J-1 Visa Basics

The Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa category is for individuals approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs. Participants are integral to the success of the program. Here you can learn more about obtaining the J-1 Visa and other relevant visas.

What is the Exchange Visitor J-1 Visa?

The J-1 visa is a temporary, nonimmigrant visa issued only to exchange visitors.

The Exchange Visitor Visa includes different categories:

  • Intern
  • Trainee
  • Summer Work Travel
  • Au pair and EduCare
  • Camp Counselor
  • Government Visitor
  • International Visitor (for the Department of State)
  • Physician
  • Professor and Research Scholar
  • Short-term Scholar
  • Specialist
  • Student, college/university
  • Student, secondary
  • Teacher

What is an Internship Program?

Internship programs are designed to allow foreign college and university students or recent graduates to come to the United States to gain exposure to U.S. culture and to receive hands-on experience in U.S. business practices in their chosen occupational field.

Interns must be foreign nationals:

  • Who are currently enrolled in and pursuing studies at a foreign degree- or certificate-granting post-secondary academic institution outside the United States; or
  • Who have graduated from such an institution no more than 12 months prior to their exchange visitor program start date.


Practical Experience: The program bridges the gap between formal education and practical work experience.

  • Teacher

What is a Traineeship Program?

A trainee must be a foreign national who:

Has a degree or professional certificate from a foreign post-secondary academic institution and at least one year of prior related work experience in his or her occupational field outside the United States; or

Has five years of work experience outside the United States in the occupational field in which they are seeking training


Practical Experience: Enhance the skills and expertise of exchange visitors in their academic or occupational fields through participation in a structure and guided training-based program.

Training programs are designed to allow foreign professionals to come to the United States to gain exposure to U.S. culture and to receive training in U.S. business practices in their chosen occupational field.

What is a Summer Work Travel Program

College and University students enrolled full time and pursuing studies at post-secondary accredited academic institutions located outside the United States come to the United States to share their culture and ideas with people of the United States through temporary work and travel opportunities.

Summer Work Travel Students must be:

Sufficiently proficient in English to successfully interact in an English speaking environment;

Post-secondary school students enrolled in and actively pursuing a degree or other full-time course of study at an accredited classroom based, post-secondary educational institution outside the United States;

Have successfully completed at least one semester or equivalent of post-secondary academic study; and

Pre-placed in a job prior to entry unless from a visa waiver country.


The Summer Work Travel program provides foreign students with an opportunity to live and work in the United States during their summer vacation from college or university to experience and to be exposed to the people and way of life in the United States.

What are the J-1 Visa Requirements?

There are several important steps and documents involved in applying for a J-1 visa:

Required Documents

To apply for a J-1 visa, you must submit the following j-1 visa documents to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country:

  • Form DS-2019 – Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status
  • Passport – Must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the United States (unless exempt per the Six-Month Club)
  • 2x2 Digital Image or Photo – Must be in color and taken within the last 6 months
  • Form DS-160 – Nonimmigrant Visa Application
  • Form DS-7002 – Training/Internship Placement Plan (for J-1 Intern and Trainee programs only)
  • Visa Application Payment Fee Receipt – Applies if you are required to pay before the interview

Visa Interview

For most applicants, the next step is the visa interview. Anyone between the ages of 14 to 79 will require one.

Bear in mind that the J-1 visa is for nonimmigrants who intend to return to their home country. Therefore, you may want to be prepared to demonstrate the ties you have to your home country and your plans for returning after your program.

A consular officer may request additional documents that should prove the following:

  • The purpose of travel
  • The intention to depart the U.S. after travel
  • The ability to pay all travel costs

Can J-1 Visa Holders Work and Get Paid in the U.S.?

While the J-1 visa is an exchange visa, participants can receive compensation. J-1 visas cannot be used for ordinary employment outside of the EVP program since J-1 visa holders are only allowed to perform the activity listed on their Form DS-2019 and as stated in the regulations for that category of exchange.

J-1 visa holders can be paid. In fact, the treatment and compensation of all J-1 visa holders must be comparable to U.S. workers in similar positions. The program must also meet all federal, state, and local wage and labor laws.

If a J-1 visa holder receives compensation, they will need to apply for a Social Security Number. They have to pay taxes for any compensation they receive but they are exempt from paying FICA tax.

How Long Does the J-1 Visa Last?

One reason the J-1 visa provides so much flexibility is that it can range from a few weeks to several years depending on the specific EVP category and the host program requirements. For example, interns may remain in the United States for up to 12 months, but trainees may remain for up to 18 months (trainees in the field of hospitality may remain in the US up to 12 months only). The host organization providing the EVP program decides whether the J-1 visa holder will remain the maximum amount of time or a shorter period based on the duration of the program.

When considering your travel arrangements, please note that you may not arrive more than 30 days before the program’s start date shown on your DS-2019. Once your EVP program is over, you will have a grace period of 30 days to depart the United States.

What are the Differences Between a J-1 visa and an F-1 visa?

