A J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by the United States to exchange visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange, especially to obtain medical or business training within the U.S. All applicants must meet eligibility criteria and be sponsored either by a private sector or government program.
Duration of Status
J-1 visitors may remain in the United States until the end of their exchange program, as specified on form DS-2019. Once a J-1 visitor's program ends, he may remain in the United States for an additional 30 days, often referred to as a "grace period," in order to prepare for departure from the country. If the visitor leaves the United States during these 30 days, the visitor may not re-enter with the J-1 visa.
The minimum and maximum duration of stay are determined by the specific J-1 category under which an exchange visitor is admitted into the United States.
As with other non-immigrant visas, a J-1 visa holder and his or her dependents are required to leave the United States at the end of the duration of stay.
Mandatory home residence requirement
Many persons in the United States on J-1 visa are subject to the two-year home residency requirement found in Section 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Under the Section 212(e), before a person on a J-1 visa with the two-year home residency requirement can change to nonimmigrant status (H-1B or L1, for example), or adjust to U.S. permanent resident status, the J-1 person must either return to the country of last residence for two years or obtain a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement.
Upon their departure from the United States, many J-1 visa holders are required to complete a mandatory two-year home-country physical presence prior to re-entry into the United States under dual intent visas, such as H1-B. This applies for those whose exchange program was funded by either their government or the U.S. government, involves specialized knowledge or skills deemed necessary by their home country or if they received graduate medical training.  The two-year stay can be served in several intervals. This mandatory two-year home-country stay can be waived under the following conditions:
- No objection statement (NOS) issued by the government of the home country of the J visa holders.
- Exceptional Hardship: If a J-1 holder can demonstrate that his departure would cause exceptional hardship to his U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident dependents.
- Persecution: If a J-1 holder can demonstrate that he can be persecuted in his home country.
- Interested Government Agency: A waiver issued for a J-1 holder by a U.S. Federal Government agency that has determined that such person is working on a project for or of its interest and the person's departure will be detrimental to its interest.
- Conrad Program: A waiver issued for a foreign medical graduate who has an offer of full-time employment at a health care facility in a designated health care professional shortage area or at a health care facility which serves patients from such a designated area.
Electronic records on J-1 visitors and their dependents are maintained in Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program by their program sponsor. J-1 visitors must report certain information, such as a change in legal name or a change of address, within 10 days. Failure is considered a violation of the J-1 visitor's immigration status and may result in the termination of the visitor's exchange program.
Different categories exist within the J-1 program, each defining the purpose or type of exchange. While most J-1 categories are explicitly named in the federal regulations governing the J-1 program, others have been inferred from the regulatory language.
Private sector programs:
- Alien Physician
- Au pair and EduCare
- Camp Counselor (summer camp)
- Student, Secondary School
- Flight Training (J-1 privileges terminated effective June 1, 2010)
Government and academic programs:
- Government Visitor
- International Visitor
- Professor and Research Scholar
- Short-Term Scholar
- Student, College/University
Taxation of income earned by J-1 visitors varies according to the specific category the visitor was admitted under; the visitor's country of origin; and the duration of the visitor's stay in the United States. J-1 visa holders are exempt from paying Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes (for Social Security and Medicare) when they are nonresident aliens for tax purposes, which is usually the first five calendar years if they are categorized as students, or the first two calendar years if they are categorized as teachers or trainees. However, they are subjected to other applicable federal, state, and local taxes. People on J-1 filing their federal income taxes who have been in the United States for five years or fewer (for students) or two years or fewer (for teachers and trainees) need to use the non-resident 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ tax forms. Some J-1 visa holders may be eligible for certain tax treaty provisions based on their country of origin.
Employers who hire J1 visitors may also save up on payroll taxes. When J1 visitors do not pay Social Security, Medicare or Federal Unemployment taxes, employers do not have to match these taxes. A typical employer who hires 5 Work/Travel J1 visitors and pays $8/hour each may save over $2317 in a typical 4-months season.
The United States introduced the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa Program under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act (Fulbright–Hays Act of 1961). The J-1 visa was administered by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) to strengthen relations between the US and other countries. It fell under the purview of the USIA and not the Immigration and Naturalization Service because its main purpose is to disseminate information; its goal is to give people training and experience in the U.S. that they can use to benefit their home countries. These exchanges have assisted the Department of State in furthering the foreign policy objectives of the United States.
The J1 Program started by bringing scholars into the United States temporarily for a specific educational objective, such as teaching and conducting research. It then extended to several other Exchange Visitor Programs that shared the same objective, like the au pair, Government Visitor, Professor and Research or Short-Term Scholar, Work and Travel USA and the Trainee Programs. 
New regulation for 2011
A job offer is required prior to visa interview. Students from six particular countries (Bulgaria, Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus) must have a job offer that has been confirmed by a sponsoring organization before the student can apply for a visa. Because of these requirements, employers and J-1 students must get a head start on the hiring and visa application process. These regulations have been initiated due to allegations of sex trade, illegal business practices, improper housing, and general vulnerabiltiy of J-1 visa recipients.
According to a newspaper report, on February 9, 2011, the State Department announced that the same-sex partners of American diplomats moving to a posting in the United States would now be allowed to apply for J-1 visas. This ability was not extended to non-diplomat same-sex couples however and has sparked controversy. This is different from a long-existing policy which allows issuing B-2 visas (visitor for pleasure) to same-sex domestic partners of foreign citizens working or studying in the United States on nonimmigrant visas, or diplomatic visas to same-sex domestic partners of some foreign diplomats in the US. After the case United States v. Windsor ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in 2013, legally married same-sex partners are treated the same as legally married opposite-sex partners.
- United States Department of State. "Exchange Visitor (J) Visas". Retrieved 2011-06-02.
- Common Questions | J-1 Visa Basics | J-1 Visa
- Immigration Law Articles | Klasko, Rulon, Stock & Seltzer, LLP: UNDERSTANDING THE TWO YEAR HOME RESIDENCE REQUIREMENT AND WAIVERS
- Eligibility Information - Waiver of the Exchange Visitor Two-Year Home-Country Physical Presence Requirement
- United States Department of State. "Programs". Retrieved 2011-06-02.
- Hector Chichoni. "Exchange Visitor Program Terminates J-1 Flight Training Program Designations". Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- J1 Tax Benefits for Employers. Savings Calculator.
- Reports on J-1 Visas and Visa Waivers
- Programs | J-1 Visa
- Utah Local News - Salt Lake City News, Sports, Archive - The Salt Lake Tribune
- B 2 CLASSIFICATION FOR COHABITATING PARTNERS, a State Department cable.
- Diplomats and Foreign Government Officials