The J-1 visa is a specialty visa designed for students and participants in certain programs. Some au pairs will qualify for a J-1 visa, for example, and some government visitors will receive one as well. One of the most important requirements for a J-1 visa is to find a sponsor willing to accept you into their program.

The J-1 visa is a broad-ranging visa that covers a diverse group of programs, courses, and other categories. You may require a J-1 visa if you fall into any of the categories below whether you are sponsored by an employer or visiting the United States as part of a program.

Au Pairs

Au pairs are domestic assistants from foreign countries who work for and live with a host family while in the United States. Typically, an au pair will perform childcare activities and some basic housework in exchange for a small monetary allowance and living expenses. If you are part of a registered au pair program that matches you with a host family, then you may qualify for a J-1 visa.

Camp Counselor

Camp counselors working in the United States for a registered organization may qualify for a J-1 visa.

Government Visitors

Certain government agencies may request a visit from a member of a foreign government. The member of the foreign government may receive a J-1 visa.

Interns

If you are visiting the United States through a registered internship to gain experience or exposure to U.S. culture, then you may qualify for A J-1 visa.

International Visitors

International visitors are professionals from other countries who visit the United States to exchange professional practices with American residents or businesses.

Physicians

A physician from a foreign country may visit the United States to participate in medical training in a U.S. medical school. Some foreign medical schools recommend this type of training to complete a medical degree.

Professors and Research Scholars

Professors and scholars may visit the United States on a J-1 visa as part of a cultural exchange program. This program may include lectures, consultations, and other training within the United States.

Short-term Scholars

J-1 visas may be available to both short-term scholars and long-term scholars.

Other Specialists

Specialists in various fields may visit the United States to complete a cultural exchange with U.S.-based experts in the profession.

University Students

Some university students in specialized programs may qualify for a J-1 visa.

Secondary School Students

Secondary school students visiting the United States through a cultural exchange program and completing high school in the U.S. may receive a J-1 visa.

Teachers

Some teachers go to the United States to temporarily teach in primary and secondary schools on a J-1 visa.

Trainees

Someone seeking training in a specialized field may travel to the United States to receive that training and become familiar with U.S. culture on a J-1 visa.

Work and travel participants

A student completing a degree in his or her home country may travel to the U.S. to work and travel temporarily on a J-1 visa.

There’s no cap on the number of J-1 visas the United States awards each year. However, J-1 visas are awarded to those participating in registered exchange programs in the roles mentioned above. You cannot receive a J-1 visa without participating in one of the above programs.

Requirements for a J-1 Visa

A J-1 Visa has different requirements based on each of the categories listed above. An au pair traveling to the United States on a J-1 visa, for example, will have different requirements than a university professor. We’ve listed all J-1 visa requirements below. If you meet the below requirements and are part of a registered exchange program, then you may qualify for a J-1 visa.

Each category has requirements for the applicant, the sponsor, and the employer:

Applicant: This is the person traveling to the U.S. on a J-1 visa. Some J-1 visa categories require you to be a certain age to qualify, for example. Others require certain education.

Sponsor: This is the program of which the applicant is a member – like a registered au pair program. Sponsors must meet certain requirements to sponsor J-1 visa applicants.

Employer: The employer is the person or company in the United States who is compensating the J-1 visa holder in the United States. The employer may have to be a U.S. citizen, for example, to be part o the J-1 visa process.

Below, you’ll see specific requirements for each profession listed above.

