The Exchange Visitor Program is carried out under the provisions of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961, as amended. The purpose of the Act is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchanges. International educational and cultural exchanges are one of the most effective means of developing lasting and meaningful relationships. They provide an extremely valuable opportunity to experience the United States and our way of life. Foreign nationals come to the United States to participate in a wide variety of educational and cultural exchange programs.

The Exchange Visitor Program is administered by the Office of Exchange Coordination and Designation in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Visit the Exchange Visitor Program to learn more about program eligibility requirements, regulations and much more. At the conclusion of their program, Exchange Visitor program participants are expected to return to the home countries to utilize the experience and skills they have acquired while in the United States. Learn More about exchange related programs and opportunities.

In carrying out the responsibilities of the Exchange Visitor Program, the Department designates public and private entities to act as exchange sponsors. Designated sponsoring organizations facilitate the entry of foreign nationals into the United States as exchange visitors to complete the objectives of one of the exchange visitor program categories, which are:

  • Au pair
  • Camp Counselor
  • Student, college/university
  • Student, secondary
  • Government Visitor
  • International Visitor (reserved for U.S. Department of State use)
  • Alien physician
  • Professor
  • Research Scholar
  • Short-term Scholar
  • Specialist
  • Summer work/travel
  • Teacher
  • Trainee

Each category of exchange has specific requirements and regulations.

  • To learn about the foreign physician, au pair, camp counselor, summer work/travel, and trainee categories select Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Exchange Visitor Program, Private Sector Programs. See summer work/travel 12 month pilot program for Australians and New Zealanders.
  • To learn about the post secondary student, college/university student, professor, research scholar, short-term scholar, specialist, teacher and Government Visitor and International Visitor categories, select Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Exchange Visitor, Government Programs

A citizen of a foreign country, who wishes to enter the United States, generally must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. The type of visa you must have is defined by immigration law, and relates to the purpose of your travel.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides the exchange visitor (J) nonimmigrant visa category for persons who are approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States. This means that before you can apply at an American Embassy or Consulate for a J visa you must apply, meet the requirements, and be accepted for one of the Exchange Visitor Program categories through a designated sponsoring organization. If you are accepted as a participant in an exchange program, the sponsor will provide you with information and documents necessary to apply for the J visa to enter the United States.

Changes introduced shortly after September 11, 2001 involve extensive and ongoing review of visa issuing practices as they relate to our national security. Visa applications are now subject to a greater degree of scrutiny than in the past. Applicants affected by these procedures are informed of the need for additional screening at the time they submit their applications. So it is important to apply for your visa well in advance of your travel departure date.

A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to the United States port-of entry, and request permission from the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. immigration inspector to enter the United States. A visa does not guarantee entry into the United States.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is very specific with regard to the requirements, which must be met by applicants to qualify for the exchange visitor (J) visa. The consular officer will determine whether you qualify for the visa. Applicants must demonstrate that they properly meet the requirements to be issued an exchange visitor visa, 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 United States;
  • Evidence of compelling social and economic ties abroad; and other binding ties which will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is designed to help the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State better monitor school and exchange programs and F, M and J category visitors. Exchange visitor and student information is maintained in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is an Internet-based system that maintains accurate and current information on non-immigrant 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 Department of Homeland Security and Department of State (DOS) throughout a student or exchange visitor's stay in the United States. Select SEVIS to go to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Internet site and learn more.

All exchange visitor applicants must have a SEVIS generated DS 2019 issued by a Department of State designated sponsor, which they submit when they are applying for their exchange visitor visa. The consular officer will need to verify your DS 2019 record electronically through the SEVIS system in order to process your exchange visitor visa application to conclusion. Unless otherwise exempt, participants whose SEVIS DS-2019 was issued on or after September 1, 2004 must pay a SEVIS I-901 Fee to the Department of Homeland Security for each individual program. The fee may be paid either through a special web site, via Western Union, or by mail. See SEVIS-901 Fee or SEVIS for further information on how to pay the fee.

Notice: Effective 10/27/2008 the SEVIS fees will increase. To find out what the increase will be for your particular exchange program please see the SEVP Fact Sheet.

