J-1 Student Visas - Overview

J-1 Student Visa


Overview of J-1 Visas

J-1 visas are issued to foreign nationals coming to the United States under a United States Department of State-approved exchange program.1 These programs can be professional, at American colleges, universities, or secondary schools. The length and rules of an exchange program are determined by the program's sponsor.2

Rules for Admittance to J-1 Status at a College or University

A nonimmigrant seeking admittance into a J-1 program at an American college or university must satisfy one of the four following conditions:

The student or program must be funded by the U.S. government, the student's national government, or an international organization
The program must be carried out by agreement between the United States and a foreign government
The program must be carried out by agreement between a U.S. university and a foreign university or foreign government
The student must have substantial financial support from a source other than him or herself or family
3 4

Differences between J-1 Status at a College or University and F-1 Status

Unlike F-1 students, J-1 students at colleges and universities are permitted to work in the United States pursuant to the guidelines of their specific programs.5 Accompanying J-2 spouses or children of J-1 students may work in the United States for their own upkeep or to pay for recreational activities, but not for the support of the J-1 student. 6 7 J-1 students are also permitted to engage in more practical training than are F-1 students. However, unlike F-1 students, most J-1 students are required to live outside of the United States for at least two years pursuant to the Home Residency Requirement 8 (HHR) after their J-1 status expires, provided that:

Their program received funding from the United States government or their own government
The United States Department of State determines that their country of origin requires people with their specialized knowledge
The J-1 student obtained J-1 status for the purpose of graduate medical training
9 10

Rules for Duration of J-1 Status

The duration of a J-1 visa is for the duration of the specific exchange program, plus thirty days.11

Rules for J-1 Status for Secondary School Exchange Program

Foreign students may be eligible for J-1 status to take part in a secondary school exchange program, provided that they are between fifteen and eighteen and one-half years old. Foreign students on J-1 status in a secondary school exchange program live with a host family and may study in the United States for one year.12 They are only permitted to engage in sporadic employment.13 14

Changing from J-1 Status to a Different Status

J-1 status holders who are subject to the Home Residency Requirement (HHR) are almost always required to live abroad for two years before applying for a new visa to enter the United States.15 They are, however, able to change to one of the four following nonimmigrant statuses if applicable:

A (foreign diplomat)
G (designated principal representative of foreign government)
T (victim of trafficking)
U (victim of criminal activity)
16 17

Exchange visitors for graduate medical training are not permitted to change their status to any nonimmigrant classification except with an HHR waiver.18

J-1 exchange visitors are able to reenter the country under certain nonimmigrant statuses before their two year HHR is completed.19 Two examples of such statuses are O-1 status (alien with extraordinary ability) and B-1 status (temporary business visitor).20 21

Rules for Obtaining Home Residency Requirement (HHR) Waiver

Under special circumstances, a J-1 exchange visitor is eligible to request an HHR waiver from the two-year foreign residency requirement through the United States Department of State.22 The J-1 exchange visitor may be eligible for an HHR waiver if:

A U.S. government agency determines that such a waiver is in the national interest, or
The J-1 status holder demonstrates that the HHR requirement would cause exceptional hardship to a U.S. citizen, permanent resident spouse, parent, or child of J-1 status holder, or
The J-1 status holder demonstrates that he or she would face persecution on account of nationality, race, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group if forced to comply with the HHR requirement, or
The J-1 status holder's home country does not object to the waiver (J-1 Exchange visitors for medical graduate training are not entitled to an HHR waiver under this standard)

J-1 visa holders who think they may be eligible for an HHR waiver under one of the four criteria should consult an immigration practitioner to assess eligibility and help make the best case for obtaining an HHR waiver.24


  1. Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. (West 6th ed. 2014) 249
  2. Id.
  3. 22 C.F.R. § 62.23
  4. Weissbrodt and Danielson 249
  5. Weissbrodt and Danielson 250
  6. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(j)(1)
  7. Weissbrodt and Danielson 250
  8. INA § 212(e)
  9. INA § 212(e)
  10. Weissbrodt and Danielson 250
  11. Id.
  12. Id.
  13. 22 C.F.R. § 62.25
  14. Weissbrodt and Danielson 250
  15. Weissbrodt and Danielson 251
  16. INA § 248
  17. Weissbrodt and Danielson 251
  18. Id.
  19. Id.
  20. Id.
  21. Id.
  22. Weissbrodt and Danielson 251
  23. INA § 212(e)
  24. Id.

Resources and materials:

Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser.