J-1 US Visa for Students and Exchange Program Participants

A student and a teacher smiling at the camera. The text says "J-1 US Visa"

Would you like to come to the US to work for a couple of months, gaining professional experience, enjoying such a beautiful country and improving your English language skills? That is definitely a good idea to invest in your future. All of you willing to live an experience like this, stay! In this blog article, you will find everything you need to know regarding the so-called J-1 Visa, which you will need to process before traveling to the US.

J-1 visa, also called the US Working Holiday Visa, is made for exchange program participants and students who are willing to travel to the US. This visa does not have a set cap, though it is essential that individuals coming to the US under these circumstances apply for a J-1 visa, even nationals of countries listed in the Visa Waiver Program.  

Applicants are divided into several different groups, coming as part of a sponsorship program to study or work. Specifically, we can distinguish between au pairs, camp counselors, government visitors, interns, international visitors, physicians, professors, research scholars, secondary school students, short-term scholars, specialists in different fields, teachers, trainees, travel participants, university students and work participants.

Spouses or unmarried children under 21 years old may join the J-1 visa holder and come together to the US, though they are allowed to apply for a J-2 visa or not depending on the category of the J-1 visa holder. It is not permitted to accompany a J-1 visa holder if he or she is coming to the U.S. as an au pair, camp counselor, secondary school student, or work and travel participant. 

In brief, depending on the group the applicant belongs to, it is necessary to take into account different conditions and singularities, so it would be appropriate that you take a look at the following section. There, you will find information about every single group, see how you can benefit from a J-1 visa, what requirements you should meet, what might be the role of the sponsor, and so on.

Types of J-1 Visa

Au Pairs

You can apply for a J-1 visa and live with a host family in the US. You will be responsible for taking care of their children. In turn, applicants get financially compensated for it. Au-pairs are permitted to live with a host family for up to 12 months, with a possibility of extension. They can also enroll in academic studies.

Applicants must:

  • Be aged between 18 to 26 years old.
  • Pass a background check.
  • Be proficient in the English language.
  • Take part in a post-secondary program while staying in the US including 6 to 12 semester hours.
  • Submit academic certificates proving he/she has graduated at least from secondary school.

Applicants cannot:

  • Take care of infants being younger than 3 months old, unless he or she is only giving a hand to his legal tutor.
  • Take care of children being younger than 2 years old if they have not completed 200 hours of childcare experience yet.
  • Take care of children with special needs if they do not complete specific training.
  • Be matched with a known host family.

On the other hand, the sponsor is in charge of matching the applicants and the host families, securing financial compensation to the au pairs, ensuring that the applicant’s qualifications are good enough for a job as an au pair, providing the au pair with orientation and monitoring, and checking that the working conditions are fair (a maximum of 10h/day or 45h/week).

Camp Counselors

To work in the U.S. as a camp counselor in a youth camp with children applicants must:

  • Be of legal age.
  • Show proficiency in the English language.
  • Be students, teachers, youth workers or have special skills.

The sponsor is responsible for:

  • Ensuring applicants are qualified enough to work as camp counselor.
  • Checking if applicants have health insurance (this is mandatory).
  • Keeping track of SEVIS records.
  • Making sure camp counselors are completely aware of their duties and responsibilities while working in the youth camp.

In turn, employers should provide camp counselors with fair economical compensation (exactly the same as US camp counselors) and make sure that camp counselors are not responsible for other job positions simultaneously while working in the youth camp.

Interns

Applicants are enrolled in university students or have graduated in the last 12 months and come to the U.S. to do an internship in one of the following fields: 

  • Agriculture, forestry or fishing
  • Arts
  • Business and finances
  • Construction
  • Communication
  • Educational and social science
  • Hospitality
  • Law
  • Public administration
  • Sciences
  • Tourism

The internship period should help interns to gain professional experience, though they must be aware that interns are not allowed to work in unqualified positions, child care, medical care, or jobs entailing more than 20% of office support.

Sponsors of interns are asked to have enough information about the intern’s employee, assess interns after the period of internship is completed or after six months if not, and find a company with fewer than 25 employees and a revenue of less than $3 million.

To hire an intern, the organization must sign DS-7002 form, to provide sponsors with a record of the intern performance at the end of the internship, make sure that the intern is capable enough to carry out the demanded tasks, monitor them as to ensure the correct execution of duties, and follow U.S. legislation and sponsor regulations.

International Visitors

Foreign professionals can travel to the U.S. under a J-1 visa to exchange professional practice and learn from U.S. culture. 

Be aware that international visitors should be well-known professionals in their home country, chosen by the U.S. Department of State, take part in training programs or jobs requiring specialized skills and stay less than one year in the country. 

Sponsors and employers do not need to follow any requirements as long as they provide interns with extensive information about the program.

Physicians

Applicants are physicians coming to the U.S. to undertake medical training in a scientific academic institution and receive training credit. 

Clinical participants must be qualified enough and able to prove it as they have completed the required examination. Be aware that it is also an essential requirement to obtain a written official statement from your government where it is indicated that there is a scarcity and need of the skills the applicant expects to gain during the professional experience and ensuring that the physician will return to his/her home country after the medical training.  

