J1 Visa – what is so good….and bad about it?

The J-1 visa is an exchange-visitor visa for persons coming to the U.S. as a student, scholar, trainee, teacher, professor, research assistant, or medical graduate to participate in a training, research or study program approved by the Department of State.

Given that there are no limits on the number of J visas issued annually AND the fact that, unlike an H1-B visa, applicant is not subject to any visa limits, the J visa is generally a great option for both applicants and sponsors. However, before applying for a J visa there are important considerations of which potential applicants and sponsors should be aware.

The Pros:

Salary & Scholarships: Most programs involve scholarships and / or salaries so, subject to the program, you can work in the U.S.

Family Eligibility: You can bring your spouse and children on J-2 visas so long as they get a SEVIS Form DS-2019 in their own names provided by the program
Duration of Status: Most J-visas last significantly longer than many other temporary visas: Students are generally issued visas for the duration of their program + 18 months of practical training / working. Teachers, Professors, Scholars & Persons of Special Skill are issued visas for 5 years + 30 days. International Visitors are issued visas for 1 year + 30 days. Foreign Medical Graduates are generally issued visas for 7 years + 30 days. Medically-Related trainees may come for the duration of their training program + 18 months of training – not to exceed a total of 3 years. Business & Industrial Trainees may stay for 18 months except trainees in flight programs who may stay for 24 months. International Communications Agency Exchange Visitors may stay up to 10 years depending on USCIS discretion.

Emergency Extensions: In case of emergency – i.e. serious illness, you can be excused from your stay limitation for a period of time.

Adjustment of Status: You CAN adjust status from a J-1 visa in limited circumstances.

The Cons:
Salary: Programs are approved by the Department of State, not the Department of Labor – so your salary may not be on par with your colleagues.

Accepting Outside Work: Part of the J visa application process is proving you have sufficient funds to support yourself. If you want to accept work outside of your program to augment your funds, you’re going to either have to get your sponsoring program to approve you’re extra work before applying to USCIS for a work permit. Similarly, your accompanying family on J-2 visas can apply for a work permit, but only if they intend to earn money for recreational and cultural activities – not to support you, the J-1 visa holder.

Duration of Status: Some J visas have a very limited duration: Au Pairs doing higher education course work may apply through State Department approved programs for 1 years stay with no extensions. Camp Counselors are limited to a 4 month stay. Summer Work Travel working and visiting on summer vacation after secondary school may stay for 4 months. Temporary Scholars coming to work on conferences or seminars may only stay for 6 months.

Home Residency Requirement: When you’re visa expires, if it has a 2-year Home Residency Requirement, you MUST go home for 2 years (or get a waiver) before applying for another visa in the U.S.

Adjustment of Status: If your J-1 visa has a 2-year Home Residency Requirement, you will have to secure a waiver before you apply for any other visa – INCLUDING adjusting status based on marriage to a U.S. citizen.