All You Need To Know About Applying For a J1 Visa

Allison Mulgrew | Jun 29, 2021

What is a J1 visa?

A J1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for those who are traveling to the U.S. to participate in a work or study-based exchange visitor program. There are many different J1 visa categories that you could apply to, with some of the most common being research scholars, short-term scholars, students, professors/teachers, and physicians.

How do I apply for a J1 visa

Step 1. Choose an exchange program/sponsor

The first thing you need to do is choose the program you want to participate in. As mentioned above, there are many different J1 visa programs to choose from. After you have selected a program, you must find a designated sponsor.

Once you have gained acceptance into the sponsor’s program, they will help place you in an institution/school, assist with the J1 visa application process, and be your main point of contact throughout the duration of your program. Unless you are part of a federally funded exchange program, you will need to pay your program’s fees. The fees will depend on your sponsor, the program category, and the program duration.

Step 2. Complete DS-2019 form

The DS-2019 form, previously known as the IAP-66 form, is needed in order to get an interview with a U.S. embassy. It will be provided by the Responsible Officer (RO) or the Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO) of your sponsor. It will contain a description of the visitor’s program, the category of the program, the start and end date of the program, and the estimated cost of the program.

Along with the DS-2019 form, you will have to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee to the Department of Homeland Security. In some cases, your sponsor may have included this fee in your program fees. Whether you pay it yourself or your sponsor pays for it as part of your fees, be sure to get the receipt as proof of payment.

Step 3. Submit DS-2019 form and any other required documents

There are multiple documents that you will need to submit to the U.S. Department of State in your home country as part of the J1 visa application. These documents include:

  • DS-2019 form (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status)
  • DS-7002 form (Training/Internship Placement Plan)- only for those applying for a trainee or internship program
  • DS-160 form (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application)- determines eligibility for a nonimmigrant visa
  • Valid passport- must be valid for at least 6 months after intended period of stay
  • 2”x 2” photograph of yourself

Step 4. Interview

The last step to the application process is attending an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. Individuals aged 13 and younger or 80 and older do not typically require interviews. The wait time for an interview can be very long, so it is important to begin your J1 visa application process as soon as possible. You can check the wait times for your country’s U.S. embassy here.

You will need to show proof that you paid the nonimmigrant visa application processing fee at the time of your interview. You are exempt from this fee if participating in a U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, or U.S. government funded program.

During your interview, it is important to prove that you have “single intent”, meaning that you are only coming to the U.S. to work/study for a temporary period of time and plan on returning to your home country after your program’s duration.

Upon receiving your J1 visa, you may need to pay a visa issuance fee. This fee is only charged if your home country also charges U.S. citizens a fee to obtain a visa to their country. You can view the visa reciprocity tables to see if this fee applies to you.

Can I get a job outside of my J1 program?

While in the U.S. on a J1 visa, you are required to work in your program’s category. You will not be able to work in any other job field outside your program. Those studying at a school or university may work on campus up to 20 hours per week if in pursuit of a fellowship, assistantship, or scholarship.

During your program, you cannot travel outside the U.S. at any point or else you will have to apply for a new J1 visa to reenter. After your program ends, J1 visa holders have a 30-day grace period to leave the U.S. During this 30-day grace period, you cannot work or participate in any more exchange activities. It is also not recommended to leave the U.S. (unless you are officially returning back to your home country) as it is unlikely you will be allowed to reenter.

How do I extend my J1 visa before it expires?

Each program has a maximum duration which differs based on the sponsor. The RO/ARO from your sponsor can assist you in extending your J1 visa to the maximum duration of your program. A new DS-2019 will be issued to you illustrating the extension of your program. An extension past the maximum duration will need to be approved by the U.S. Department of State and requires a separate form and fee.

Can I apply for a green card at the end of my J1 visa?

