Qualifications for J-1 Visa

You qualify for a J-1 exchange visitor visa if you are coming to the U.S. as a student, scholar, trainee, teacher, professor, research assistant, medical graduate or international visitor who is participating in a program of studies, training, research or cultural enrichment specifically designed for such individuals by the United States Department of State (DOS), through its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). You must already be accepted into the program before you can apply for the visa.

Some common programs for which J-1 visas are issued include the Fulbright Scholarship program, specialized training programs for foreign medical graduates and programs for foreign university professors teaching or doing research in the U.S. You must have enough money to cover your expenses while you are in the U.S. as an exchange visitor. Those funds may come from personal resources, or when the J-1 visa is based on work activities, the salary may be your means of support. If you are a J-1 student, the money may also come from a scholarship.

You must be able to speak, read and write English well enough to participate effectively in the exchange program of your choice. In addition to all other qualifications, you are eligible for a J-1 visa only if you intend to return to your home country when the program is over. To summarize, there are five requirements for getting a J-1 visa:

• You must be coming to the U.S. to work, study, teach, train, consult or observe U.S. culture in a specific exchange visitor program approved by the DOS
• You must already have been accepted into the program
• You must have enough money to cover your expenses while in the U.S.
• You must have sufficient knowledge of English to be able to participate effectively in the exchange visitor program you have chosen, and
• You must intend to return home when your status expires.

a. An Exchange Visitor Program Approved by the DOS

J-1 visas allow you to study, teach, do research or participate in cultural activities in the U.S. as part of any program specifically approved by the DOS. Sponsors of acceptable programs may be foreign or U.S. government agencies, private foreign and U.S. organizations or U.S. educational institutions. Such groups wanting program approval must apply to the DOS on Form IAP-37. Those making successful applications will be authorized to issue what are known as Certificates of Eligibility to J-1 visa applicants. They indicate that the applicant has been accepted into an approved program. Each approved program appoints an administrator known as the responsible officer. The responsible officer plays a formal part in dealing with the immigration process for program applicants. There are over 1,500 DOS-approved programs in existence.

b. Acceptance Into the Program

Before applying for a J-1 visa, you must first apply for acceptance into the DOS-approved program of your choice. Application is made directly to the program sponsor. Until you have been accepted, you do not qualify for a J-1 visa.

c. Financial Support

You must establish that you have enough money to cover all expenses while you are in the U.S. The money may come from you, your family or scholarships and salaries that are part of the program itself. Since most exchange visitor programs involve either employment or scholarships, this particular requirement is usually easy to meet.

d. Knowledge of English

To qualify for an exchange visitor visa you must know English well enough to participate effectively in the exchange visitor program. If your program is for students, you should know that most U.S. colleges and universities will not admit people whose native language is not English unless they first pass an English proficiency test such as the “TOEFL.” Tests can sometimes be arranged in your home country. The school will tell you if such a test is required and how to go about taking it. Consular officials usually let each school decide for itself who is and is not qualified to study there. Still, the consulate may refuse to issue an exchange visitor visa based on its own judgment that you do not know enough English to function as a U.S. student.

e. Intent to Return to Your Home Country

Exchange visitor visas are meant to be temporary. At the time of applying, you must intend to return home when your program in the U.S. is completed. If you have it in mind to take up permanent residence in the U.S., you are legally ineligible for an exchange visitor visa. The U.S. government knows it is difficult to read minds. Expect to be asked for evidence showing that when you go to America on a J-1 visa, you are leaving behind possessions, property or family members as incentives for your eventual return. It is also helpful to show that you have a job waiting at home when your program is completed. If you are studying or training to prepare yourself for an occupation in which no jobs are available in your home country, neither the INS nor the U.S. consulate will believe that you are planning to return there. To avoid trouble, choose a field of study that will give you career opportunities at home when you are finished.

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