The J visa originates from the Exchange Visitor Program, “promotes mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by educational and cultural exchanges, under the provisions of U.S. law.” There are several categories of individuals who may be eligible for a J visa, including physicians, scholars, nannies, au pairs, students, teachers, camp counselors, interns and government visitors. To obtain a J visa, the applicant must first be accepted into a SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) approved program. These programs usually charge a fee to the applicant or the sponsor/host/employer. Furthermore, the foreign applicant has to demonstrate that their intent to remain in the United States is temporary; that they have sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the United States; and that they have “compelling social and economic ties abroad” that will ensure that they return home upon the expiration of the J visa.
J visas require jumping through more hurdles than other visas that may equally serve the purpose of your stay in the U.S. For example, one may want to consider whether a B visa is more appropriate for your intended stay in the U.S., since some activities under a J visa are also permitted on the B visa. For example, studying for short periods of time, or recreational study (as opposed to vocational study), may be permitted on a B visa. Or you may take a one-day dance class or cooking class on a B visa, so long as you do not earn any type of formal credit or certification.
Foreign residence requirement
One crucial component of the J visa is the 2-year foreign residence requirement, which requires some, but not all, J-1 visa holders to return to their home country for an aggregate of at least two years upon completion of the J program. This prevents a J visa holder who is subject to the requirement from changing or adjusting status until the 2-year requirement is satisfied.
So who falls under the home residency requirement?
- The program in which the J visa holder was participating in, was financed in whole or in part directly or indirectly by the U.S. government or the government of the exchange visitor's nationality or last residence;
- The J visa holder entered the U.S. in order to receive graduate medical education or training;
- The J visa holder is a national or permanent resident of a country that has deemed the field of specialized knowledge or skill necessary to the development of the country.
Applicants subject to the 2-year requirement may be able to seek a waiver of the foreign residence requirement under certain circumstances, such as persecution or exceptional hardship.
The J visa is an excellent visa for a narrow category of individuals. However, you may want to consider other visas before deciding on a J visa, simply because it may eliminate the need to go through an approved exchange program. For example, nannies/au pairs may opt for an H-2B visa instead of a J visa. A medical doctor may try to qualify for an H-1B visa or an L visa. Many others may simply qualify for a B visa.