The Exchange Visitor Program is carried out under the provisions of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961, as amended. The purpose of the Act is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchanges. International educational and cultural exchanges are one of the most effective means of developing lasting and meaningful relationships. They provide an extremely valuable opportunity to experience the United States and our way of life. Foreign nationals come to the United States to participate in a wide variety of educational and cultural exchange programs.
A citizen of a foreign country, who wishes to enter the United States, generally must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. The type of visa you must have is defined by immigration law, and relates to the purpose of your travel.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides the exchange visitor (J) nonimmigrant visa category for persons who are approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States. This means that before you can apply at an American Embassy or Consulate for a J visa you must apply, meet the requirements, and be accepted for one of the Exchange Visitor Program categories through a designated sponsoring organization. If you are accepted as a participant in an exchange program, the sponsor will provide you with information and documents necessary to apply for the J visa to enter the United States.
Changes introduced shortly after September 11, 2001 involve extensive and ongoing review of visa issuing practices as they relate to our national security. Visa applications are now subject to a greater degree of scrutiny than in the past. Applicants affected by these procedures are informed of the need for additional screening at the time they submit their applications. So it is important to apply for your visa well in advance of your travel departure date.
Where to Apply?
Exchange visitor visa applicants are encouraged to apply for their visa early to provide ample time for visa processing. Applicants for visas should generally apply at the American Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence.
Eligibility and Fees
Sponsors screen and select their program participants according to the eligibility criteria for each program category. Some categories require that a personal interview be part of the screening and selection process. In addition to program-specific criteria, all participants must satisfy English language proficiency and insurance requirements. Sponsors are to provide participants with pre-arrival information prior to their departure from their home countries and an orientation upon their arrival in the United States. Sponsors are also required to monitor the progress and welfare of the participants for the duration of their programs.
English Language Proficiency
Participants must possess sufficient proficiency in the English language to participate in their programs. [22 CFR 62.10(a)(2)]
Participants and any J-2 dependents (spouses and minor unmarried children under the age 21) accompanying them are required to carry medical insurance at the minimum benefit levels stated in the program regulations. Program sponsors are required to ensure that all participants have the appropriate medical insurance. Sponsors will verify that the participant’s medical insurance meets the regulatory requirements, and will facilitate the purchase of coverage for participants who do not have their own insurance, or whose coverage does not meet the requirements. Participants interested in obtaining appropriate medical insurance should contact the responsible officer of their sponsor organization sponsoring their program. Willful failure on the part of the participant and/or any J-2 dependents to maintain active insurance coverage is grounds for termination from the program. Please refer to the regulations for details. [22 CFR 62.14]
Sponsors are required to provide their participants with information about the program and related matters before they leave their home countries for the United States. Sponsors must also provide their participants with specific program information and any contractual obligations relevant to their program category. For details, please refer to the regulations. [22 CFR 62.10 (b)(1-8) and specific regulations for categories of interest]
Sponsors must offer appropriate orientation for all participants, and are encouraged to offer orientation to the participant’s family (J-2 spouses and dependents), especially those expected to remain in the United States for at least one year. For details, please refer to the regulations. [22 CFR 62.10 (c)(1-7) and specific regulations for categories of interest]. Orientation materials should include information about the region, state and locale.
Sponsors are required to monitor the progress and welfare of their participants. Sponsors are to ensure that the participants’ activities are consistent with the program category identified on the participants’ Form DS-2019. Sponsors are also to require their participants to provide current contact (address and telephone number) information and to maintain this information in their files.
All program categories require that sponsors provide emergency, 24-hour contact information to their participants. Participants should not hesitate to contact the responsible officer if they need assistance. For additional information, please refer to the regulations. [22 CFR 62.10(e) and specific regulations for categories of interest]
Unless you are in a federally funded exchange program, sponsor organizations charge participants program fees. Fees vary from sponsor to sponsor based on the exchange category, the sponsor’s program, program duration, etc. Be sure to check with your sponsor to get a breakdown of all costs and fees.
When you are accepted into an exchange visitor program, the program sponsor will issue you a form DS-2019. The program sponsor will tell you if you must pay a SEVIS I-901 fee to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or if this fee is already part of your program fees. If your sponsor pays the SEVIS fee on your behalf, the Sponsor will provide you with a receipt confirming payment. Visit SEVIS-901 fee on the DHS website for more information.
Nonimmigrant visa application processing fee – Each exchange visitor who applies for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate must pay the nonimmigrant visa application processing fee. Read more about current fees for State Department services. Visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs website to learn more on how to apply for a J visa. Visa applicants need to demonstrate their eligibility for a visa during an interview by a consular officer at the U.S. embassy or consulate, generally in their country of residence.
You will need to provide a receipt showing the visa application processing fee has been paid when you come for your visa interview. NOTE: U.S. Government sponsored exchange visitor J visa applicants and their dependents are not required to pay visa application processing fees if participating in a Department of State, a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), or a U.S. Government funded educational and cultural exchange program that has a program serial number beginning with G-1, G-2, G-3, or G-7 printed on form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status.
Visa issuance fee – Please review the visa reciprocity tables to determine if an additional visa reciprocity fee must be paid upon visa issuance and the amount of the fee. NOTE: U.S. Government sponsored exchange visitor (J visa) applicants and their dependents are not subject to visa application or issuance fees.