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J-1 - Exchange Visitors Visa

The Exchange Visitor Program was designed to promote understanding of US culture by foreign nationals and to expose the US to the cultures of different countries. Every year approximately 300,000 foreigners from more than 200 countries take advantage of the program to come to the United States to study, teach, conduct research, or participate in an internship or summer work.

The program provides a vast array of opportunities to foreign national to travel, study, or gain experience in the United States. There are a number of different programs that fall within the J-1 program with each having its distinct requirements and duration of stay. Below is a quick overview of the various programs you can participate in.

Au Pair

As an au pair, you would live with an American family and provide childcare for up to 12 months, with the possibility of extension of 6, 9, or 12 months. To qualify for the program, you have to show that you have a job offer from an American family; are between the age of 18-26 and in good health; have at least a high school degree and proficiency in spoken English; and successfully pass a background check. In addition to providing childcare, as an au pair, you would have to complete at least six hours of academic credit at a US higher education institution.

Camp Counselor

This program allows foreign post-secondary students, teachers, youth workers, or people with specialized skills to work in camp setting throughout the United States. In order to qualify, you have to be at least 18 years of age and be able to demonstrate sufficient proficiency in English to be able to communicate freely with American youth. The maximum stay allowed under this program is four months. It is worth noting that while some non-counseling duties could be assigned, you are not allowed to work as camp staffer such as an administrator, janitor, or a cook.

College and University Student

This program allows foreign nationals enrolled in a foreign college or university to study for up to 24 months in a US college or university, or to participate in an internship that would fulfill an educational requirement of the foreign student’s chosen degree in his or her home country.


This program is designed to allow foreign college and university students, or recent graduates (within 12 months), to come to the United States to gain hands-on practical work experience in their chosen field. The internship can last from 3 weeks up to 12 months.

Alien Physicians

This program allows foreign physicians to participate in graduate medical education or training at accredited schools of medicine or scientific institutions. Under this program, individuals are allowed to stay for up to 7 years.

Professor and Research Scholar

This program is designed to promote the exchange of research, knowledge, and ideas. The main difference between the two categories is the primary purpose of the visit, with research scholars focusing on research, observation, or consultation on a project, and the professor category focusing on teaching and lecturing. The program allows the participant to stay from 3 weeks up to 5 years.

Summer Work Travel

This program is a widely used program by foreign college students. It gives students enrolled in a college or university outside the US, the opportunity to come and experience the US culture and life while working in unskilled seasonal or temporary jobs. The program allows for up to 4 months of stay.

Other programs under the umbrella of the Exchange Visitor Program include:

  • Secondary School Student, which allows a foreign nationals to come and study for a semester or a year at a public or private secondary school and be hosted by an American family;
  • Short-term scholar, which allows a professor, researcher or a graduate student, and professionals like attorneys or doctors, to come on a short-term basis to lecture, observe, or share specialized skills for up to 6 months;
  • Government Visitor program allows an influential or distinguished foreign national to come to the United States to develop and strengthen professional and personal relationships with their US counterparts on a federal, state, or local level. To qualify, you have to be selected by a federal, state, or local agency and to be coming to participate in workshops, meetings, discussions, observation, or conferences.
  • Specialist program allows individuals that are recognized as experts in a field that requires specialized skills or knowledge to come to the United States to consult and share their knowledge for up to 12 months;
  • International Visitor program is designed for a “recognized or potential leader in a field of specialized knowledge or skill” to come to the United States to participate in consultations, discussions, research, training, or demonstration of specialized knowledge. In order to take advantage of this program, you have to be selected by the US Department of State.
  • Teacher program allows foreign teachers to teach full-time in an accredited primary school, including pre- kindergarten, or secondary public or private school for up to 3 years;
  • Trainee is designed for foreigners with a college degree or certificate from a foreign institution and one year of work experience, or five years of work experience to participate in a structured training program that is in the trainee’s professional field for up to 18 months.

The most important thing to know about the J-1 visa is that some of the above listed programs have the so-called home residency requirement, which requires a J-1 participant and his or her dependents to return to their home country, or the country of last permanent residence, for a period of two years after the completion of the program. However, a waiver of the two-year return requirement is a possibility.

The lawyers at the Justice Firm are here to help you determine if you are subject to the two-year requirement, and if you qualify for a waiver.

For more detailed information on obtaining a J-1 visa or if you have questions about change of status, waivers, and other visa options, please contact The Justice Firm locally at 310-914-2444 or at our Toll-Free number at 866-695-6714, or visit us on our website.

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