Each year thousands of people travel to the U.S. on J-1 visas to partake in research, training, study as well as intercultural activities as camp counselors, au pairs, and more. Some J-1 visa holders may be interested in working during their stay, but each J-1 program has specific rules and guidelines on work authorization. Below, we’ll explain J-1 visa work restrictions and how they might impact your ability to work during your stay in the U.S.
What is a J-1 visa?
Created in 1961, the J-1 visa program is an educational exchange program that fosters relationships between the U.S. and other countries. Today, the program is overseen by the U.S. Department of State and encourages researchers, professors, students, and others across 15 defined categories to come to the U.S. to participate in cultural exchange.
To participate in the program, you must be sponsored by an authorized agency or institution and be proficient in English. To explore specific J-1 visa programs, search for approved sponsors on the U.S. State Department website.
J-1 visas are typically valid for 12 months, depending on the length of the J-1 program, and are regularly renewed based on reports submitted by the reporting officer. If you are a credentialed researcher, professor, or specialist, you may be eligible to receive a J-1 visa valid for up to five years. However, most specialists are only granted 12 months on their J-1 visas.
To maintain and renew your visa, you must take a full course load, and remain in good academic standing. Each sponsoring program has a responsible officer who oversees your progress.
How do I get into the J-1 visa program?
The J-1 exchange visitor visa allows visa holders to enter the U.S. to participate in an approved J-1 visa program over a limited period of time. If you would like to pursue one of the J-1 visa programs, here are some key parts of your application process:
1. Find a J-1 visa program sponsor
Start by researching approved sponsors for your category on the U.S. State Department website. Many approved programs can place participants across the country.
2. Apply to the sponsoring organization of your choice
Once you have identified a sponsoring organization for your program of interest, research key application procedures and deadlines first. If you are a college student who wants to attend an academic program in the U.S., for example, you must be admitted to an approved sponsor institution before you can secure a J-1 visa.
3. Submit the DS-2019 Form
After you have been accepted by the sponsoring organization, contact the responsible officer at your sponsoring institution or agency to receive the DS-2019 Form, the "Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status." The DS-2019 Form is a two-page document that includes a description of your exchange program, the start and end dates, and the program cost. Once you receive this form, take it to the U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country to schedule an interview.
4. Pay the fees
As a part of the J-1 visa application process, you must pay a $200 SEVIS I-901 fee to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Some institutions include this fee as part of their program costs. Check with your program to find out whether you need to pay the fee directly or if the sponsoring institution will pay on your behalf. If your sponsor pays the fee, ask for a receipt to confirm payment.
You might also be required to pay a $160 processing fee for your nonimmigrant visa application, which should be submitted via the U.S. State Department visa services website. If you are participating in a U.S. government-sponsored program, you will not have to pay a J-1 visa application fee.
5. Complete an interview with the U.S. consulate or embassy
After you have received your DS-2019 Form from your sponsor, take it to the U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country to schedule an interview before you receive the final approval of your J-1 visa application. There are often long wait times for appointments, so be sure to schedule it soon after you receive your DS-2019 Form to ensure that you have enough time before the start of your program. If you plan to travel with your child or spouse, you should also arrange an appointment for them at this stage. During your interview, the officer will ask you about your program, your post-program plans, and how you will pay for your expenses. The consular officer will be looking for evidence that you plan to complete the program and return home after it ends. Bring documentation of your ties to your home country to show your intention to return home once your program is completed. Before attending your appointment, confirm which documents you must submit with your J-1 visa application with the U.S. consulate or embassy in your country as each one has its own unique requirements. Generally speaking, however, these documents consist of the following:
If you are an exchange visitor trainee or an intern visa applicant, you will need to submit the DS-7002 Form, a training or internship placement plan
A passport that will remain valid until at least six months after your intended stay in the U.S.
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J-1 Exchange Programs
The 15 categories of J-1 visa exchange programs include the following roles:
College and university student
Secondary school student
Summer work travel
The Department of State has a chart explaining and comparing each of these programs so that you can choose the right one for you.
