to depart the United States.
What are the Differences Between a J-1 visa and an F-1 visa?
The J-1 visa and F-1 visa are both nonimmigrant visas that permit foreign residents to travel to the United States. Sometimes people confuse the J-1 and F-1 visa categories because both can be used by nonimmigrant international students. However, F-1 and J-1 visas serve different purposes.
The F-1 visa is for international students attending a full-time degree or academic program at a school, college, or university in the U.S. The F-1 visa does not expire until the student finishes the coursework. F-1 visa holders can work both on and off-campus jobs with permission.
The J-1 visa, on the other hand, is specifically designed to be a cultural exchange program. J-1 visa holders are not all students and do not attend a full-time academic program at a U.S. school, college, or university. Additionally, J-1 visa holders are only authorized to engage in work-based learning based on the terms of their program and cannot use the visa for ordinary employment.
Does a J-1 Visa Allow You Multiple Entries?
The J-1 visa can be issued to permit multiple entries. It is recommended that you specifically request this when applying for your visa.
If you already have your visa, you can check it to make sure. If it has an “S,” it is a single-entry visa. If it has an “M,” it is good for multiple entries.
J-1 visa holders can travel outside the U.S. for up to 30 consecutive days during the period of the training program without needing special permission for long-term travel. Before you leave the country, however, make sure you first get a travel validation signature on the DS-2019 from your sponsor confirming that you should be allowed back into the country upon return.
Can You Extend or Renew Your J-1 Visa?
If you need more time to complete the objectives of your program, it is possible to extend the J-1 visa. For example, a research scholar might request an extension to complete a project in the United States.
To obtain the J-1 visa extension, you need to get the consent of both your program and program sponsor. You will also have to submit required documents, including proof of health insurance that will cover you for the duration of the extension. The extension application may require additional fees as well, but you don’t have to pay the SEVIS fee again.
If your application is approved, your visa will be extended based on the requirements of your program. However, your total length of stay will not be extended beyond the maximum regulatory duration for your EVP category except in very unusual circumstances. Make sure to obtain a new DS-2019 from your sponsor showing the revised expiration date.
If your visa expires during your program, but you do not plan to travel outside of the U.S. until your program is complete, you do not need to renew the visa. This is because the purpose of the J-1 visa is to permit entry and reentry to the United States.
However, if your visa has expired during the EVP program and you must leave the country, you will have to apply for a new J-1 visa to return to the U.S. and complete your program. This can cause unexpected delays and complicate your ability to finish your program. You should always check with your sponsor before planning any international travel during your program to make sure your travel is authorized and you won’t run into a problem with your visa when trying to return to the United States.
Can a J-1 Visa Holder Apply for a Green Card?
The purpose of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program is to be a cultural exchange program fostering a better understanding between U.S. citizens and foreign participants. The idea is that the program participants will share their experiences and ideas in their home country. Consequently, J-1 applicants must come to the U.S. with the intention to depart and return to their home country after they complete the program.
Most who participate in the EVP will be subject to the two-year home-country physical presence (foreign residence) requirement. This implies you have to return to your home country for two years after completing the EVP program if you:
- Participate in an exchange program funded by either your government or the U.S. government
- Have specialized knowledge or skills deemed necessary to the development of your home country
- Received graduate medical education or training
You can still travel to the U.S. during the two-year time period, but you may not apply to become a lawful permanent resident (i.e., receive a green card) until after this time has elapsed.
However, not all J-1 visa holders are subject to this requirement. Check with your sponsor if you are unsure if the requirement applies to your program. Furthermore, the requirement may sometimes be waived under certain circumstances. The exchange visitor must apply for the J-1 visa waiver through the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Can You Obtain Another J-1 Visa After the First Program?
As discussed above, since the EVP is a cultural exchange program, participants are generally expected to return to their home countries after their program ends. However, you are not prohibited from applying to a second exchange program in the future provided you meet the specific program eligibility requirements. If you apply again, you will likely need a new J-1 visa to reenter the United States for the new program.
Can You Change Your J-1 Visa to a Tourist Visa?
While it is possible, it is very uncommon to change a J-1 visa to a tourist visa. Many sponsors advise program participants not to pursue this change since it is not in the spirit of the EVP. You may need to consult with an immigration attorney to discuss your specific circumstances.
Keep in mind that if you are subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement, you will not be able to change your visa status unless you obtain a waiver. If you are not subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement, USCIS provides the following requirements to apply to change your status in the United States:
- You were lawfully admitted into the United States as a nonimmigrant
- You have not committed any act that would make you ineligible to receive an immigration benefit
- There are no other factors that require you to depart the United States before making a reentry based on a different classification
- You apply for a change of status before the expiration date on your Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record
- Your passport is valid for your entire requested period of stay in the new nonimmigrant classification in the United States
Depending on the reason you want to stay in the U.S. after your program ends, you may change your visa status to B-1 or B-2 status, the Visitor for Business or Pleasure. There are documents you will have to submit to apply for the status change, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to accomplish the change if you are eligible.
Get Ready to Begin Your EVP Journey
If you are ready to travel to the U.S. as a participant in an exciting cultural exchange program, Intrax Global Internships is here to help you get started.
As a State Department-designated sponsor for the EVP program, Intrax Global Internships guides foreign interns through the complex J-1 visa application process and generates the documents they need to apply for a visa.
We connect qualified candidates from around the world with short and long-term internships in the U.S. and summer internships in major economic centers worldwide, helping you find the right EVP program for you. Plus, during the program, we will continue to ensure the wellbeing of J-1 visa interns and help them and their host employers always comply with government requirements.
Contact us to learn more about how we can help you.