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J1 Visa – Exchange Visitor to USA 2024

Are you interested in traveling to the US for a cultural, skills, or student exchange? The J1 visa allows you to participate as an exchange visitor in teaching, training, and research programs. Read this guide to learn about the J1 visa rules, find out if you’re eligible, and how to apply for it.

What is a J1 Visa?

The J1 visa allows foreigners to participate in a visitor exchange program in fields of education, arts, and science. Programs approved under the J1 visa include teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, training or education. 

Professors, scholars, research assistants, students, teachers, au pairs, and camp counselors are typical examples of exchange visitors who are eligible for the J1 visa. 

The J1 is a nonimmigrant visitor visa, meaning you must return home when your visa expires.

What are the J1 Visa Rules and Requirements?

To be eligible for the J1 visa, you must:

  • ​​Be visiting the US. as a student, scholar, trainee, intern, au pair, teacher, professor, research assistant, medical graduate, or international visitor. 
  • Be accepted into a US Department of State (DOS) designed program of studies, training, research, or cultural enrichment.
  • Be proficient enough in English to participate effectively in your exchange program.
  • Have adequate medical insurance to cover your stay in the US.
  • Have sufficient personal funds to cover your educational, living, and travel expenses in the US for the duration of your program,
  • Have a residence and ties to a country outside the US that you intend to return to once your visa expires.

Under the J1 visa rules, you're subject to certain restrictions:

  • You’re generally not allowed to work in the US on a J1 visa. There are exceptions if the work is an approved part of your exchange visitor program, or you’ve got work permission from your sponsor.

There are different categories of J1 visas. Each program category has specific rules and requirements, such as the duration you can stay, or whether or not you can bring family members with you. Check the program category you’re interested in to understand more.

Learn more about the J1 visa rules and regulations here.

How Long Can I Stay in the US on a J1 Visa?

The validity period of your J1 visa depends on the specific exchange visitor program you’re participating in. For example, au pairs can stay in the US on a J1 visa for 1 year, while a professor may stay for 5 years. 

How Much Does a J1 Visa Cost?

The J1 visa cost includes:

  • Program fee, varies by program. There’s no program fee for federally funded exchange programs,
  • $35 – $220 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee, varies by program,
  • $160 application fee,
  • Visa issuance fee, depending on your nationality e.g., $105 for Australia.

What is the J1 Visa Processing Time?

The time to apply for a J1 visa includes wait time for a visa interview and visa processing time.

Wait times for visa interviews at a US Embassy or Consulate vary by location. Check the estimated wait times here.

The current wait times around the world vary. In some locations (but surprisingly, not all!), wait times are lengthy. This is an unfortunate reality due to COVID-related backlogs. 

You can try to secure an earlier appointment by filling out the DS-160 online and paying the fee. Then check regularly (daily) for new appointments opening up due to cancellations.

Once you complete your interview, the J1 visa processing time in 2022 is generally within 30 days.

For information on visa locations, reviews of experiences, ratings, and feedback go to the America Josh US Visa Location Guide.

How Do I Get a J1 Visa?

There are 3 parts to getting a J1 visa:

1. Visitor Exchange Application Process
2. SEVIS Registration Process
3. J1 Visa Application Process

  1. Visitor Exchange Application Process

    There are numerous J1 exchange visitor programs administered by DOS.

    Apply for an Exchange Visitor Program
    – Contact the designated sponsor directly. They are the main point of contact throughout your exchange program.
    – Eligibility and application requirements are specific to each program. For example, some sponsors interview you as part of the screening process.
    – Sponsors may charge a program fee unless they are ​​unless you’re in a federally funded exchange program.

    Upon acceptance, your sponsor will issue you a Certificate of Eligibility Form DS-2019.

    Learn more about the J1 exchange visitor programs here.

  2. SEVIS Registration Process

    The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a database for nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors in the US. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses SEVIS for tracking and monitoring purposes. 

    Register with SEVIS.
    – To register with SEVIS, create an account here
    – Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. You'll receive an electronic payment confirmation as proof of payment.

    Once you’re registered with SEVIS you can then apply for a J1 visa.

  3. J1 Visa Application Process

    File Form DS-160 Application for J1 Visa

    – Apply at a US Consulate or Embassy outside the US.
    – If you're applying within Australia, register and create a profile with the US Department of State here.
    – Print the confirmation page once you have completed the form.

    Pay the Visa Application Fee
    – Print the electronic payment confirmation as proof of payment.