Applicants may apply for their visa as soon as they are prepared to do so. Exchange visitor visa applicants are encouraged to apply for their visa early to provide ample time for visa processing. Applicants for visas should generally apply at the American Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence.

As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy consular section is required for visa applicants from age 14 through 79. Persons age 13 and younger, and age 80 and older, generally do not require an interview, unless requested by embassy or consulate. The waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so early visa application is strongly encouraged. Visa wait times for interview appointments and visa processing time information for each U.S. Embassy or Consulate worldwide is available on our website at Visa Wait Times, and on most embassy websites. If you are authorized by your sponsor to be accompanied by your spouse (husband or wife) and children, they will also be given a Form DS-2019 and they can apply at the same time. During the visa application process, usually at the interview, an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan will be quickly taken. Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant's interview by a Consular Officer. You may apply for your visa at an Embassy or Consulate any time before the beginning of your exchange program.

Each visa applicant must submit these forms and documentation, and submit fees as explained below:

  • DS 2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status. You will need to submit a SEVIS generated Form, DS-2019, which was provided to you by your program sponsor. All exchange visitors, including their spouses and dependents must be registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), an Internet-based system that maintains accurate and current information on non-immigrant students and exchange visitors and their dependents (J-2 visa holders). Your program sponsor is responsible for entering your information for the DS 2019 Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status into SEVIS. Exchange visitors not part of a U.S. Government-sponsored program will also have to pay a SEVIS I-901 fee for each program. Questions regarding your exchange program should be directly to your program sponsor.
  • A Training/Internship Placement Plan, Form DS-7002. All exchange visitor (J visa) trainee or intern visa applicants with DS-2019 forms dated on or after July 19, 2007 (based on Box 7 on form) must also present Training/Internship Placement Plan, Form DS-7002 when applying for your visa. If your Form DS-2019 is issued prior to July 19, 2007 a Form DS-7002 is not required. For more information about the new rules for trainee and intern programs, see the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Exchange Visitor Program, Private Sector Programs.
  • An application, Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-156 or DS-160, completed and signed.
  • A Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-157 provides additional information about your travel plans. Submission of this completed form is required for all male applicants between 16-45 years of age. It is also required for all applicants from state sponsors of terrorism age 16 and over, irrespective of gender, without exception. Four countries are now designated as state sponsors of terrorism, including Cuba, Syria, Sudan, and Iran. Select Special Processing Procedures to learn more. You should know that a consular officer may require any nonimmigrant visa applicant to complete this form. Here is Form, DS-157.
  • A Contact Information and Work History, Form DS-158, completed.
  • A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must complete an application;
  • One (1) 2x2 photograph. See the required photo format explained in Nonimmigrant Photograph Requirements.
  • Nonimmigrant visa application processing fee - For current fees for Department of State government services select Fees.
  • Visa issuance fee – Additionally, if the visa is issued, there may be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee, if applicable. Please consult the Visa Reciprocity Tables to find out if you must pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee and the fee amount. If there is a fee for issuance for the visa, it is equal as nearly as possible to the fee charged to United States citizens by the applicant's country of nationality.
  • It is important that you refer to the Embassy Consular Section website to determine visa processing time frames and instructions, learn about interview scheduling, and find out if there are any additional documentation items required. Learn more by contacting the Embassy Consular Section.
  • Applicants must demonstrate to the consular officer that they have binding ties to a residence in a foreign country which they have no intention of abandoning, and that they are coming to the United States for a temporary period. It is impossible to specify the exact form the evidence should take since applicants' circumstances vary greatly.
  • Be advised of the Department of Homeland Security regulation which requires that all J exchange visitors, and J-2 spouse and dependents enter the U.S. 30 days or less in advance of the applicant's program start date as shown on the Form DS-2019. Please consider this date carefully when making travel plans to the U.S. Immigration officers may deny you entry into the United States at your expense if you attempt to enter more that 30 days before your program start date. The 30-day limitation does not apply to current exchange participants who are returning to continue with their exchange program.
  • If you want an earlier entry in the U.S. (more than 30 days prior to the course start date), you must qualify for, and obtain a visitor visa, as explained below; however, this is strongly discouraged.

