Obtaining a J-1 Visa: A step-by-step process
*Note* Citizens of Canada are not required to obtain a visa in order to enter the U.S. in the J-1/J-2 category. This rule, however, does not apply to landed immigrants of Canada. As of 01/23/07, however, all foreign nationals entering the U.S. will be required to present a valid passport in order to gain entry in a nonimmigrant category.
1) Once the CIS has been notified by the sponsoring department that you will be coming to the university, you will be issued Form DS-2019. This form will allow you to apply for an J-1 exchange visitor visa at the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate. The initial time period that is listed on the form will be determined by the sponsoring department.
2) After you receive Form DS-2019, you will need to pay a fee that is referred to as the SEVIS I-901 fee. This fee is used to pay administrative costs associated with the SEVIS computer system. This fee can be paid in a variety of ways, including online using a major credit card. Detailed information on the fee and the various payment methods can be found at:
3) Once you have received the DS-2019 form and paid the fee, you are now ready to schedule an interview with the U.S. Embassy/Consulate. For exchange visitors from certain countries, an appointment can be scheduled using an online reservation service. Others will need to schedule the interview by telephone. Before going for your visa interview, you should be aware of all documentation that is required by the respective embassy/consulate that you will be visiting. Procedures and practices vary from country to country, so it is vital that you check the embassy’s/consulate’s Web site prior to your visit.
Keep in mind that you can apply for the visa as soon as you receive your DS-2019 and pay the I-901 fee. You are advised to apply as early as possible so as to avoid any unforeseen delays that might occur due to background checks, high demand, etc.
4) Once you have obtained your J-1 visa stamp, you are ready to travel to the U.S. You may make an entry to the U.S. up to 30 days prior to the start date listed on your DS-2019. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ENTER THE U.S. MORE THAN 30 DAYS PRIOR TO THIS DATE.
Detailed information as it pertains to both the visa process and entry to the U.S. in the J-1 category can be found at the following site:
Two-Year Home Residence Rule (212(e))
Many exchange visitors who come to the U.S. in the J-1 category are subject to the two-year home residence rule. Please be advised that subjectivity to this requirement is primarily based on either a “skills list” that is designated by the home country or the source of finances for the exchange program. Please be aware that it is not possible to switch to another visa category within the U.S. or apply for permanent residence until this requirement has been fulfilled or waived.
For the majority of cases, a recommendation for a waiver for the requirement is usually granted by the Department of State after it has received a “no objection” letter from the home country. This letter will only be accepted by the Department of State by means of official diplomatic channels. In order to determine what is required in terms of supplying the “no objection” letter, you should check with your country’s embassy. In most instances, this information can be found on the embassy’s Web site. For more information on obtaining a waiver recommendation from the Dept. of State, please visit http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/info/info_1296.html.
If, after obtaining your visa, you feel that you were mistakenly subjected to the requirement, an advisory opinion from the Dept. of State can be requested after your arrival in the U.S.
Initial Port of Entry
When you arrive at your initial port of entry to the U.S., you should have the following documents with you:
- Form DS-2019 issued by WFU
- Passport that is valid for AT LEAST six months into the future
- J-1 visa stamp/sticker in your passport
- I-94 card that you received on the airplane
If you do not have a valid J-1 visa stamp in your passport (does not apply to citizens of Canada), the likelihood that you will be denied entry to the U.S. is very high. If you do not have your DS-2019 with you when you arrive at a U.S. port of entry, you will most likely be admitted into the country, given a certain form (I-515) and told to send in all necessary documentation to an office in Washington D.C.
You will be admitted into the country as an J-1 exchange visitor. Your DS-2019 form and I-94 card will both be stamped by the immigration official to reflect this status.
Please keep in mind that due to heightened security measures, making an entry to the U.S. from abroad can be a very time consuming process. There is always the chance that you will be delayed and will miss a connecting flight. If possible, please allow plenty of time between your flights.