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U.S. Exchange Visitor Visa: Overview and Important Information

Participating in an exchange visitor program in the United States? Then apply for a J-1 visa. 

United States of AmericaVisa CategoryExchange Visitor Visa
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U.S. Exchange Visitor Visa: Overview and Important Information
Written by Jennifer Aranda.
Updated January 14, 2018 | United States of America

The Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa category is for individuals approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs where participants are integral to the success of the program.

The programs for exchange visitors include:

  • Au pair and EduCare
  • Camp Counselor
  • Government Visitor
  • Intern
  • International Visitor of the Department of State
  • Physician
  • Professor and Research Scholar
  • Short-term Scholar
  • Specialty
  • Some students, college/university, secondary schools
  • Summer Work Travel
  • Teacher
  • Trainee

Dependent Family Members

In some instances, you may be accompanied or joined by your spouse and dependent children (unmarried children less than 21 years).  The visa category for these dependents is J-2.

Eligibility for a J-2 visa is dependent however, on your specific exchange program by a sponsor organization. The following exchange categories DO NOT permit J-2 visas:

  • Au pair
  • Camp counselor
  • Secondary school student
  • Summer Work Travel

Furthermore, specific programs may not allow you to bring your dependent family member even if the category will allow it.

If your program and category allow you to bring your spouse and children, in most cases, your J-2 spouse may be allowed to work PROVIDED s/he applied for and successfully obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security. Your spouse can only apply for a work permit after arriving in the United States. 

Your dependent child may also study or work while in the United States IF s/he meets the minimum age for workers.  Regardless of the source of funds, money earned by any J-2 visa holder cannot be used to support your stay in the United States.  If your dependent children decide to study, they are not required to obtain F-1 student visas. 

Your dependents may remain in the United States as long as you hold valid J-1 status.

SEVIS Form DS-2019

Once you have been accepted to an Exchange-Visitor Program of the U.S. Department of State, your designated sponsor will enter your details in the SEVIS.  You and all of your eligible accompanying family members, will then be issued a Form DS-2019 or Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status.  This is the basic document used in the administration of the exchange visitor program.

Only State Department-designated sponsors are authorized to issued Form DS-2019 to participants to a program.

The Form DS-2019 identifies the exchange visitor and their designated sponsor and provides a brief description of the exchange visitor’s program, including the start and end date, category of exchange, and an estimate of the cost of the exchange program. Designated sponsors are authorized to issue this form to prospective exchange visitors they have screened and selected for participation in the exchange visitor program. The information in this form is completed by the sponsor prior to being given to the participant, who once given the DS-2019, can apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate for the J-1 visa.

Before applying for a visa, you will be required to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee if you have a new DS-2019 with a new SEVIS record. You Must Pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee if:

  • You are seeking an initial J-1 visa from a U.S. consulate for initial attendance and your Form DS-2019 was generated on September 1, 2004, or after. If your Form DS-2019 was issued by the U.S. government, you are exempt from the fee;
  • You are a Canadian citizen seeking admission at a port-of-entry to begin initial attendance and the document was generated on September 1, 2004, or after;
  • You are currently in the U.S. as a J-1 applying for a change of category-such as a change from J-1 scholar to J-1 student.  Word of caution though: a change of category must be approved by the Exchange-Visitor Program of the U.S. Department of State;
  • You are in the United States in J-1 status and are applying for reinstatement after a substantive violation or you have been out of status for more than 120 days but less than 270 days.

Issuance of the J-1 visa, like all non-immigrant visas, is at the discretion of Consular Officers viewing visa applications at U.S. embassies and consulates. This means that even if you are accepted to an exchange visitor program and have received your DS-2019, the Consular Officers decide if you receive the J-1 visa.  The documentary requirements for a J-1 visa application are different from that of a student visa (F-1 or M-1) application so be sure to check these before you file the application.

About the Author

Jennifer Aranda

Jennifer Aranda

Jennifer S. Aranda is the COO of IVC Immigrant Visa Center, Inc.

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