1. General Requirements
The J-1 visa category is used by foreign students, scholars, experts, medical interns and residents, “International Visitors,” and industrial and business trainees to enter the United States as “exchange visitors,” in U.S. government approved Exchange-Visitor Programs, for the purpose of gaining experience, studying, or doing research in their respective fields. This article presents the information needed to understand how the J-1 visa category can be used to bring aliens to the United States.
2. Duration of stay
Note the following:
- Students: Secondary school students may be admitted for a one-year period. College and university students may be admitted for the anticipated length of their academic program. Students in degree programs below the doctoral level may also engage in 18 months of training after completion of their degree programs. Post-doctoral training is permissible for a period of 36 months following conferral of the degree. Non-degree college university students are admissible for a two-year period.
- Short-Term Scholars: This new category permits entries for a six-month period, with no extensions allowed. Note that the usual three-week minimum stay requirement is waived for this category.
- Trainees: Business trainees may be admitted to the United States for an 18-month period. Trainees in flight training programs may receive a 24-month period of stay.
- Teachers: Primary and secondary school teachers may he admitted for a three-year period.
- College and University Professors and Research Scholars: Responding to concerns from the university community, a State Department rule, finalized in May 2005, increases the maximum duration of exchange program participation for professors and research scholars from three years to five years, measured from the program begin date (or initial program begin date for continuing exchange visitors) as documented in SEVIS and ending five calendar years later. During the five-year period, the program participant will be permitted an unlimited number of departures from and reentries to the United States, provided that he or she is in good standing in the exchange program.
- Specialists: This new category permits periods of stay up to one year.
- Foreign Medical Graduates: Foreign doctors participating in U.S, internships and residencies may be admitted for the length of their program, with a usual maximum of seven years. Additional time may be conferred, however, under complex agency rules.
- Summer Student Work/ Travel Programs: Agency rules do not specify a maximum periods of stay, but presumably the four month period applicable to other summer programs applies as well to this category.
a) Au Pairs: Participation in the au pair programs is limited to one year.
b) International Visitors: One-year maximum period of stay.
c) Government Visitors: 18-month maximum period of stay.
- Camp Counselors: This program has a four-month limit on stay.
Under the exchange visitor rules, extensions beyond the usual program maximum may be authorized by the DOS when adequate justification is given. Experience shows that such extensions are rarely granted.
3. Application Process
The U.S. Sponsor must proceed through an Exchange-Visitor Program designated by the State Department. Sponsors may:
1) Proceed through already-established programs within their own organizations
2) Bring J visa holders to the U.S. through another organization’s program, provided the eligibility requirements of that organization are met
3) Establish their own exchange-visitor program by applying to the DOS
The sponsor of an Exchange-Visitor Program is empowered by the DOS to issue a Certificate of Eligibility for each exchange visitor. DOS approval for each exchange visitor is not required. Once the Certificate of Eligibility is issued, the exchange alien must take the certificate to a U.S. consulate to apply for issuance of a J-1 visa. The consulate will use an electronic system (SEVIS) to verify the data on the Certificate of Eligibility and to inform DHS that a J-1 visa was issued.
4. Special Limitations:
Two-Year Foreign Residence Requirement: Requirement is imposed on some categories of exchange aliens once their U.S. stay is completed. Any J-1 exchange visitor subject to the foreign residence requirement is ineligible for permanent residence or nonimmigrant visas in the H or L category until he or she spends two years-after completion of stay-in his or her home country or country of last residence. Some waivers of the requirement are available in special cases.
The issues of who is subject to the requirement and how to obtain a waiver of it are complex ones. Nevertheless, the foreign residence requirement is an important consideration in determining whether to use the J visa category, because the options for placement of an alien who is subject to the requirement after completion of training are limited.
Bar on participation as professor or scholar for previous J-1 visa holders: A rule issued in April 1996 and amended in May 2005 bars program participation as a professor or research scholar for aliens who have been physically present in the United States as an F-1 student or J-1 exchange visitor for all or part of the one-year period immediately preceding the commencement of such participation as set forth in the Certificate of Eligibility. The May 2005 rule clarifies that the one-year bar applies to spouses and dependents as well as principal non immigrants. This bar was established to prevent the movement of J-1 students into the professor and research scholar category, and to prevent aliens who had completed a three-year period of J-1 status as a professor or research scholar from leaving the United States and reentering in a “new” research or professor program for an additional three years. As revised by a final rule issued in June 1996, this one-year bar does not apply to exchange visitors:
1) Who participated in a exchange visitor program for six months or less?
2) Whose previous J-l stay was in the short-term scholar category?
3) Who is transferring to the sponsor’s program?
Bar on participation in consecutive training programs: In an October 2003 notice to exchange program sponsors, the State Department affirmed that foreign nationals may not participate in more than one single business or industrial J-1 training program. The notice was issued because the State Department was made aware that some program sponsors were requesting that trainees who had already participated in an exchange program be admitted for participation in a second training program.
“Exceptional extensions” beyond the maximum duration of the sponsor’s program are available where authorized by the State Department. For example, if the exchange program sponsor has been authorized to administer a 12-month J-1 training program and the visitor is issued a DS-2019 for a one-time 12-month program, the visitor’s stay may be extended past the authorized 12 months if the program sponsor applies for and receives the State Department’s approval of the extension.
5. Family Members of the J-1 Exchange Visitor
Family members of the exchange alien enter the U.S. in the J-2 visa category. Eligible family members include the spouse and minor children of the J-1 exchange visitor. A minor is a person under 21 years of age. Keep in mind that each family member must present a Certificate of Eligibility issued in his or her own name.
The spouse and minor children can accept employment with USCIS authorization, but only if their compensation will be used for their own support, not to support the principal alien. The J-2 alien applies for employment authorization by mailing Form I-765, to the USCIS service center with jurisdiction of his or her U.S. residence. Form I-765 is illustrated as Sample Form 2-6 (c) of this Handbook. But the J-2 alien must demonstrate that the employment is not required for the support of the J-1 principal alien; therefore, evidence of the salary paid to the J-1 alien or the existence of sufficient means of support for that alien is required.
RAD applicants must also submit:
1) Two full-face, passport-style photographs
2) The filling fee of $175 payable by check or money order to the “Development of Homeland Security”
Employment authorization, once received, is valid for employment with any employer, but limited to the period stated on the employment authorization document (EAD). The EAD will be issued for the authorized period of stay, whichever is shorter; it can be renewed upon expiration. Current USCIS guidelines direct service centers to adjudicate I-765 applications within 75 days. Under current regulations, if the USCIS has not completed action on the application within the 90-day period after the filing of the application, it must grant an interim period of employment authorization for 240 days.
Update: USCIS Now Requires Passport-Style Photos: On September 1, 2004, the USCIS officially adopted the Department of State’s photograph standard for all new applications and petitions filed with the agency. This new policy requires the submission of full-face, passport -style photographs rather than the three quarter profile. ADIT- style photographs that were previously accepted by the agency. Further information regarding passport-style photograph guidelines can be found in the Handbook.
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