    Upload the Required Documents
    – These include as a minimum: completed Form DS-160, Form DS-2019, SEVIS I-901 payment receipt, visa application payment receipt, passport with at least six months validity, passport photo, proof of your ability to fund your educational, living, and travel expenses, e.g., a bank statement, evidence you intend to depart the US after your trip, e.g., a return plane ticket, proof of ties to your home country. 
    – Also, upload documents required for your specific exchange program category.

    Schedule and Attend an interview at a US Consulate or Embassy
    – Schedule an interview at a US Consulate or Embassy outside the US here.
    – Bring copies of all uploaded documents.
    – At your interview, a consular officer will assess your J1 visa application. Your fingerprints will be taken. You'll be advised if further administrative processing is required.
    – Depending on your nationality there may be a visa issuance fee when your visa is approved.

    After you complete your interview, track the status of your J1 visa application on the US Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) site. You can either receive your passport with your J1 visa stamp by mail or pick it up in person from the Consulate officer. 

    Learn more about how to apply for a J1 visa here.

J1 In-Person Interview Waivers Due to COVID-19 in 2022

From December 2021, consular officers were authorized to waive in-person interviews for J1 visa applicants due to COVID-19. The waiver is expected to remain until December 2022. In-person interviews may still be required on a case-by-case basis. Check the US Consulate or Embassy website for current information.

What Questions Will I Be Asked at My J1 Visa Interview?

The purpose of the J1 visa interview is for the Consular Officer to verify the information in your application and supporting documents is true and correct. 

You'll be asked questions about your visitor exchange program, your background, details of your DS-2019 certificate and J1 visa application.

Here are some commons questions you can expect during your J1 visa interview:

  • Tell us about the visitor exchange program you’ve been accepted for. Why did you apply for it?
  • Tell us about the role you’ll be performing. What are your duties?
  • What skills and knowledge will you bring to this program?
  • What do you think you will gain from this program?
  • Will you be paid for this role?
  • Tell us about your employment history.
  • Are you a student? What do you study?
  • How will you support yourself financially during your stay in the US?
  • Do you have medical insurance in the US?
  • Have you ever visited or worked in the US before?
  • Do you have any travel plans while you’re in the US
  • Have you ever held a US visa before?
  • What will you do once your visa expires?

Follow these tips for your J1 visa interview:

  • Stay calm and relaxed. The Consular Officer is just doing their job. In most cases, if you've been accurate and honest in your application, everything will be fine, and the interview will be straightforward.
  • Smile and be friendly. Convey your enthusiasm for participating in the visitor exchange program.
  • Be able to summarize how and why you qualify for a J1 visa.
  • Be familiar with the contents, examples, and supporting documents from your J1 visa application.
  • Answer the questions honestly. If you don't understand the question or are unsure, say so! Share what you DO know.
  • Bring all relevant supporting documents with you, well organized, and refer to them during your interview.
  • Emphasize your plans to return home after your visa expires. Refer to supporting documents that clearly show your ties to your life, family, and friends back home.

For professional assistance, the following legal and immigration specialists are recommended:

Doug Lightman from Lightman Immigration 

Tara Gray from Tara Gray Law

Zjantelle from Cammisa Markel

More Information About the J1 Visa

Get the basics of J1 visa rules here.

Learn how to apply for a J1 visa here.

For comprehensive and well-organized information about J1 visas for Australians, check the US Visa Information Service for Australia

Tips For Getting a J1 Visa

Getting a J1 visa was pretty easy! I used Rachael from GrowUSA and she made it amazing. I just had to collect all the documents. Australians in NYC made it super easy as well in terms of knowing what to expect. I was over-prepared.

I loved New York from the moment I landed for a one week holiday back in 2013. The energy, the culture, all the live music I could ever watch. Being surrounded by ambitious people who like enjoying life. The J1 was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass, I knew I’d regret it forever.

Prepare your documents, read through all the posts, make it easy for yourself.

During my interview I was asked for my DS-160 and where I was going. I was then told “when you get to America…” and I said “when?!”. The Officer said “oh yeah, your visa is approved”. I even offered to show more documentation (I put so much effort into preparing haha) but when I opened up my file and he saw my color-coordinated post-its, he just waved his hand and said “you’re fine!”.