Au Pairs

Participant Requirements

  • 18 to 26 years old
  • English proficiency (you may have to write an English proficiency exam)
  • Graduation from a minimum of secondary school
  • Ability to pass a background check and personality check
  • Participation in a 6 to 12 semester-hour post-secondary academic program while in the United States

Sponsor Requirements

  • Match au pair applicants with host families in the United States
  • Ensure au pairs have sufficient experience with childcare based on the needs of the employer
  • Provide orientation and monitor the au pair during the posting
  • Ensure the au pair does not exceed 10 hour workdays or 45 hour workweeks
  • Ensure au pairs receive financial compensation according to the law

Employer Requirements

  • J-1 visa au pair employers must be U.S. citizens
  • They must provide a monthly stipend to the au pair
  • Housing and meals must be provided to the au pair
  • Host family must contribute a minimum of $500 to the au pair’s academic work
  • Provide two weeks of paid vacation each year and one weekend off each month

Camp Counselors

Participant Requirements

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Proficient in English
  • Must be students, youth workers, individuals with special skills, or teachers

Sponsor Requirements

  • Ensure camp counselors are fully briefed on duties and responsibilities of the posting
  • Ensure counselors have health insurance
  • Ensure camp counselors are qualified to serve in the position
  • Maintain SEVIS records
  • Monitor participants during their stay in the U.S. on the J-1 visa

Employer Requirements

  • Compensate camp counselors identically to the way U.S. camp counselors would be compensated
  • Ensure camp counselors do not serve in other positions within the camp (they cannot serve as staff and administration, for example)

Government Visitors

Participant Requirements

  • Selected by a U.S. government agency to strengthen a country’s relationship with the United States
  • Identified as an influential individual within the government of their home nation

Sponsor Requirements

  • Chosen and screened by a U.S. government agency
  • Provide training to the applicant
  • Provide health insurance to the applicant
  • Provides information on program details transparently
  • Is transparent with stipend amount (if a stipend is provided)

Interns

Participant Requirements

Must intern in one of the following fields:

  • Agriculture, Forestry, or Fishing
  • Arts or Culture
  • Construction
  • Education and Social Sciences
  • Hospitality and Tourism
  • Business and Finance
  • Communication
  • Public Administration or Law
  • Science

Sponsor Requirements

  • To find an organization with fewer than 25 employees and less than $3 million in revenue
  • Collect sufficient information about the applicant
  • Evaluate applicants at the end of the 6 month internship, or after 6 months of interning if the internship is longer than 6 months

Employer Requirements

  • Must sign form DS-7002
  • Must ensure interns have sufficient skills and qualifications to complete the chosen job
  • Must communicate with sponsors about performance of the intern
  • Must follow all U.S. laws and any additional rules provided by the sponsor
  • Must monitor and train interns

International Visitors

Participant Requirements

  • Be chosen by the United States Department of State for a J-1 visa
  • Participate in training or other specialized skills advancement activities
  • Be a recognized professional or specialist in his or her home country

Sponsor Requirements

  • Provide participants with information regrading the program in the U.S.

Physicians

Participant Requirements

Clinical Participant Requirements:

  • Have sufficient education and training suited for the program
  • Have completed required exams to qualify for the program
  • Have a written statement from his or her home country’s government stating that the participant will receive in-demand skills from the program upon return to home country

Non-Clinical Participant Requirements:

  • Go to the U.S. to teach, consult, observe, or research
  • Be supervised by a U.S. medical practitioner
  • Conform to U.S. medical practices and laws

Sponsor Requirements

  • There is only one sponsor authorized to bring physicians to the United States on a J-1 visa
  • That sponsor is the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, or ECFMG
  • Issue form DS-2019 to the participant and assist with getting a J-2 visa for the spouse, unmarried children under 21, and other dependents of the J-1 visa applicant

Employer Requirements

  • Medical institutions hiring J-1 visa holders must provide participants with clinical training as designated

Professors and Research Scholars

Participant Requirements

  • Cannot be tenured professors
  • Cannot have completed any similar program within the last 24 months of applying for J-1 visa
  • Must not have had any J-1 visa in the last 12 months
  • If you participated as a short-term scholar on a J-1 visa, then J-1 visa re-application is allowed within 6 months
  • Proficient in English

Sponsor Requirements

  • Choose and supervise participants
  • Ensure participants are being exposed to U.S. culture

