Visas for cultural exchange programs and internships
J visas are visas that are issued for a period of 18 months through approved J visa programs. The J visas aims to bring exchange visitors to the US in an effort to foster international relations. These exchange programs have to be designated by the United States Information Agency. This Exchange Visitor Program is administered by the Office of Exchange Coordination and Designation in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The website of the Exchange Visitor Program has a list of all the programs covered, the eligibility requirements and regulations that govern the J visa. At the end of this exchange program J visas are expected to return to their home country in order to utilize the skills that they have learned in the USA.
Certain organizations (both public and private) are designated as exchange sponsors by the State Department and they facilitate the entry of foreign nationals as au pairs, camp counselors, students, secondary school students, teachers, research scholars, physicians, trainees, government visitor, specialist, interns etc. Each category is governed by specific requirements for eligibility and regulations. All the details of these individual programs are available at the website of the State Department.
Before you can qualify as a J visa holder you have to be accepted in an exchange program by your US based sponsor. The sponsor will then provide you the information necessary for issuance of the J visa.
After the terror attacks of 9/11, US immigration law has undergone many changes and the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) has extremely specific requirements that govern the issue of J visas to eligible applicants. The consular officer at the consulate or the embassy has to first decide whether you actually qualify for this visa and they usually require you to prove that you intend to stay in the US only for the specific duration of your exchange program, you have enough funds to cover your stay and you can sufficiently demonstrate that you have binding ties to your place of residence which you have no intention of relinquishing. This proof is usually required by the consular officer at the time of your interview for the J visa.
Documents required for application of a J visa
1. Foreign nationals who are applying for a J visa have to submit a SEVIS generated DS2019 form. This form is a certificate of eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status which is generally provided by their program sponsors. All exchange visitors and their spouses and dependants who will be accompanying them will have to be registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which is an online system that maintains accurate and current information on non-immigrant students( F-1, M-1) and exchange visitors and their dependents (J-2 visa holders). Your sponsor has to supply this information into SEVIS in order to acquire your DS2019 form. Exchange visitors who are not participating in a US government sponsored exchange program have additionally to pay SEVIS I-901 Fee for each program.
2. If you are going as a trainee or an intern on the exchange program and have a DS2019 which is dated after July 19, 2007 you have to also submit a Training/Internship placement plan Form DS-7002 when you are applying for your visa. If your DS2019 is dated prior to this date you don’t have to submit this form.
3. A completed and signed DS-156 Nonimmigrant Visa application form. The current DS-156 form which is in use bears the date of March 2006 and is the electronic “e-form application.” However this form is being slowly replaced by the new DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application which is already in use at certain consulates and embassies. This new DS-160 will eliminate the need for separate DS-156, DS-157 and DS-158 forms.
4. A Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-157 is also required to be filed by all male applicants who are between 16-45 years of age. This form provides information about your travel plans. However if you are a citizen of a state which is designated as a sponsor of terrorism you have to file this form no matter what gender or age you are. Currently Cuba, Syria, Sudan and Iran are designated as states that sponsor terrorism.
5. A completed Contact Information and Work History, Form DS-158.
6. A valid passport for travel to the United States, your passport should have a validity date of at least six months beyond the applicant’s intended period of stay in the US. If your children are traveling on your passport individual visa applications have to be made for them as well.
7. One (1) 2×2 photograph the specifications of which are listed on the USCIS website
8. The appropriate nonimmigrant visa application processing fee and the appropriate visa issuance fee. The details of all the current fees are also available at the State Department’s website under the visas section.
Once your J visa has been issued you and your spouse and dependants can only enter the US 30 days before the start of your program as mentioned on your Form 2019. If you try to enter earlier you may be denied entry. If you absolutely must do so you must apply for a visitor visa (B2) but it is not advisable to do as it can cause undue complications.
Your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 can accompany you, the primary J visa holder, on J-2 derivative visas. Your sponsor has to approve this and provide DS-2019 forms for your spouse and dependents as well. The application process for the J-2 visa for your spouse and dependents is similar to your application process for the J-1 visa. Once the J-2 Visa has been issued your spouse and dependents can either travel with you to the US or follow at a later date.
J-2 visa holders are not allowed to work. If they are desirous of doing so they have to make a separate application to the USCIS via I-765 Application for Employment Authorization at the local USCIS office. These J-2 visa holders can however apply to a study program in the US without changing their status to that of a student (F-1).
Additionally those foreign nationals who have been in the Exchange Visitor Program (J visa) are subject to a two year home country physical presence requirement. You are subject to this requirement if you have been in a government funded exchange program, you have entered the United States to receive graduate medical education or training or you have participated in a program that imparts specialized skills which are needed for the development of your home country. The 2009 skill list is at http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_4514.html.
J visa holders who are subject to this requirement cannot change their status to H, L, K (marriage visa) or apply for immigrating to US unless they have returned to their home countries for at least two years in order to fulfill the conditions of this requirement. However, the J visa holder is able to apply for a waiver of this requirement under five different conditions the details of which are available at http://www.travel.state.gov/visa/tempvisitors_info_waivers.html.