The J-1 visa and F-1 visa are both nonimmigrant visas that permit foreign residents to travel to the United States. Sometimes people confuse the J-1 and F-1 visa categories because both can be used by nonimmigrant international students. However, F-1 and J-1 visas serve different purposes.

The F-1 visa is for international students attending a full-time degree or academic program at a school, college, or university in the U.S. The F-1 visa does not expire until the student finishes the coursework. F-1 visa holders can work both on and off-campus jobs with permission.

The J-1 visa, on the other hand, is specifically designed to be a cultural exchange program. J-1 visa holders are not all students and do not attend a full-time academic program at a U.S. school, college, or university. Additionally, J-1 visa holders are only authorized to engage in work-based learning based on the terms of their program and cannot use the visa for ordinary employment.

Does a J-1 Visa Allow You Multiple Entries?

The J-1 visa can be issued to permit multiple entries. It is recommended that you specifically request this when applying for your visa.

If you already have your visa, you can check it to make sure. If it has an “S,” it is a single-entry visa. If it has an “M,” it is good for multiple entries.

J-1 visa holders can travel outside the U.S. for up to 30 consecutive days during the period of the training program without needing special permission for long-term travel. Before you leave the country, however, make sure you first get a travel validation signature on the DS-2019 from your sponsor confirming that you should be allowed back into the country upon return.

Can You Extend or Renew Your J-1 Visa?

If you need more time to complete the objectives of your program, it is possible to extend the J-1 visa. For example, a research scholar might request an extension to complete a project in the United States.

To obtain the J-1 visa extension, you need to get the consent of both your program and program sponsor. You will also have to submit required documents, including proof of health insurance that will cover you for the duration of the extension. The extension application may require additional fees as well, but you don’t have to pay the SEVIS fee again.

If your application is approved, your visa will be extended based on the requirements of your program. However, your total length of stay will not be extended beyond the maximum regulatory duration for your EVP category except in very unusual circumstances. Make sure to obtain a new DS-2019 from your sponsor showing the revised expiration date.

If your visa expires during your program, but you do not plan to travel outside of the U.S. until your program is complete, you do not need to renew the visa. This is because the purpose of the J-1 visa is to permit entry and reentry to the United States.

However, if your visa has expired during the EVP program and you must leave the country, you will have to apply for a new J-1 visa to return to the U.S. and complete your program. This can cause unexpected delays and complicate your ability to finish your program. You should always check with your sponsor before planning any international travel during your program to make sure your travel is authorized and you won’t run into a problem with your visa when trying to return to the United States.

Can a J-1 Visa Holder Apply for a Green Card?

The purpose of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program is to be a cultural exchange program fostering a better understanding between U.S. citizens and foreign participants. The idea is that the program participants will share their experiences and ideas in their home country. Consequently, J-1 applicants must come to the U.S. with the intention to depart and return to their home country after they complete the program.

Most who participate in the EVP will be subject to the two-year home-country physical presence (foreign residence) requirement. This implies you have to return to your home country for two years after completing the EVP program if you:

  • Participate in an exchange program funded by either your government or the U.S. government
  • Have specialized knowledge or skills deemed necessary to the development of your home country
  • Received graduate medical education or training

You can still travel to the U.S. during the two-year time period, but you may not apply to become a lawful permanent resident (i.e., receive a green card) until after this time has elapsed.

However, not all J-1 visa holders are subject to this requirement. Check with your sponsor if you are unsure if the requirement applies to your program. Furthermore, the requirement may sometimes be waived under certain circumstances. The exchange visitor must apply for the J-1 visa waiver through the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Can You Obtain Another J-1 Visa After the First Program?

As discussed above, since the EVP is a cultural exchange program, participants are generally expected to return to their home countries after their program ends. However, you are not prohibited from applying to a second exchange program in the future provided you meet the specific program eligibility requirements. If you apply again, you will likely need a new J-1 visa to reenter the United States for the new program.

Can You Change Your J-1 Visa to a Tourist Visa?

While it is possible, it is very uncommon to change a J-1 visa to a tourist visa. Many sponsors advise program participants not to pursue this change since it is not in the spirit of the EVP. You may need to consult with an immigration attorney to discuss your specific circumstances.

Keep in mind that if you are subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement, you will not be able to change your visa status unless you obtain a waiver. If you are not subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement, USCIS provides the following requirements to apply to change your status in the United States:

  • You were lawfully admitted into the United States as a nonimmigrant
  • You have not committed any act that would make you ineligible to receive an immigration benefit
  • There are no other factors that require you to depart the United States before making a reentry based on a different classification
  • You apply for a change of status before the expiration date on your Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record
  • Your passport is valid for your entire requested period of stay in the new nonimmigrant classification in the United States

Depending on the reason you want to stay in the U.S. after your program ends, you may change your visa status to B-1 or B-2 status, the Visitor for Business or Pleasure. There are documents you will have to submit to apply for the status change, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to accomplish the change if you are eligible.