Short-term Scholars

Participant Requirements

  • Must be professionals in a field

Sponsor Requirements

  • Screen and monitor participants
  • Maintain SEVIS records for participants
  • Ensure participants are being exposed to U.S. culture
  • Ensure ability of participants to support themselves financially
  • Ensure participants (and any dependents on J-2 visas) have health insurance

Other Specialists

Participant Requirements

  • Be an expert in a field
  • Ready to exchange knowledge and skills in America
  • Cannot seek full-time employment while in the United States

Sponsor Requirements

  • Ensure participants are sufficiently qualified to be considered specialists int heir field
  • Provide detailed program information
  • Provide stipend information to participants (if stipend is given)

University Students

Participant Requirements

  • Have financing from the government of their home country, the U.S. government, or an international organization
  • Be a participant in a student exchange agreement between the United States and another organization or government

Sponsor Requirements

  • Select and monitor J-1 visa participants
  • Ensure participants have sufficient qualifications to be admitted to a U.S. school

Secondary School Students

Participant Requirements

  • Between 15 and 18 years of age
  • Have less than 11 years of education
  • Have never participated in similar program in the U.S.

Sponsor Requirements

  • Provide participant with detailed information about host family
  • Provide host family with detailed information about participant
  • Ensure host family has financial means to support student
  • Ensure host family is not engaged in criminal activities
  • Supervise participants
  • Avoid placing more than two students in a single host family
  • Avoid placing students with host families related to the participant
  • Have references for host family

Employer Requirements

  • The host family must provide housing, clothing, transportation, and meals to the participant

Teachers

Participant Requirements

  • Be qualified to teach and currently hold a teaching job in his or her home country
  • Have educational qualifications for teaching (i.e. a teaching license)
  • Have at least 2 years of teaching experience
  • Must be proficient in English

Sponsor Requirements

  • Select, screen, and monitor teachers during J-1 visa stay
  • Provide detailed information about teacher’s program and place of work
  • Provide detailed information about teacher’s compensation
  • Ensure teacher is organizing cultural activities to share his or her culture with U.S. students

Employer Requirements

  • The host school must supervise the performance of the teacher
  • Must ensure teacher participants in cultural activities

Trainees

Participant Requirements

  • Have post-secondary degree and at least one year of experience in the field
  • Has five years of experience in the field
  • Acceptable training fields include:
    • Agriculture / Forestry / Fishing
    • Arts / Culture
    • Construction
    • Education and Social Science
    • Hospitality and Tourism
    • Communication
    • Business and Finance
    • Public Administration and Law
    • Science fields

Sponsor Requirements

  • Find a full-time training program for the participant (full-time is considered more than 32 hours per week)
  • Find a training organization with fewer than 25 employees and less than $3 million in revenue
  • Provide detailed information about the training organization
  • Evaluate J-1 trainees after six months of training (or, if the training is longer, evaluate trainees after six months)

Employer Requirements

  • Must sign form DS-7002
  • Must abide by all relevant U.S. laws
  • Must abide by any additional sponsor rules
  • Must have sufficient resources to provide training to J-1 trainees

Work and Travel Participants

Participant Requirements

  • Must be a student in a post-secondary degree program outside the United States
  • Must be from a Visa Waiver Program country OR must have a prior job offer in the United States (if not from a Visa Waiver Program country)
  • Must be proficient in English

Sponsor Requirements

  • Must provide participants with safe employment
  • Provide emergency contact information
  • Inform participants on duties and responsibilities
  • Maintain monthly contact with participants
  • For participants from Visa Waiver Program countries, provide them with job directories and information on finding a job in the U.S.

Employer Requirements

  • Must provide participants with paid employment according to the terms of the contract
  • Must pay participants for any overtime work
  • Must maintain contact with sponsors and supervise the performance
  • Must contact sponsor or emergency contacts in event of emergency involving participant

How to Apply for a J-1 Visa

Applying for a J-1 visa is different from applying for an ordinary visa. This visa cannot be received on your own: you need to find an organization willing to sponsor you for a J-1 visa. The first step is to find one such organization. Then, the next steps are similar to applying for any U.S. visa:

Step 1) Find a sponsor. You cannot receive a J-1 visa without a sponsor. Your sponsor could include an international organization, a foreign exchange program, a school, or a U.S. governmental agency like the ECFMG.

