The J-1 visa category is a nonimmigrant visa category intended for “exchange visitors,” and is authorized for those who intend to participate in an approved program for the purpose of teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, receiving training, or to receive graduate medical education or training. J-1 nonimmigrants must be sponsored by an exchange program, as designated by the U.S. Department of State. These exchange programs are intended to promote an exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills in the fields of education, arts, and science.

These exchange programs are available to individuals such as professors, research scholars, research assistants, college or university students, secondary school students, trainees, teachers, foreign physicians, nonacademic specialists, nannies or au pairs, camp counselors, and government visitors. A J-1 applicant must demonstrate that he/she has access to sufficient funds to support him/herself in the U.S., and must be fluent in English. An applicant must also maintain sufficient medical insurance for him/herself and other following family members. Because the J-1 visa category is a nonimmigrant visa, the applicant must demonstrate that he/she will maintain a residence abroad.

When an individual comes to the United States with a J-1 visa, the Immigration Officer at the port of entry will ordinarily grant that individual permission to stay for the period allowed by the visa or specific exchange program. This “duration of status” may be extended, or changed to another status for which the individual independently qualifies.

Some J-1 visa holders enter the U.S. specifically to work (as a researcher, au pair, etc.) under the terms of his/her specific sponsoring exchange program, while others do not. Employment is only authorized for J-1 visa holders under the terms of his/her specific sponsoring exchange program. Each sponsoring agency will be able to supply the J-1 visa holder with the limitations on employment for the specific relevant exchange program. A spouse or unmarried children under 21 years of age, regardless of nationality, are entitled to receive a nonimmigrant visa under the J-2 classification. J-2 spouse and children may obtain work authorization, but their income may not be used to support the principle J-1 visa holder.