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.
The Exchange Visitor Program is administered by the Office of Exchange Coordination and Designation in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. At the conclusion of their program, Exchange Visitor program participants are expected to return to the home countries to utilize the experience and skills they have acquired while in the United States.
In carrying out the responsibilities of the Exchange Visitor Program, the Department designates public and private entities to act as exchange sponsors. Designated sponsoring organizations facilitate the entry of foreign nationals into the United States as exchange visitors to complete the objectives of one of the exchange visitor program categories, each of which has specific requirements and is governed by specific regulations:
- Au pair
- Camp Counselor
- Student, college/university
- Student, secondary
- Government Visitor
- International Visitor (reserved for U.S. Department of State use)
- Alien physician
- Research Scholar
- Short-term Scholar
- Summer work/travel
The Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) is very specific with regard to the requirements, which must be met by applicants to qualify for the exchange visitor (J) visa. 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. A Consular Officer will determine whether you qualify for this visa status during your visa interview.
Entering the United States
A visa allows a foreign citizen coming from abroad, to travel to the United States port-of entry and request permission to enter the U.S. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. Exchange visitors must have their Form DS-2019 in their possession each time they enter the United States. Upon arrival (at an international airport, seaport or land border crossing), you will be enrolled in the [»] US-VISIT entry-exit program. In addition, some travelers will also need to register their entry into and their departure from the U.S. with the Special Registration program. If you are allowed to enter the U.S., the CBP official will determine the length of your visit on the Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94). Since Form I-94 documents your authorized stay in the U.S., it is very important to keep in your passport.
Many exchange visitors will be issued an Arrival-Departure Record/Form I-94 with the endorsement of “Duration of Status” or “D/S” rather than a specific ending date. Your Form DS-2019 contains the dates of your program, and these are the dates you should consult in determining when your stay in the United States expires if there is no specific date listed on your Form I-94. The initial admission of an exchange visitor, their spouse and any children may not exceed the period specified on Form DS-2019, plus a period of 30 days for the purpose of travel. The 30-day grace or travel status period is intended to be a period following the end of the exchange visitor’s program and is to be used for domestic travel and/or to prepare for and depart from the U.S., and for no other purpose. A spouse or child (J-2 visa holder) may not be admitted for longer than the principal exchange visitor (J-1 visa holder).
If you hold an I-94 card with “Duration of Status” or “D/S” designation, but are no longer performing the same function in the U.S. that you were originally admitted to perform (e.g. you are no longer working for the same employer or you are no longer attending the same school), you may be out of status although not accruing unlawful presence. In this case a DHS or an immigration judge can make a finding of status violation, resulting in the termination of your period of authorized stay.
Two-Year Foreign Residency Requirement
If you are an exchange visitor, you are subject to the two-year foreign residency requirement of INA 212(e), if the following conditions exist:
- The program in which the exchange visitor was participating was financed in whole or in part directly or indirectly by the United States government or the government of the exchange visitor's nationality or last residence; or
- The exchange visitor is a national or resident of a country designated as requiring the services of persons engaged in the field of specialized knowledge or skills in which the exchange visitor was engaged for the duration of their program (Exchange Visitor Skills List 9 FAM 41.62, Exhibit II); or
- The exchange visitor entered the United States to receive graduate medical education or training.
If you are an exchange visitor subject to the INA 212(e) requirement, you cannot change status to that of H, L, K, or adjust to lawful permanent resident (green card holder) status until you have returned to your home country for at least two-years or received a waiver of that requirement. Such waivers can be obtained under five separate bases: No Objection Statement, Exceptional Hardship or Persecution, Conrad Program, or Interested Government Agency.