On the other hand, non-clinical participants are expected to come to the U.S. to teach, consult, or research under the supervision of a medical practitioner and conform to current U.S. legislation and medical practices. 

To travel to the U.S. and undertake medical training, you can only be sponsored by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), who will issue Form DS-2019 once the participant is accepted. 

Lastly, the medical school where the physician is planning to gain experience must provide participants with the designated clinical training. 

Professors and Scholars

To strengthen the research relationship between the US and other countries and educational cooperation between cultures, professors and scholars can go to the US. Sponsors will be in charge of monitoring the participants and ensuring the contact with U.S. culture is proceeding successfully.

Participants must:

  • Be proficient in the English language.
  • Not be tenured professors.
  • Have not been part of a similar program in the last two years or applied for a J-1 visa in the last twelve months unless the participant participated as a short-term scholar for less than 6 months. 

Secondary School Students

Kids aged between 15 and 18 years old can complete high school in the U.S. while living with an American host family. During the completion of the program, students will get in contact with the host culture and will participate in extracurricular activities. 

Take into consideration that applicants should not have taken part in a similar program previously and that they must have less than 11 years of education. Furthermore, they are not allowed to get a job while staying in the country, except for yard work or babysitting.

Sponsor of secondary school students must meet the following criteria:

  • Collect references and information about the different host families.
  • Ensure that the different host families are financially stable, able to take care of the children and have a clean criminal record.
  • Provide the participant and the host family with detailed information about each other.
  • Make sure that every applicant is placed with a different host family. The host family could never have a previous relationship with the applicant.
  • Control that host families provide the student with housing, transportation, clothing, meals and other necessities that may come up.

Short-Term Scholars

As a short-term scholar participant, you can attend lectures, or receive training, among many others, within a U.S. scholar institution and benefit from program activities making you increase your skills. Nevertheless, your visa will only be valid for 6 months, without the possibility of an extension.

Applicants can obtain a visa as long as they are professionals in a specific field and his/her sponsor ensures that the participant is being monitored, exposed to U.S. culture and has valid health insurance. The sponsor needs also to take track of SEVIS records.

Specialists

Applicants are specialists in a field going to the U.S. to gain knowledge and exchange ideas with other U.S. specialists. Programs must not be longer than one year.

They must:

  • Of course, be an expert in a particular field.
  • Not come to the U.S. to seek a job and stay.
  • Be willing to share his/her knowledge and skills with other specialists.
  • Be open to cooperating with the rest of the experts.

Sponsors must ensure the applicants are skilled enough to be referred as specialists and to provide precise information about the program working conditions and stipend if existing.

Teachers

Teachers can also obtain a J-1 visa to teach in either a primary or secondary school for up to two years. 

Nevertheless, teachers can extend their visa for another two years if the school is willing to extend their stay. To apply for a visa extension, get in contact with the State Department three months before.

Teachers are also eligible to repeat this program as long as they fulfill the two year home residency requirement.

As you can expect, applicants should meet certain requirements. Applicants must have at least 2 years of teaching experience in their home country as well as the necessary teaching qualifications and a proficient level in the English language. 

On the other hand, sponsors should take care of the selection process, be ready to provide precise information about the place of work, compensation or teacher’s program, and ensure that the teacher is promoting the performance of cultural activities in the academic space.

Trainees

People from all over the world can come to the U.S. to receive training in several professional fields and increase their knowledge and skills for future careers.

The training fields included are the same as those from the interns’ list. Take a look above and read again what professional fields are offered.

To apply for training in the U.S. under a J-1 visa, applicants must meet one of the following conditions:

  • To have at least 1 year of experience in the corresponding field and post-secondary education.
  • To have at least 5 years of experience in the field.

Apart from applicants, U.S. sponsors must follow certain rules:

  • The training organization must have less than 25 employees and a revenue of less than $3 million.
  • Evaluate the employees’ performance at the end of the training period or once every 6 months if the training period is longer. 
  • Gather detailed training organization’s information.
  • Find the trainee’s full-time training program (over 32 hours per week).

Lastly, employers willing to accept trainees should sign Form DS-7002, follow all applicable US legislation and sponsor rules, monitor the training, assess the trainee, and have sufficient resources for training.

University Students

University students willing to study, carry out academic training, or do an internship in the U.S. are also eligible to apply for a J-1 visa.

To that end, they should gain a scholarship or have financial support from their government or any other international organization holding an agreement with the U.S. government for the exchange of students.

Participants who are enrolled in a non-graduate program cannot enroll for more than two years.

Sponsors will be in charge of the process of selection, ensuring that they have the appropriate skills and qualifications to be admitted at a U.S. university and the subsequent monitoring of university students.

Work and Travel Participants

Applicants are students in a post-secondary degree program from a foreign country, fluent in English and coming to the U.S. to travel and gain work experience for a short time. They need to have a prior valid job offer from a U.S. employer unless the applicant is a participant in a Visa Waiver Program. 

