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.