The J-1 visa is available to persons coming to the U.S. as an “exchange visitor.” This category typically includes physicians, researchers, short-term scholars, students, interns, and au pairs. The J-1 exchange visitor must be coming to the U.S. as part of an approved exchange visitor program. Thus, before applying for a visa, you must first apply and be accepted into one of the Exchange Visitor Program categories through a designated sponsoring organization.
The J-1 visitor may be subject to a two-year home residency requirement depending on the nature and purpose of the program. This means that, as a J-1, you may be required to return to your home country for an aggregate of two years following the expiration of your exchange program if you are subject to this rule. You can, however, apply for a waiver of the foreign residency requirement. J waivers are typically difficult to get, but they are available if you can show that the denial of the waiver would cause exceptional hardship to your U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident spouse or child. Additionally, waivers are available if your home country issues a “no objection” letter or if you have a U.S. federal or state agency interested in hiring you. Finally, for any of the J waivers, you will have to obtain a favorable recommendation from the U.S. Department of State and final approval by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.