Spouses and/or children under the age of 21 who wish to accompany or join the principal exchange visitor (J) visa holder in the United States for the duration of his/her stay require exchange visitor visas (derivative J visas). The application procedure is the same as that for a primary visa applicant. The sponsor must approve the accompaniment of the spouse and/or children and who will each be issued their own Form DS-2019. This form is used to obtain the required visa and the spouse and dependents can enter the U.S. at the same time as the principal exchange visitor or at a later date.

Work - The spouse and/or children of an exchange visitor in the U.S. may not work in J-2 status. If employment is desired, the dependent must make an application to DHS, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and be approved for permission to work. They must file Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization with the USCIS office that serves the area where they live for a work permit (employment authorization document). To learn more, select How Do I Get a Work Permit (Employment Authorization Document)? to go to the USCIS Website.

Study - The spouse and/or children of an exchange visitor visa holder who are in the U.S. on an exchange visitor visa may study in the U.S. without also being required to apply for a student (F-1) visa or change to F-1 status.

Spouses and/or children who do not intend to reside in the United States with the principal visa holder, but visit for vacations only, may be eligible to apply for visitor (B-2) visas, or if qualified, travel without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program.

The spouse and children can also apply for visas after the principal applicant has already traveled. In general, they must present the following:

  • Form DS 2019, SEVIS generated, and approved by the sponsor
  • Proof that the principal applicant (the person who received the DS-2019 or IAP-66) is maintaining his/her J visa status
  • Copy of the J-1's (principal applicant's) visa
  • Proof of relationship to the principal applicant
  • Proof of sufficient money to cover all expenses in the United States

Spouses and children of exchange visitors may not enter the United States before the principal visitor enters for the first time.

An exchange visitor is subject to INA 212(e) requirement, if the following conditions exist:

  • The program in which the exchange visitor was participating was financed in whole or in part directly or indirectly by the United States government or the government of the exchange visitor's nationality or last residence;
  • The exchange visitor is a national or resident of a country designated as requiring the services of persons engaged in the field of specialized knowledge or skills in which the exchange visitor was engaged for the duration of their program (Exchange Visitor Skills List 9 FAM 41.62, Exhibit II);
  • The exchange visitor entered the United States to receive graduate medical education or training.

If the exchange visitor is subject to INA 212(e) requirement, he or she cannot change his or status to that of H, L, K, or immigrant lawful permanent resident (LPR) until he or she has returned to his/her home country for at least two-years or received a waiver of that requirement. Such waivers can be obtained under five separate bases: No Objection Statement, Exceptional Hardship or Persecution, Conrad Program, or Interested Government Agency. For information, see Waiver of the J Visa Two-Year Foreign Residence Requirement 212(e).

If you want an earlier entry in the U.S. (more than 30 days prior to the course start date), you must qualify for, and obtain a visitor visa; however, this is strongly discouraged. If you travel to the U.S. on a visitor visa, before beginning an exchange program, you must obtain a change of visa classification from the B status to that of J. You must file Form I-539, Application for Change of Nonimmigrant Status, with application fee, and also submit the required Form DS-2019 to the Department of Homeland Security office where the application is made. Please be aware that you cannot start your exchange visitor program until the change of status is approved, and therefore in view of the processing time to your change status in the U.S., you may be in danger of missing your entire exchange program waiting approval of change of status.

Citizens from a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), who want to enter the United States temporarily, as exchange visitors traveling to the United States, must first obtain a an exchange visitor visa to come to the U.S. They cannot travel without a visa on the Visa Waiver Program. Those travelers coming on the Visa Waiver Program to participate in an exchange program may be denied admission to the United States by the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. immigration inspector at the port of entry. For more information on VWP, see Visa Waiver Program

Some activities that are done on exchange visitor visas are also permitted on business (B-1) or tourist (B-2) visas in certain circumstances. 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 United States. Furthermore, 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.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States. The "J" exchange visitor visa is for educational and cultural exchange programs designated by the Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and is discussed here. The "Q-1" visa is for certain international cultural exchange programs designed to provide practical training and employment, and sharing of the history, culture, and traditions of participants home country in the United States. The training/employment must be approved in advance by the office of the Department of Homeland Security, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on the basis of a petition, Form I-129, filed by the U.S. sponsor. To learn more, go to the USCIS Website by selecting “Q” International Cultural Exchange. To learn more about applying for the Q visa, select temporary worker visa. The Irish Peace Process Cultural and Training Program or Walsh Program (Q2, Q3 visa) is a groundbreaking cultural exchange and employment-training program, administered by the Department of State. To learn more, select Walsh Program.

