The J-1 visa is an exchange visitor program that’s administered by the United States Department of State (DOS). Those with Exchange Visitor Status, or J-1 Status, are sponsored to work in the U.S. as non-immigrants in specific programs or activities for designated periods. J-1 visas allow foreign nationals to engage in a variety of cultural exchange opportunities that range from student research to seasonal employment.
Each year, the DOS issues about 300,000 J-1 visas to visitors from 200 countries and territories. The DOS designates those sponsors who are authorized to issue J-1 visa status through Form DS-2019, and these sponsors must screen and select potential J-1 visa recipients according to the department’s regulatory criteria.
J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Programs
There are a variety of programs associated with J-1 visas:
Au pairs come to the U.S. to provide host families with live-in childcare and are rewarded with the opportunity to experience America, and continue their education in what is intended to be a mutually enriching cultural exchange.
Foreign visitors can come to the U.S. to work as camp counselors throughout the country. The counselors and campers alike are awarded with the opportunity to share their unique perspectives and cultures.
Student programs range from high school students, who come to the U.S. to live with a host family and experience the American way of life and its educational system, to college students and beyond. At the most advanced end of the student spectrum are research scholars who come to the U.S. to engage in collaborative research through our country's higher education system.
Many vacation-oriented businesses have vast needs for employees in the summer months, and the Summer Work Travel Program (a seasonal-worker program) allows these businesses to hire college students who are enrolled full-time in accredited colleges or universities outside of the U.S. The students earn money to assuage their travel costs, and the exchange enriches the experiences of the visiting students, their employers, and guests of the business.
These are all robust J-1 visa programs that see large numbers of exchange visitors.
Possible Changes to the J-1 Visa
The Washington Post reported in September of 2017 that change may be looming regarding the J-1 visa - as evidence, the Post cited an email to J-1 visa sponsors from G.K. Saba, the acting deputy assistant secretary for the DOS Private Sector Exchange division, that foretold of increased J-1 scrutiny in the future. Specifically, the email relayed that sharper attention would be focused on certain J-1 visa programs, including the camp counselor, au pair, and summer worker programs.
The DOS currently has a “Note Regarding a Potential Au Pair Rule” on its Au Pair page that responds to the many inquires related to impeding change by saying that, while it’s premature to comment, the Department “will decide on an appropriate course of action taking into account Department policy, White House guidance, and the Administrative Procedure Act.” Families who employ au pairs through the program, as well as the au pairs themselves, could find these evolving ambiguities disquieting.
The J-2 visa is a non-immigrant visa for the spouses and unmarried dependents (under the age of 21) of J-1 visa recipients. Those who visit the U.S through the au pair, secondary school student, camp counselor, and summer work travel programs are ineligible for J-2 visas.
A sponsoring party must approve the J-2 accompaniment and must issue a separate Form DS-2019 for the spouse and each dependent. Generally, J-2 visa recipients can work while in the United States - in most instances they must apply for work authorization by filing Form I-765. Additionally, the J-2 visa holder is only allowed in the U.S. for the same length of time as the associated J-1 visa holder.
It's evident the J-1 and J-2 visas benefit both the participating employers and the visiting employees. Further, these exchanges serve to enrich and inform our culture with unique, fresh perspectives. All told, the program elevates the elemental American experience.