J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa

By Reuben Seguritan

The J-1 exchange visitor visa allows a foreign national to remain in the US for a specific period of time for training purposes. After the completion of the training program, he must leave the US and return to his home country in order to share the knowledge and skills he gained to his countrymen. Examples of exchange visitors are physicians, professors or scholars, research assistants, students, trainees and teachers.

There is a two-year home residency requirement for a foreign national who was financed to go to the US by his home country or the US government itself, or if the skill gained in the training program is needed in his home country, or if he is a medical graduate who participated in a residency in the US. This residency requirement states that he must return to his home country for at least two years after the end of the training program before becoming eligible to change status in the US or receive a nonimmigrant work visa or an immigrant visa. In some cases, a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement may be obtained from the home country.

J-1 programs are administered through the US Department of State (DOS). The applicant must have a program sponsor in the US who is approved by DOS to sponsor J-1 trainees and interns who will be working for the third party “host” employers. These hosts will be the ones to train and/ or educate the trainee. The J-1 program is available for the following fields: arts and culture; business, management, commerce and finance; sciences, mathematics, architecture, and industrial occupations; information, media and communications; public administration and law; education and social sciences; hospitality and tourism; and agriculture, forestry and fishing.

The host employer (or employing organization) must meet certain criteria: He must have a valid Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) and must have been operating for at least one year. He must offer proof of valid workers compensation or an exemption for such and may not use the intern/trainee program for ordinary employment or staffing. He must sign a statement stating that he does not intend to assist the trainee in remaining in the US beyond the authorized program dates or change status to another category in order to remain in the US. This is required because some host employers might attempt to overcome the H-1B (nonimmigrant work visa) cap or other immigration hurdles by getting J-1 visa trainees instead.

It is easier for companies and organizations to apply for designation as a J-1 sponsor for training/internship programs. This is because they can sponsor trainees/interns directly and such trainees/interns will then apply for J-1 visas at the US consulate in their home countries.

US citizens, US permanent residents and other legal entities in the US can also become program sponsors. They must show the following in order to become program sponsors: 1. They have the ability to comply and remain in continual compliance with all applicable provisions of the regulations; 2. That they can meet at all times their financial obligations and responsibilities attendant to successful sponsorship of their exchange visitor program; 3. That the entity or proposed responsible officers has no fewer than 3 years experience in international exchange. They have to provide biographic information regarding the proposed responsible officer and detailed information describing experience in the selection, screening, orientation, placement, and oversight of foreign nationals in exchange activities is required. They should also provide audit report or compilation performed by an independent certified public accounting firm to show financial stability. They should submit the training plan.

The newly approved J-1 sponsor must appoint adequate staff and support services with the qualifications and training to administer the program. The organization must have one responsible officer (RO) and an alternate responsible officer (ARO) to administer the program under the supervision of the RO. The Sponsor must devise a method and criteria for selecting participants for the programs, which include the suitability of the program for prospective participants, and that participants have sufficient proficiency in the English language to participate in the programs.