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Private sector jobs available to J-1 visa holders
Some J-1 visas holders enter the U.S. to work while others do not, a distinction which depends on the structure of your exchange program and your type of J-1 visa. If you come to the U.S. under an au pair program, for example, you will be allowed to work as a live-in nanny in a private home that has been pre-approved by your program while you take courses at a nearby accredited academic institution. Similarly, if you come to the U.S. with a J-1 visa as a camp counselor, you will be able to work as a counselor in a US summer camp program.
If your J-1 visa is for a summer work program, you can generally work in a temporary or unskilled position at places like an amusement park, ski resort, or hotel during your stay. A specialist is allowed to work in a temporary position in his or her area of specialty for 3 weeks to 12 months. Some common categories of work popular among specialists include:
International education exchange
If you are a university student in the U.S. on a J-1 visa, you are usually limited to on-campus jobs in your field of study and can only work 20 hours or less per week. If you are coming to the U.S. with a J-1 visa through the trainee program, you must pursue training in your current occupational field. Some examples of fields that may permit you to pursue additional training include the following:
Tourism and hospitality
Social science, counseling, library science, or social services
Finance, commerce, public administration, management, or business
Mathematics, engineering, architecture, or industrial jobs
Building trades and construction
Forestry and agricultural occupations
J-1 visa holders under the physician program may secure positions working in their medical specialty under the supervision of licensed U.S. physicians, but they cannot work in a position that involves patient care or making diagnoses. The positions must focus on research, consultation, teaching, or observation while the visa-holding physician completes his or her medical training. Foreign nationals who come to the U.S. with J-1 visas as secondary school students are not allowed to work while they are in the U.S. They must live with host families or in boarding schools and concentrate on their studies.
Academic jobs available to J-1 visa holders
J-1 visa holders can secure some types of academic jobs. Teachers who come to the U.S. with J-1 visas may teach in pre-kindergarten to 12th-grade positions for up to three years. Professors and research scholars may work in their fields of study while teaching or completing research at colleges and universities in the U.S., but cannot take tenure-track positions. Research scholars may also take positions at research institutions, corporate research facilities, museums, libraries, and other similar institutions. Lastly, the short-term scholar program allows people to work for a very short period in their respective fields to consult, teach, train, lecture, or demonstrate their specialized skills.
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Do people with J-1 visas need additional employment authorization documents?
J-1 visa holders who are authorized to work based on the program with which they entered the U.S. do not need to secure additional employment authorization documents. However, while their J-1 visas will permit them to work through their programs, any position that they take must be approved by their programs. In limited circumstances such as an emergency that arises after a student’s arrival, the program sponsor might permit the student to get a job outside of the program and off-campus.
What is a J-2 visa?
J-2 visas are temporary visas granted to the immediate family members of J-1 visa holders, including their spouses or dependent children. These visas are linked to that of the J-1 visa-holding relative. When the J-1 applicant applies, he or she can also submit applications for J-2 visas on behalf of his or her spouse and dependent children. Securing J-2 visas allows the family members to travel to the U.S. with the J-1 visa holder. Some programs do not allow J-1 visa applicants to seek J-2 visas. An au pair who secures a J-1 visa, for example, cannot secure a J-2 visa for a spouse or dependent child. Similarly, secondary students, camp counselors, and people participating in the summer work travel program cannot secure J-2 visas for their family members.
Do J-2 visa holders need to get additional work authorization documents?
Unlike J-1 visa holders, J-2 visa holders do need to get employment authorization documents to work in the U.S. If you are a J-2 visa holder, you must wait until you arrive in the U.S. to apply for your employment authorization document. Following your arrival, you can apply for work authorization by submitting Form I-765 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The processing time takes from three to five months. You can learn more about how to check your USCIS case status here.
After you receive your employment authorization document, you will be allowed to work part- or full-time in position or field until the expiration date listed in your employment authorization document. You can renew your employment authorization document until the program end date of your J-1 visa-holding relative. Keep in mind that the processing time can take from three to five months, so be sure to file your extension request early. Finally, you are not allowed to work to support your J-1 visa-holding relative.
Getting a J-1 visa to come to the United States as a J-1 exchange visitor can open up a world of opportunities and the ability to immerse yourself in a new culture. After you have been approved for your J-1 visa and are preparing to travel to the U.S., consider how you will live during your stay — especially how you manage your finances from setting up a bank account to managing your credit. In the U.S., credit history is important in securing things necessary for everyday life from credit cards to utilities and even your apartment.
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