A J-1 is a temporary, non-immigrant visa issued to an exchange visitor. There is no statutory cap on the number of J-1 visas available annually, but each year the Department of State allocates a pre-set number of Certificates of Eligibility (Form DS-2019) to program sponsors (see below) to issue to potential participants in exchange visitor programs across the country.
This Certificate, together with other necessary Department of State documents permits the potential exchange visitors and their dependents to schedule an interview at a U.S embassy or consulate to apply for a J visa to enter the United States.
For the past decade, the number of exchange visitors admitted to the United States annually has been approximately 500,00 (Figure 1). Currently J-1 exchange visitors come from more than 200 countries and territories; 86 percent are younger than 30, and 53 percent are female.
The J visa is governed by specific regulatory requirements. For example:
- The duration of stay is determined by the specific EVP category and the school, employer, or other entity hosting the exchange visitor. For example, interns may remain in the United States for up to 12 months, and trainees may remain for up to 18 months. The host organization providing the internship or training deter05nes whether the visitors will remain for the maximum or for some shorter period of time.
- J-1 visa holders who enter the United States on a work-based program (as a researcher, teacher, nanny, etc.) may apply for a Social Security number (SSN). They must pay taxes on any compensation they receive, but are exempt from paying Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes (for Medicare and Social Security).
- J-1 visas cannot be used for ordinary employment. EVP programs that have a work component are intended to provide bona fide training and experience for the exchange visitors and are not to supplant other workers.
- The spouse and unmarried children under age 21 may apply for J-2 visas as dependents of the J-1 visa holder. Dependents on J-2 visas are eligible to apply for work authorization after their arrival in the United States.
- J-1 visa holders must obtain insurance to cover sickness and accidents. The insurance must cover them and all J-2 dependents for the entire period of J-1 status in the United States.
- Because the underlying purpose of the J-1 exchange -visitor category is to share experiences and ideas in the home country, J-1 visa recipients must come to the United States intending to depart when they complete the program. However, some exchange visitors may be eligible to live and work in the United States after their exchange program ends, depending on their own unique circumstances.
- Certain J-1 visa holders – for example, those with skills deemed necessary to the nonimmigrant visas or to become a lawful permanent resident (receive a green card) until they return to their home country for a total of two years following completion of their program (home residency requirement). The Department of State imposes the same requirements on J-2 visa holders as the J-1 visa holder.
- This home residency requirements may be waived in certain circumstances. For example, exchange visitors who can demonstrate their departure would cause exceptional hardship to U.S. citizen or legal permanent residents may request a waiver.