Understanding Foreign Exchange Programs


Foreign exchange programs allow a certain number of pre-approved visitors to visit the United States, even as a visitor from the United States visits another participating country. Foreign exchange participants must seek a J-1 visa.

A J-1 visa is the appropriate visa for an individual participating in a work or student exchange program. You must be visiting the United States via an approved program that is designed for the purpose of teaching, instructing, lecturing, studying, observing, researching, consulting, receiving training, receiving graduate medical education, or demonstrating special skills.

The duration of a J-1 visa depends on the program you’re using. Most student and au pair programs are valid for 12 months. Programs for teachers, professors, and researchers may receive a J-1 visa for up to 5 years plus 30 days for the purposes of preparing to leave the United States.

In a few cases, you can stay more than 7 years. 

The J-1 visa does not offer a path to a green card. It is a nonimmigrant visa, and you will be required to show that you fully intend to return to your home country when the program is complete. If something changes when you are here (if, for example, you get married to a US citizen or receive a job offer from a company that is willing to sponsor you), you’ll want to work with an immigration law office like ours to ensure that the transition goes smoothly. USCIS will be somewhat suspicious of your application because it may indicate that you came into the United States under false pretenses.

Every J-1 visa holder has a sponsor exchange program—there are no exceptions. If you are hoping to come to the United States on this visa, your first step will be to find a qualified foreign exchange program. If you cannot find a program but still wish to work or study in the United States, you may instead wish to explore student or work visa options.

Next, you will fill out Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status. Most of the time, the program will have its own staff members who can help you through the application process. If yours does not, we will be happy to help ensure that your application is free from mistakes, addresses potential problems, and comes with sufficient evidence to be successful.

If you want to create a foreign exchange program of your own, there are many steps you will have to follow, from defining the objectives of your program to establishing partnerships with qualifying institutions. An immigration law office like Hykel Law can help you meet your legal obligations if this is of interest to you. We can also help foreign exchange programs provide legal help to program participants.

Foreign exchange programs can be a wonderful way to forge intercultural relationships around the world. Don’t let the legal hurdles scare you! If you have the chance to come to the United States on such a program, we highly encourage you to take it.

See also:

How Does an Employment-Based Green Card Work?

What is a Dual Intent Visa?

Steps for Getting a Student Visa in the United States 

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