  • No assurances regarding the issuance of visas can be given in advance. Therefore final travel plans or the purchase of nonrefundable tickets should not be made until a visa has been issued.
  • Unless previously canceled, a visa is valid until its expiration date. Therefore, if the traveler has a valid U.S. visitor visa in an expired passport, do not remove the visa page from the expired passport. You may use it along with a new valid passport for travel and admission to the United States.

Attempting to obtain a visa by the willful misrepresentation of a material fact, or fraud, may result in the permanent refusal of a visa or denial of entry into the United States. Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas provides important information about ineligibilities.

The Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-156, lists classes of persons who are ineligible under U.S. law to receive visas. In some instances an applicant who is ineligible, but who is otherwise properly classifiable as a visitor, may apply for a waiver of ineligibility and be issued a visa if the waiver is approved. Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas provides important information about ineligibilities, by reviewing sections of the law taken from the immigration and Nationality Act.

If the consular officer should find it necessary to deny the issuance of a visitor visa, the applicant may apply again if there is new evidence to overcome the basis for the refusal. For additional information, select Denials to learn more. In the absence of new evidence, consular officers are not obliged to re-examine such cases.

A visa allows a foreign citizen coming from abroad, to travel to the United States port-of entry and request permission to enter the U.S. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. Exchange visitors must have their Form DS-2019 in their possession each time they enter the United States. Exchange visitors should review important information about Admissions/Entry requirements on the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection website. Upon arrival (at an international airport, seaport or land border crossing), you will be enrolled in the US-VISIT entry-exit program. In addition, some travelers will also need to register their entry into and their departure from the U.S. with the Special Registration program. If you are allowed to enter the U.S., the CBP official will determine the length of your visit on the Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94). Since Form I-94 documents your authorized stay in the U.S., it is very important to keep inside your passport.

  • You should carefully consider the dates of your authorized stay and make sure you are following the procedures under U.S. immigration laws. It is important that you depart the U.S. on or before the last day you are authorized to be in the U.S. on any given trip, based on the specified end date on your Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94. Failure to departure the U.S. will cause you to be out-of-status. Additional information on successfully maintaining your immigration status while a student or exchange visitor can be found on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website.
  • Staying beyond the period of time authorized, by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and out-of-status in the U.S., is a violation of U.S. immigration laws, and may cause you to be ineligible for a visa in the future for return travel to the U.S. Select Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas to learn more
  • Staying unlawfully in the United States, beyond the date Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authorized, even by one day results in your visa being automatically voided, in accordance with to INA 222(g). Under this provision of immigration law, if you overstay on your nonimmigrant authorized stay in the U.S. your visa will be automatically voided. In this situation, you are required to reapply for a new nonimmigrant visa, generally in your country of nationality.
  • For nonimmigrants in the U.S. who have an Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 with the CBP admitting officer endorsement of Duration of Status or D/S, but who are no longer performing the same function in the U.S. that they were originally admitted to do (e.g. you are no longer working for the same employer or you are no longer attending the same school), a DHS or an immigration judge makes a finding of status violation, resulting in the termination of the period of authorized stay.

The initial admission of an exchange visitor, spouse and children may not exceed the period specified on Form DS-2019, plus a period of 30 days for the purpose of travel. The 30-day grace or travel status period is intended to be a period following the end of the exchange visitor’s program and is to be used for domestic travel and/or to prepare for and depart from the U.S., and for no other purpose.

Those exchange visitors who wish to stay beyond the time indicated on their DS-2019 should review the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs information: Adjustments to the J-1 Status.

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