Exchange Visitor Visas
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
Two nonimmigrant visa categories are available for individuals participating in exchange visitor programs in the U.S. The exchange visitor program consists of educational and cultural exchanges among participating countries, with the intention of cultivating mutual understanding among U.S. residents and people in other countries. Visit the DOS page on Exchange Visitor Visas for more more detailed information.
The "J" visa is for exchange programs designated by the U.S. Dept. of State (DOS)'s Bureau of Consular Affairs, intended to promote mutual understanding in education, arts and sciences. Visitors applying for a "J" visa include students at various academic levels; those receiving on-the-job training; teachers; professors conducting research or teaching; researchers; professional trainees in the medical field; and visitors in a consulting, research, training or demonstration capacity.
The "Q" visa is for exchange programs designated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for the purpose of providing training and employment in the U.S. that is of historical or cultural relevance to the participant's home country.
The following are background requirements for "J" and "Q" exchange visitor visas:
Visitors applying for "J" visas must either have sufficient funds for all expenses or have funds covered by the sponsoring organization (scholarship or other stipend). Visitors applying for "Q" visas are expected to be paid by the employing sponsor at the same rate as similarly employed domestic workers.
"J" visa applicants must have adequate educational preparation for the given program, including English language proficiency (unless the program is designed to accommodate non-English speaking participants). "Q" visa applicants must be able to clearly communicate the cultural attributes of his or her country. They also must be at least 18 years old.
Exchange visitor visa participants under the "J" program for graduate-level medical training/education must pass the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination Medical Sciences, be competent in English, be subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement and be subject to time limits with respect to the program. Those coming to the U.S. for teaching, research, observation or consultation--where there is virtually no patient care--are exempt to those requirements.
Forms & Petitions
To be eligible for the "J" visa program, applicants must present a Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (Form DS-2019), which is prepared by the sponsoring organization. To be eligible for the "Q" visa program, applicants must have the sponsoring organization submit a Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129, PDF) with the USCIS.
Admission to the U.S.
A visa is no guarantee of entry into the U.S., which is determined by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the port of entry. The CBP also determines the length of time an exchange visitor visa holder may stay in the U.S. The CBP agent will stamp and endorse your Record of Arrival-Departure (I-94) up arrival, indicating the period of time he or she is allowed to stay in the country.
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