J-1 and Q Visas: Exchange Visitors

There are two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States. The “J” visa is for educational and cultural exchange programs designated by the U.S. Department of State, Exchange Visitor Program and Designation Staff; the “Q” visa is for international cultural exchange programs designated by USCIS. The “J” exchange visitor program is designed to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills in the fields of education, arts, and sciences. Participants include students at all academic levels; trainees obtaining on-the-job training with firms, institutions, and agencies; teachers of primary, secondary, and specialized schools; professors coming to teach or do research at institutions of higher learning; research scholars; professional trainees in the medical and allied fields; and international visitors coming for the purpose of travel, observation, consultation, research, training, sharing, or demonstrating specialized knowledge or skills, or participating in organized people-to-people programs.

J-1 Visa: Background Requirements

Financial Resources

Participants in the “J” exchange visitor program must have sufficient funds to cover all expenses, or funds must be provided by the sponsoring organization in the form of a scholarship or other stipend. In contrast, “Q” exchange visitors will be paid by their employing sponsor at the same rate paid to local domestic workers similarly employed.

Scholastic Preparation

“J” exchange visitors must have sufficient scholastic preparation to participate in the designated program, including knowledge of the English language, or the exchange program must be designed to accommodate non-English speaking participants. The “Q” exchange visitor must be 18 years old and be able to communicate effectively about the cultural attributes of his or her country.

Medical Education and Training

Exchange visitors coming under the “J” program for graduate medical education or training must meet certain special requirements. Such visitors must have passed the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination in Medical Sciences, demonstrate competency in English, are automatically subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement (to be scheduled later), and are subject to time limits on the duration of their program. Physicians coming to the United States on exchange visitor programs for the purpose of observation, consultation, teaching, or research in which little or no patient care is involved are not subject to the above requirements.


Participants in the “J” program must present a Form DS-2019 prepared by a designated sponsoring organization.

Visa Ineligibility Waiver

The nonimmigrant visa application Form DS-156 lists classes of persons who are ineligible under U.S. law to receive visas. In some instances an applicant who is ineligible, but who is otherwise properly classifiable as an exchange visitor, may apply for a waiver of their ineligibility and be issued a visa if the waiver is approved. [horizontal rule]

When Do I Need to Apply for My J-1 Visa?

Exchange visitor visa applicants are encouraged to apply for their visa early to provide ample time for visa processing. Applicants may apply for their visa as soon as they are prepared to do so. It is advisable to plan ahead, as this may take longer than in the past. Because most visa applicants are now required to appear for a personal interview, visa applicants should expect processing delays. In addition, “security checks” can delay visa issuance by several weeks or months. For more information on applicants who may have additional processing requirements see Special Processing Requirements. Exchange visitors should note that Embassies and Consulates are able to issue your J-1 visa 90 days or less, in advance of the course of study registration date. If you apply for your visa more than 90 days prior to your start date or reporting date as provided on the Form DS-2019, the Embassy or Consulate will hold your application until it is able to issue the visa. Consular officials will use that extra time to accomplish any of the necessary special clearances or other processes that may be required.

Applying for the J-1 Visa

Applicants for exchange visitor visas should generally apply at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence. Required Documentation Each applicant for an exchange visitor visa must pay a nonrefundable US $100 application fee and submit:

  1. An application Form DS-156, together with a Form DS-158. Both forms must be completed and signed. Some applicants will also be required to complete and sign Form DS-157. Blank forms are available without charge at all U.S. consular offices and on the Visa Services website under Visa Application Forms;
  2. A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant’s intended period of stay in the United States. If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must make an application;
  3. One (1) 2″x2″ photograph.
  4. For the “J” applicant, a completed Form DS-2019. For the “Q” applicant, a notice of approval, Form I-797.

Other Documentation Both “J” and “Q” applicants must demonstrate to the consular officer that they have binding ties to a residence in a foreign country which they have no intention of abandoning, and that they are coming to the United States for a temporary period. It is impossible to specify the exact form the evidence should take since applicants’ circumstances vary greatly, although this evidence may include such items as proof of residence, employment opportunities upon the visitor’s return, and community and financial ties.

U.S. Port of Entry

Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection has authority to deny admission. Also, the period for which the bearer of an exchange visitor visa is authorized to remain in the United States is determined by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, not the consular officer. At the port of entry, a Bureau of Customs and Border Protection official validates Form I-94, Record of Arrival-Departure, which notes the length of stay permitted. [horizontal rule]

Additional Information about J-1 Visas


Employment while in “J” exchange visitor status depends upon the terms of the program. Participants in programs which provide for on-the-job training, teaching, research, or other activities which involve paid employment may accept such employment. Participants in programs which do not involve work may not accept outside employment. The “Q” international cultural exchange program specifically authorizes paid employment as part of the program.

Foreign Residency Requirement

Certain “J” exchange visitors who participate in programs which are financed in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, by an agency of the U.S. Government or by the exchange visitor’s government, or who are nationals or residents of a country which has been designated by the Exchange Visitor Program and Designation Staff as requiring the skills of the exchange visitor, must return to their country of nationality or last residence after completing their program in the United States, and reside there physically for two years before they may become eligible to apply for an immigrant or temporary worker visa. “Q” exchange visitors may not participate in another “Q” program until they have been abroad for one year.

Family Members

The spouse and minor children of participants in “J” exchange programs may apply for derivative “J-2” visas to accompany or follow to join the principal alien by presenting a copy of the principal’s Form DS-2019. They must demonstrate that they will have sufficient financial resources to cover all expenses while in the United States. Dependents may apply to USCIS for authorization to accept employment in the U.S. The “Q” exchange program does not provide for the admission of the spouse or children of a participant in a derivative status.