Step 2) Complete the form DS-160 application online. You can find this form on the U.S. embassy’s website in your country of residence.

Step 3) Pay the visa application fee. The fee for the DS-160 visa is $160 USD.

Step 4) Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee of $180.

Step 5) Schedule your visa interview.

Step 6) Collect required documents, including a valid passport, your DS-160 confirmation barcode, a receipt for your visa application fee, two photographs per the requirements, form DS-2019 (provided by your sponsor via the SEVIS system), and form DS-7002 (only required for interns or trainees)

Step 7) Complete the visa interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate

How Long Does My J-1 Visa Last?

J-1 visas vary widely in terms of expiry dates. Each J-1 visa applicant is unique, and the expiry dates will vary depending on your program, contract, and other information. Check the visa in your passport to verify the date of expiry.

Some J-1 visas last six months or fewer. Other J-1 visas last two years or more with the opportunity to extend even further.

All J-1 visa holders have a 30 day grace period after their visa expires. During this grace period, it is expected that you will make plans to return to your home country.

After returning to your home country, you are typically required to live in your home country for a minimum of two years before receiving another visa to enter the United States (although a tourist or business visa is allowed).

However, if your J-1 visa position was as a short-term scholar, then you can re-apply for another J-1 visa within six months of returning home.

As a J-1 visa holder, you are also entitled to request an extension of stay once you’re in the United States. There’s a certain maximum allowable date for each of the J-1 visa categories listed above, and it’s up to the Department of State to decide whether to extend the visa up to that date. To request a visa extension, the sponsor is required to pay a fee of $367. If the renewal is approved, the applicant will receive a new DS-2019 form. If the renewal is denied, then the original visa expiry date remains in effect and the sponsor will not receive a refund on the $367 fee.

It’s possible for J-1 visa holders to transfer to another program within the same category. You cannot, however, jump to a program in a different category. If you transfer to another program within the same category, then the officer responsible will issue a new DS-2019 form and extend your stay. Contact your sponsor for more information about whether or not you qualify for a J-1 visa transfer.

Waiver of the 2-Year Home Residency Requirement

Most J-1 visa participants are required to remain away from the United States for a minimum of two years before re-entering the United States on another J-1 visa. In certain situations, however, the United States will waive this rule. Possible situations where the United States might waive this rule include:

  • The home country’s government has issued a No Objection Statement, which means the participant does not have to abide by the two year rule and can return on a J-1 visa at any time
  • A U.S. government agency has requested a waiver
  • The Health Department of a U.S. state has requested a waiver
  • The participant can prove that he or she is being persecuted in his or her home country due to political, racial, or religious reasons
  • The participant’s spouse or children (who must be U.S. permanent residents or U.S. citizens) will bear “exceptional hardship” if the J-1 visa holder is returned to his or her home country

Benefits, Limitations, and Rules for J-1 Visa Holders

Participants on the J-1 visa are often getting a unique experience by visiting the United States. Some gain unique insight into American culture. Others gain unique training or educational opportunities. Some benefit with lifelong friends and work contacts in the United States. Others benefit from simply having shared their culture with the United States. Benefits and limitations for J-1 visa holders can be found below.

Au Pairs

Participant Benefits

  • Opportunity to live with an American host family for 12 months, with the opportunity to extend the term by 6, 9, or 12 months
  • Get to complete child care training
  • Can enroll in academic studies
  • Receive compensation for childcare along with academic stipends

Participant Limitations

  • Au pairs cannot be placed in certain host families
  • Au pairs cannot be placed in a home where the infant is less than three months old unless another adult is present at home
  • Cannot be placed in a home with a child under two years of age unless the au pair has 200 hours of childcare experience
  • Cannot be placed in the homes of family members of the au pair
  • Cannot be placed in the homes of families with special needs children unless the au pair has completed specialized training for special needs children

Camp Counselors

Benefits

  • Receive the same financial compensation as an American camp counselor would receive
  • Enjoy a cultural exchange in an American camp

Government Visitors

Benefits

  • Receive training in the United States
  • Receive special skills training and other educational opportunities in the U.S.
  • Enjoy a cultural exchange with the U.S.

