J-1 EXCHANGE VISITOR VISAS
The exchange visitor (J) nonimmigrant visa category is provided for persons who are approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the U.S., under provisions of U.S. immigration law. This means that before you can apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for a J visa, you must first apply, meet the requirements, and be accepted for one of the Exchange Visitor Program categories through a designated sponsoring organization. These organizations are sometimes called “program sponsors.”
If you are accepted as a participant in an exchange program, the program sponsor will provide you with information and documents necessary to apply for the J visa to enter the U.S.
When Can a Visitor Visa Be Used Instead of an Exchange Visitor Visa?
In certain circumstances, some activities that are done on exchange visitor visas are also permitted on business (B-1) or tourist (B-2) visas. Short periods of study, or study which is recreational, and not vocational, and incidental to the trip, is permitted on a visitor visa. The determining factor is the traveler’s primary purpose in coming to the U.S. Any kind of study that would earn credit or certification is not permitted on a visitor visa. As an example, if you are taking a vacation to the U.S., and during this vacation you would like to take a two-day cooking class for your enjoyment, and there is no credit earned, then this would be permitted on a visitor visa. A consular officer will determine the visa category you will need based on the purpose of your travel, and your supporting documentation.
Exchange Visitors Cannot Travel on the Visa Waiver Program
Citizens from a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) who want to enter the U.S. temporarily as exchange visitors, must first obtain an exchange visitor visa. Exchange visitor program participants cannot travel on the VWP, nor can they travel on a visitor (B) visa. Those travelers coming on the VWP to participate in an exchange program may be denied admission to the U.S. by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. immigration inspector at the port of entry.
What Is SEVIS and SEVP? What Should You Know about It?
The SEVP monitors school and exchange programs and F, M and J category visitors. The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is an Internet-based system that maintains accurate and current information on nonimmigrant students (F and M visa), exchange visitors (J visa), and their dependents (F-2, M-2, and J-2). SEVIS enables schools and program sponsors to transmit mandatory information and event notifications via the Internet, to the DHS and DOS throughout a student or exchange visitor’s stay in the U.S.
All exchange visitor applicants must have a SEVIS generated DS-2019 issued by a DOS designated sponsor, which they submit when they are applying for their exchange visitor visa. The consular officer verifies the DS-2019 record electronically through the SEVIS system in order to process your exchange visitor visa application to conclusion. Unless otherwise exempt, exchange visitor applicants must pay a SEVIS I-901 Fee to DHS for each individual program.
Qualifying for an Exchange Visitor Visa
Exchange visitor applicants must meet specific requirements to qualify for an exchange visitor (J) visa under immigration law. The consular officer will determine whether you qualify for the visa. Additionally, applicants must demonstrate that they properly meet requirements, including the following:
- That they plan to remain in the U.S. for a temporary, specific, limited period;
- Evidence of funds to cover expenses in the U.S.;
- Evidence of compelling social and economic ties abroad; and other binding ties which will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit.
Applying for an Exchange Visitor Visa
Visa applicants should apply at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, generally in their country of permanent residence. As part of the visa application process, an interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate is required for visa applicants from age 14 through 79.