While it’s not impossible, transitioning from a J1 visa to a green card can be very difficult. The main obstacle is the two-year foreign residence requirement that applies to most J1 visa holders. The two-year foreign residence requirement states that after the J1 visa holder’s program ends, they must return to their home country and remain there for two years before being eligible to apply for another U.S. visa. If an exchange visitor is subject to this requirement, it will be noted on their DS-2019 form at the time of application. The only way to exempt yourself from this rule is to apply for a J1 waiver.

In order to be eligible for a J1 waiver, you will need to show one of the following:

  • You would be persecuted for political affiliations, religious beliefs, race, etc. if you were to return to your home country
  • Your spouse and/or children (who are either green card holders or U.S. citizens) would experience a great hardship if you were to return to your home country for two years
  • A “No Objection Statement” obtained from your home country’s embassy giving you permission to apply for a green card
  • A federal government agency is requesting that you stay in the U.S.

To apply for the waiver, you will need to submit all of the following to the U.S Department of State:

  • the DS-3035 form (J Visa Waiver Recommendation Application)
  • copies of all the DS-2019 forms the visa holder has received
  • two self-addressed, stamped envelopes in legal size
  • a check or money order for the application fee of $120

It can take one to four months to process the application. Once you have been approved, you can begin applying for a green card.

You can apply for the green card multiple ways:

  • submit the immigrant petition and J1 waiver together along with evidence that you did not have the intention to get a green card when you first applied for a J1 visa.
  • submit the J1 waiver, have it approved, and then submit the immigrant petition
  • submit the immigrant petition, have it approved, and then submit the J1 waiver.

Another way to get a green card is by marriage. If a J1 visa holder were to marry a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, they can sponsor them to get a green card. However, this does not exempt them from the two-year foreign resident requirement, if applicable. They may still have to return to their home country for 2 years before being able to apply for the green card. This method is heavily scrutinized by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to ensure that the marriage is real and not just a ploy to obtain a green card.

Another option is to switch to a visa with “dual intent” such as H1B, O1, or L1. “Dual intent” visas mean that you had the intention of becoming a permanent resident at the time you applied for the visa. These visas make it easier to apply for a green card as you do not have to go through the process of applying for a J1 waiver, you can just immediately apply for a green card.

What is a J2 visa?

A J2 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for the dependent spouse and/or unmarried children (under the age of 21) of the J1 visa holder. Not all J1 visa categories allow you to bring dependents along with you to the U.S. so you must get approval from your program. For example, those in the au pair or camp counselor categories are not allowed to bring dependents. If approved, J2 dependents will receive their own DS-2019 forms and must apply for their visas separately.

What are the J1 visa health insurance requirements?

All J1 visa holders and their J2 dependents must have health insurance for the duration of their program that meets the following requirements from the U.S. Department of State:

  • Medical expense benefits of at least $100,000 per injury or sickness
  • Repatriation of remains in the amount of $25,000
  • Medical evacuation in the amount of $50,000
  • Deductible does not exceed $500 per injury or sickness
  • A policy underwritten by an insurance carrier with:
  • an A.M. Best rating of ‘‘A-’’ or above;
  • an Insurance Solvency International, Ltd. (ISI) rating of “A-1” or above;
  • a Standard and Poor’s Claims paying Ability rating of ‘‘A-’’ or above;
  • a Weiss Research, Inc. rating of ‘‘B+’’ or above; or
  • a policy backed by the full faith and credit of the J1 visa holder’s home country’s government

Failure to obtain or maintain insurance can result in termination from your program.

ISO has dedicated insurance plans for J1 visa holders that fulfill all the requirements of the U.S. Department of State, starting at just $39 per month. You can view the plan options here. ISO also provides a plan for J2 dependents that can be viewed here.

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About ISO Student Health Insurance

ISO Student Health Insurance (ISO), founded in 1958 and headquartered in New York City, is an insurance brokerage specializing in health insurance solutions for international students. As such, ISO acts as plan administrator, broker and manager of the high-quality insurance products available for international students, scholars and their dependents during their course of study in the U.S.

For more information, please visit www.isoa.org and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, Weibo, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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