J-1 Cultural Exchange


The J-1 Cultural Exchange visa program plays a vital role in fostering international understanding and collaboration by facilitating cultural exchange between individuals from different countries and the United States. This nonimmigrant visa category encompasses a diverse range of exchange programs, allowing participants to engage in activities that promote cultural, educational, and professional development. These programs cover a wide array of activities, including internships, training, research, and participation in au pair and summer work travel programs.
As examples, U.S. employers can partner with a J-1 sponsor organization to support an internship or training program. Summer camps use this program for counselors. American parents also utilize this program for Au Pairs (i.e. nannies).

Key Requirements

  • Sponsorship – To participate in a J-1 program, individuals must be sponsored by an approved exchange program sponsor. Sponsors are organizations designated by the U.S. Department of State to administer exchange programs. U.S. corporate and individual employers can work with these organizations to lend their approval to a specific individual to be sponsored or be connected with a qualified applicant.
  • Program Categories – J-1 Cultural Exchange Visas cover various program categories, including au pair, camp counselor, intern, physician, researcher, scholar, student, professor, and trainees. Each category has specific requirements and objectives.
  • Form DS-2019 – Once accepted into a J-1 program, participants receive Form DS-2019, which is the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status. This form is required for the visa application process

Application Procedure

  1. Obtain Form DS-2019 – After being accepted into an exchange program, participants receive the valid DS-2019 form from their program sponsor.
  2. Pay SEVIS Fee – Before applying for a J-1 visa or status, J-1 applicants are required to pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee.
  3. Apply for a J-1 visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad – Prepare and submit the DS-160 Online Consular Nonimmigrant Visa Application, pay the Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fees, schedule and attend a visa interview appointment at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over the applicants’ citizenship or residence. During the interview, Consular Officials may ask the applicant about their background, reasons for pursuing the exchange program and future plans, ties to their home country and financial capability (i.e. nonimmigrant intent), which often includes parents’ careers and information for younger applicants who do not have financial solvency on their own. A J-1 visa may be issued within 1-2 weeks of the interview.
  4. Application for admission at a U.S. Port of Entry with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with all of the documentation referenced above.

Citizens of Canada and Bermuda are visa-exempt and therefore can skip steps 3 and 4 and apply directly for admission at a U.S. Port of Entry with Customs and Border Protection (CBP).


The duration of stay for J-1 participants depends on the specific program.

Certain J-1 participants may be subject to a two-year home country physical presence requirement, meaning they must return to their home country for at least two years after completing the program before being eligible for certain U.S. immigration benefits, including H and L visas and permanent residency. It’s important to check whether the program may be subject to this requirement and engage in a cost/benefit analysis before proceeding.

The J-1 Cultural Exchange Visa program enriches the lives of participants by providing unique opportunities for cultural immersion and professional development. As an immigration lawyer, guiding clients through the intricacies of the J-1 visa process ensures a smooth and compliant experience, fostering international collaboration and understanding.

The above is informational and not intended to be legal advice. Please consult with an experienced business immigration attorney on your specific facts and circumstances before proceeding with any U.S. immigration strategy.