Limitations

  • Cannot remain in the United States for more than 18 months

Interns

Benefits

  • Receive practical work experience in a variety of fields across the United States
  • Work in a wide range of professions from arts and culture to forestry

Limitations

  • Interns cannot work in certain environments or positions, including unskilled labor positions, child care positions, medical care professions, or jobs requiring more than 20% office administration support work

International Visitors

Benefits

  • Participants get to experience a cultural exchange with the United States
  • Participants receive exposure to U.S. culture and the opportunity to share their culture with Americans

Limitations

  • Participants cannot stay within the United States for more than one year

Physicians

Benefits

  • Receive medical practical medical training in a U.S. hospital
  • Receive educational credit that counts towards a foreign medical degree

Professors and Research Scholars

Benefits

  • Experience a unique cultural and research exchange between two countries
  • Gain exposure to U.S. academic environments
  • Establish contacts with U.S. educational institutions and colleagues

Short-term Scholars

Benefits

  • Increase skills and knowledge while gaining exposure to U.S. culture and academic environments
  • Build contacts within the American academic community

Limitations

  • Must leave the United States within 6 months
  • Not permitted to request an extension or change during stay

Other Specialists

Benefits

  • Exchange ideas and knowledge with U.S. experts in a specific, specialized field

Limitations

  • Cannot participate in any specialized training programs that last longer than one year

University Students

Benefits

  • Receive university credit towards a degree
  • Receive academic training, internships, and other opportunities in the United States

Limitations

  • Participants cannot enroll in a program longer than two years (if enrolled in a non-degree program)

Secondary School Students

Benefits

  • Gain cultural exposure to a U.S. high school
  • Complete high school and graduate
  • Participate in extra-curricular activities

Limitations

  • Participants cannot engage in part-time or full-time employment, with small exceptions for yard work and babysitting

Teachers

Benefits

  • Gain knowledge and exposure to U.S. culture
  • Share home country’s culture with students and colleagues in America
  • Opportunity to repeat the program every two years (must spend two years outside of the United States before re-applying for another J-1 visa)

Limitations

  • J-1 visa lasts a maximum of two years for teachers
  • Extensions are available, allowing teachers to extend their stay for another two years, although the teacher and school must start filing paperwork within three months of the J-1 visa’s anticipated expiry date

Trainees

Benefits

  • Increase skills and knowledge in a specialized field
  • Gain exposure to U.S. work environments and culture

Limitations

  • Cannot work unskilled labor positions
  • Cannot work in child or elderly care or in any type of patient care
  • Cannot work in jobs involving more than 20% office work

Work and Travel Participants

Benefits

  • Gain cultural awareness while learning and traveling across the United States

Limitations

  • Participants are forbidden from working in certain professions
  • Participants cannot work in sales, domestic work, vehicle operation, patient and medical care, chemicals, warehousing, gambling and betting, adult entertainment, commission work, night jobs, hazardous jobs, and jobs associated with human trafficking

Can I Bring Dependents to the United States on a J-1 Visa?

Yes, certain J-1 visa holders can bring certain dependents to the United States.

Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age may qualify for a J-2 visa. Just like the J-1 visa, there are many different categories for the J-2 visa, and each category has different rules governing dependents visiting the United States.

Certain J-1 visa categories cannot bring dependents to the United States. If you received a J-1 visa as an au pair, secondary school student, camp counselor, or work and travel participant, for example, then you are not permitted to bring dependents to the United States.

Many other J-1 visa holders, however, are permitted to bring a spouse and unmarried child to the United States through the J-2 visa program.