The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States. The "J" visa is for educational and cultural exchange programs designated by the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, and the "Q" visa is for international cultural exchange programs designated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The "J" exchange visitor program is designed to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills in the fields of education, arts, and sciences. Participants include students at all academic levels; trainees obtaining on-the-job training with firms, institutions, and agencies; teachers of primary, secondary, and specialized schools; professors coming to teach or do research at institutions of higher learning; research scholars; professional trainees in the medical and allied fields; and international visitors coming for the purpose of traveling, observing, consulting, conducting research, training, sharing, or demonstrating specialized knowledge or skills, or participating in organized people-to-people programs.
The "Q" international cultural exchange program is for the purpose of providing practical training and employment, and the sharing of the history, culture, and traditions of the participant's home country in the United States.
Participants in the "J"exchange visitor program must have sufficient funds to cover all expenses, or funds must be provided by the sponsoring organization in the form of a scholarship or other stipend. "Q" exchange visitors will be paid by their employing sponsor at the same rate paid to local domestic workers similarly employed.
"J" exchange visitors must have sufficient scholastic preparation to participate in the designated program, including knowledge of the English language, or the exchange program must be designed to accommodate non-English speaking participants. The "Q" exchange visitor must be at least 18 years old and be able to communicate effectively about the cultural attributes of his or her country.
Medical Education and Training
Exchange visitors coming under the "J" program for graduate medical education or training must meet certain special requirements. These requirements include passing the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination in Medical Sciences, demonstrating competency in English, being automatically subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement (after completion of their program), and being subject to time limits on the duration of their program. Physicians coming to the United States on exchange visitor programs for the purpose of observation, consultation, teaching, or conducting research in which there is little or no patient care are not subject to the above requirements.
Participants in the "J" program must present a Form DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status prepared by a designated sponsoring organization. (Forms DS-2019 are issued by the Department of State, and not by USCIS. Please see the Cultural Exchange website of the Department of State for more information.)
Participants in the "Q" program must have the designated sponsoring organization file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For more details on how to file for a Q petition, please see the Temporary Workers section.
Admission through a U.S. Port of Entry
Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has authority to deny admission. Also, the CBP, not the Department of State Consular Officer, determines the period for which the bearer of an exchange visitor visa is authorized to stay in the United States. At the port of entry, a CBP official stamps and endorses Form I-94, Record of Arrival-Departure, specifying the period of time that the alien is authorized to stay in the United States.
For information on Visa Application Procedures and other related information about exchange visitors, please visit the Visa Services Website of the Department of State. More specific information can be found at the Department of State Exchange Visitor (J) Visas Website.
Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP)
Also see Sec. 641 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996 (Pub. L. 104-208). Section 641 of IIRIRA is one of the catalysts behind a new interagency initiative, the Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP). SEVP is designed to improve processes for foreign students and exchange visitors holding F, J and M visas, and schools, colleges and other organizations sponsoring programs for these visa holders.
SEVP will facilitate and automate several processes affecting exchange visitors, such as:
admissions to the U.S.;
benefit requests; and