The J-1 Program Demystified: Answers to Your Top J Visa Questions

Reprinted with permission from Inside Immigration (Apr. 2013), copyright by the American Immigration Lawyers Association

The J-1 Visa or Exchange Visitor Program began with the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961. The goal was to promote the understanding of other cultures by the people of the United States as well as an understanding of the American culture by people of other countries through educational and cultural ex- changes. It is essentially a foreign policy tool of the U.S. Department of State. Every year, there are  more than 170,000 J-1 exchange visitors in the United States participating in a variety of programs such as au pair, camp counselor, student, trainee, research scholar, and physician. Thus, the J-1 program has been a popular, albeit increasingly complex, nonimmigrant visa status.

Since 1961, many changes to the J-1 program have been implemented including added restrictions on categories of participants such as foreign medical graduates. In response to security concerns regarding the tracking of foreign students in the United States, a web-based database called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) was instituted in 2003 and is administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

This article contains information for immigration attorneys regarding various aspects of the J-1 visa program including the forms and systems used in the program; the government and institutional agencies involved; the two-year home residence requirement; waivers of the foreign residence requirement; and restrictions specific to certain categories, such as research scholars and foreign medical graduates.

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