Be aware that applicants cannot work in every sector, as they are not allowed to work in sales, domestic work, vehicle operator, chemicals, warehousing, gambling, patient care, medical care, jobs associated with human trafficking, adult entertainment, night jobs, commission work, or hazardous job.

Sponsors will be in charge of:

  • Maintaining monthly contact with participants.
  • Informing them about their duties and responsibilities.
  • Providing safe employment to them and emergency contacts.
  • In case the participant is in the Visa Waiver Program, the sponsor should provide the participant with different job directories and facilities to seek a job.

Employers are responsible for maintaining contact with the sponsor, informing them about the individual’s performance or in case of emergency, provide participants with the financial compensation that was agreed upon the contract and pay them any overtime work.

How to apply for a J-1 US Visa

J-1 Visa – Application Process

Read this section if you would like to learn how to apply for a J-1 visa. Here you will find the different steps you should follow.

So if you are willing to apply for a J-1 visa, the first thing you need to do is to find a sponsor. You cannot apply for a J-1 visa without having found a sponsor yet. 

Same with health insurances. It is mandatory that you purchase health insurance including the minimum coverage plan established by the U.S. authorities. Sponsors have the responsibility of ensuring that the participant has completed this step.

To start applying for a J-1 visa, file Form DS-160, available online at the Consular Electronic Application Center. This form targets temporary visa applicants, including different types of visas.

It may take around 90 minutes to complete this form. Once you submit it, make sure you save the confirmation page.

The next step is to pay the visa application fee, being exactly $160. You should also keep a receipt confirming that you have completed this process. Applicants that are sponsored by a U.S. agency are exempted from paying this fee. Despite this, every single applicant is obliged to pay the SEVIS I-901 ($180).

After paying the corresponding fees, you should schedule a visa interview. You will be interviewed by a U.S. official and asked to inform them about the reason for your trip, or when you plan to come back home, among other things.

Do not forget to bring the necessary documents to your visa interview. You can take a look at the required documents to apply for a J-1 visa in the following section.

If your visa application is accepted, you will receive Form DS-2019. Here you can find the date of expiration of your visa. Applicants have a 30-day travel grace period to make the necessary arrangements and leave the United States. After coming back home, you are required to complete a two year home residency before applying for a new US visa, except tourist or business visas.

Applicants can exclusively apply for a visa extension if the sponsor agrees to issue a request to the Department of State and to provide reasons as to why this would be beneficial for the country. To that end, it is necessary to pay a $367 non-refundable fee.

J-1 visa participants can also change their visa status or request a transfer to another J-1 visa program as long as they find a suitable sponsor.

J-1 Visa – Required Documents

As we have seen earlier, there are additional documents that we may submit depending on what J-1 visa category we’re applying for. 

However, you can see a list of commonly required documents for J-1 visa applicants hereinafter:

  • Form DS-160 confirmation page.
  • Receipts confirming that visa fees have been paid.
  • Form DS-2019 issued by a sponsor through the SEVIS system.
  • DS-7002 for trainees and interns.
  • Valid passport.
  • 2 U.S. visa photos

Make sure that your photos comply with US government requirements or they will be rejected and you’ll need to repeat the application process.

US Visa photo

US Visa Photo – Requirements

As we were saying, it is not possible to submit any photo, you should submit the correct US visa photo! Don’t slow down the process and do things right. 

The perfect US visa photo must:

  • Be taken on a white, plain and regular background.
  • Have top quality. Your photo should not be edited, pixelated, contain blurrings, shadows, or any other flaws.
  • Be recent. Preferably taken in the last 6 months.
  • Be in color.
  • Have the proper size. US visa photos need to be submitted in 2×2 inches size (51×51 mm size).

Though this is not the only thing you must consider when taking a US visa photo. Do you know how to look in your photo? You must look straight at the camera, place yourself at the appropriate distance from it (not too far, not too close), keep your head centered and adopt a neutral facial expression. Your eyes need to be open and your mouth closed.

Obtain a US visa photo using your smartphone

Are you still attending traditional photo booths every time you need to apply for an official document? We hope you don’t! Nowadays, there are better ways to obtain US visa photos, as well as many others complying with official government requirements (e.g., ID photos, passport photos, driving license photos, etc.). 

For instance, you can benefit from online photo booths and get a perfect US visa photo from home, in just a couple of minutes.

Try Passport Photo Online and benefit from this unique service. You just need to upload a photo and wait a few seconds till we make sure your photo meets the requirements

To use our tool, just access this dedicated U.S. visa photo tool and load your picture there. Once your photo is uploaded, our AI system will let you know if you committed an error while taking your photo, so you will be asked to repeat your photo one more time. Passport Photo Online will adapt your photo to the right size. No matter where you took the photo, the photo background will be corrected and transformed into a white, plain background.

The perfect US visa photo will be waiting for you in a minute, ready to download and print at a local pharmacy, grocery store or any other place having printing service available. or you can also ask us to deliver the photos to your home. It’s up to you! 🙂 

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