J-1 Visa Exchange Visitors
J-1 visas are issued to “exchange visitors” and for a wide variety of purposes, including cultural, educational or training – be it professional or vocational. The most common programs range from highly sophisticated ones for scientists and advanced degree professionals, residencies for medical professionals, to work/study, camp counselor or Au Pair programs for young adults.
J-1 visa program sponsors include private organizations or educational institutions in the U.S., U.S. governmental agencies or even foreign government agencies. Sometimes funding comes from the visa applicant, and other times the program sponsor, or both. In general, one of the overriding goals of J visa programs is to advance the exchange of people, knowledge, and talents in the skills, whether it be in the fields of education, arts, or science. Program duration can be for just a few months or as much as several years.
Applying for a J visa starts with getting accepted into an accredited J visa program, and being issued Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status by the program administrator. The next step involves submitting an application for a visa with the U.S. Department of State by way of the applicant’s nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Among the eligibility requirements, a J visa applicant must demonstrate their intention to return to their home country, and with sufficient documentation outlining their family, professional, financial and/or other ties to their home country.
One of the biggest drawbacks to the J visa is the possibility of being subject to a 2 year home residency requirements pursuant to Section 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Of course, not all J visas come with the 212(e) restriction, but the ones that do require the J visa holder to return to their home country to reside for 2 years before being eligible to reenter on an immigrant visa (green card). Importantly, the 2 year home residency requirement does not necessarily forbid the visa holder from reentering the U.S. on various other types of visas before the requirement is satisfied. Moreover, it’s important to note that there are 4 avenues through which a “212(e) subject” J visa holder may have the 2 year home residency requirement excused, or “waived”.
For many programs, J visa holders are granted the right to be employed in the U.S., but only according to the terms of the particular sponsoring program in question, with employment outside the program in question is strictly prohibited. Additionally, certain family members of J visa holders, such as a spouse or under 21 year old children, are not only eligible to accompany the primary J visa holder to enter the U.S. on a J-2 visa, but also obtain employment authorization to facilitate lawful employment without restriction.
For definite answers when it comes to the rules impacting J visa holders and the options at play to remain in the U.S., it is advisable to contact experienced immigration counsel such as Richard Hanus and the Law Offices of Richard Hanus. Such a step can take the guesswork of out any prospective process and give any J visa holder a sense of confidence and purpose in moving forward with their plan to eventually make a life in the U.S.