How does the J-1 visa work?

A J-1 visa allows temporary or limited entry of an individual into the United States under what is called an Exchange-Visitor Program. The goal of the program is to promote the exchange of information and cultural experiences between the United States and other countries. This visa category is obtainable only through a U.S. government-approved Exchange-Visitor Program.

Finding a Sponsoring Agent

The first step in the application process is to find a sponsoring agency. Although immigration laws use the term agency, it includes any businesses, educational institutions or medical facilities that have applied to participate in the program. Once you find a sponsoring agency, you will need to obtain acceptance from the agency to sponsor you. You should look for an agency or group in a field related to your profession experiences or goals. For example, if you are a nurse, you will have a greater chance of obtaining a J-1 sponsor in the medical field. You would have fewer chances finding a sponsor in a fine arts field, like a graduate program in music. 

The J-1 Visa Process

After you find a sponsoring agency, they will usually provide you with the necessary forms and a list of documents required to complete your application for a J-1 visa. After completing the application, you submit the forms, supporting documents, and pay any appropriate processing fee through the consulate or embassy in your country. They then schedule an interview to determine if the program in which you are applying is truly a fit for your experiences. Even if the sponsoring agency supports granting you entry into the United States, the final decision is made by the U.S. State Department through the embassy or consulate. Once your J-1 visa is approved, you may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before your program is to begin. After you arrive, your activities in the United States must be consistent with the program under which you applied. For example, if you are a doctor and applied to work for a medical school, your activities must be limited to that purpose. You cannot change your employment to a private hospital a month after entry. Because the J-1 operates to provide only a temporary entry, you must return to your country of origin at the conclusion of the program.