Coming to the US was not entirely what I expected, but it was exactly what I needed. Living here is so different to visiting, and the experience is so enriching. Even the tough experiences. I hit the ground running and got busy getting myself settled. I think if you could afford it, I would spend some time enjoying the city and celebrating your milestone. Cos once you get busy with your program… 


Frequently Asked Questions About J1 Visas

Here are some common questions about J1 visas:

How Is the J1 Visa Different From F1, M1, and B1/B2 Visas?

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows you to enter the US for up to 90 days as a tourist.

So on the VWP you can take a short course for fun, such as a 2-hour “The Secret to Making New York Pizza” course.

But to participate in a visitor exchange program, you need a J1 visa. 

How Is the J1 Visa Different From F1, M1, and B1/B2 Visas?

The J1 visa allows you to visit the US to enroll in a student or visitor exchange program.

The F1 visa is specifically for students of any academic or language training program credited towards a US degree or academic certificate. An F1 visa holder typically studies at a US college/university, private secondary school, or an approved English language institution. 

The M1 visa is specifically for students of any vocational program credited towards a US degree or academic certificate. An M1 visa holder typically studies at a US community college. If you wish to go on and study at a US university after you’ve completed your vocational training on an M1 visa, you will need to leave the US and apply for an F1 visa.

The B1/B2 visa allows you to travel to the US for business or tourism for up to 180 days.

Can I Extend My J1 Visa?

Yes! You generally can extend your J1 visa for a period specific to your visitor exchange program.

To extend your J1 visa, your sponsor must file a new Form DS-2019. If you have a spouse or dependents on a J2 visa, they will need to be included in the extension request.

When Can I Enter the US on a J1 Visa?

You can enter the US up to 30 days before the start date of your program.

How Long Can I Stay in the US Once My J1 Visa Expires?

There’s a 60-day grace period to stay in the US beyond the date listed on your Certificate of Eligibility 

The purpose of the grace period is to enable you to prepare for your departure from the US.
Remember though the latest date you can stay in the US is the “admit until” date listed on your I-94

What Happens if J1 Visa Holders Overstay Their Visit?

Do not overstay your J1 visa under any circumstances.

You're considered out of status if you fail to depart the US before your authorized date. Your visa is automatically voided, and you may be ineligible for a US visa in the future. If you're a J1 visa holder and at risk of overstaying while in the US, get help from your DSO or an immigration attorney.

Can My Family Join Me on a J1 Visa?

Yes but only if your specific program category allows it. 

Each program category has specific rules around family members being able to join you in the US. If your program allows it, your spouse and dependents are eligible for a J2 visa to enter and live in the US with you.

Do I Need to Disclose My Social Media Handles When Applying for a J1 Visa?

Yes! Form 160, the application form for a nonimmigrant visa, includes a question to collect all your social media identifiers/handles (though not your passwords) on the platforms specified. 

Could posting on social media jeopardize your J1 visa application? Possibly. An immigration attorney can give a definitive answer.

However, remember that the consular officer at your interview will evaluate ALL the information you've supplied to determine your eligibility for a J1 visa. So if any part of your application is at odds with the J1 visa requirements (including fraudulent answers and malicious intent), you may be denied. Or worse, you could face legal strife with US authorities.

So be smart about what you post online and be honest in your J1 visa application. If you have specific questions about living or working in the US, speak to an immigration specialist directly about your situation.

Can I Switch Employers on a J1 Visa?

Yes. To switch employers on a J1 visa you need to go through a J1 transfer process.

The J1 transfer process is similar to applying for your J1 minus the visa cap. Consult an immigration attorney for help with this. 

Can a J1 Visa Holder Convert to a Green Card?

The J1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa, meaning you don't intend to stay in the US upon completion of your exchange program.

What if your situation changes while you're in the US, such as marrying a US citizen? There's a pathway to convert from a J1 visa to a green card. However, the steps required depend on which type of program you’re participating in. Certain program categories require you to return to your home country for a specific period before you’re allowed to apply for a Green Card. Consult an immigration attorney for help with this. 

Do I Need Any Vaccinations to Be Eligible for the J1 Visa?

The US no longer requires vaccinations for temporary visa holders. However, your program sponsor will likely have its own policy and rules around mandatory vaccinations.

If I Can’t Get a J1 Visa What are My Options?

Several visas allow you to work and study in the US, including:

Speak to an immigration attorney about which visa you qualify for.

Thank You for Contributing to This Article


Fazzulu is an arts-loving South-African-born Australian who decided to study later in life and moved to Brooklyn shortly after graduating.