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General Questions from Prospective Exchange Visitors

How can I participate in the Exchange Visitor Program (J-1 visa program)? 
You need to be sponsored by one of the State Department's designated sponsors authorized to conduct exchange visitor programs in the United States.  The special J-1 exchange visitor visa is the visa used by all foreign participants in the Exchange Visitor Program.  
The program sponsors are responsible for screening and selecting eligible foreign nationals for participation in the Exchange Visitor Program, as well as supporting and monitoring them during their exchange program in the United States.  

What is the Form DS-2019?
The Form DS-2019 is the “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status”.  The Form DS-2019 is a controlled document which only State Department-designated sponsors are authorized to issue to foreign nationals (prospective exchange visitors) they have screened and selected for participation in their State Department-designated exchange visitor program.   Foreign nationals (prospective exchange visitors) then apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate for the J-1 exchange visitor visa to participate in their prospective sponsor’s exchange visitor program.  Issuance of the J-1 visa, like all non-immigrant visas, is at the discretion of Consular Officers viewing visa applications at U.S. embassies and consulates.

How can I obtain a Form DS-2019?  (Also see FAQ “What is the Form DS-2019?”)
The State Department-designated J-1 program sponsors are the only entities authorized to issue the Form DS-2019, which is a controlled document.  Sponsors issue this form to the foreign nationals they select to participate in their exchange visitor program.  

How do I apply for the J-1 visa?  
Prospective exchange visitors apply for the J-1 visa at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country using the Form DS-2019 issued to them by their State Department-designated program sponsor.  If you have general questions about the visa application process, you should view the State Department’s website for all U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide at: http://www.usembassy.gov/.   Click on the link for the U.S. embassy or consulate location closest to you (i.e., where you will apply for the visa) and follow the instructions provided.  Any specific questions regarding the visa application process should be directed to the U.S. embassy or consulate.

What is the Form DS-7002?
The Form DS-7002 is the “Training/Internship Placement Plan” (T/IPP).  It is a controlled document which only sponsors designated by the State Department for the “trainee” and “intern” exchange visitor program categories are authorized to issue to foreign nationals they have screened and selected for participation in their designated exchange visitor program.  Such sponsors must complete and sign the T/IPP for each trainee or intern before issuing the Form DS-2019.  The T/IPP ensures that trainees are participating in bona fide training and that interns are participating in work-based learning, both of which are permitted while ordinary employment and unskilled labor are not permitted using the J-1 visa for training and internship purposes.  

In addition to presenting their DS-2019 to U.S. embassy or consulate Consular Officers at the time of application for the J-1 visa, prospective trainees and interns must also present their fully executed DS-7002 when requested by the reviewing Consular Officer.     
How can I obtain the Form DS-7002?  (Also see FAQ “What is the Form DS-7002?”)
The State Department-designated exchange visitor ( J-1 visa)  program sponsors authorized to conduct “training” and/or “internship” exchange visitor programs are the only entities authorized to issue the Form DS-7002 for prospective “trainee” and “intern” participants in the Exchange Visitor Program.  These sponsors issue completed and signed Forms DS-7002 to the foreign nationals they select to participate in their exchange visitor program.  

What are the required visa fees for participating in the Exchange Visitor Program (obtaining a J-1 visa)?
Each applicant for a visa must pay a non refundable $131 (U.S. currency) nonimmigrant visa application-processing fee.  If the visa is issued, there may be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee for citizens of certain countries. 

Do all exchange visitors have to pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee?
Most exchange visitors are required to pay a one-time SEVIS fee of $181 (U.S. currency). 
For the Summer Work/Travel, Au Pair, and Camp Counselor programs, the fee is $35 (U.S. currency).  All those applying for a J-1 visa for initial participation in a program must pay this fee.  In addition, those already in the United States applying for a change of status to J-1 must pay the fee, as does an exchange visitor applying for a change of category.  Exceptions:  Government-sponsored exchange visitors who are participating in programs with a program number that begins with G-1, G-2, G-3, or G-7 do not need to pay the fee. 
Continuing exchange visitors do not pay the SEVIS I-901 fee when they:
  • Reenter the United States to continue participation in an exchange visitor program or program of study as long as nonimmigrant status was maintained 
  • Already paid the SEVIS fee but the visa was denied within the last 12 months, and they are applying again for a visa in the same exchange visitor category
  • Transfer between programs in the same exchange visitor category, unless the new program requires a higher fee 
  • Apply to extend their stay in order to complete the current program within the maximum duration of participation of the category in which they are participating
  • There are no fee waivers available for the SEVIS I-901 fee.  For more information see: https://www.fmjfee.com/i901fee/.

What is the visa interview like?
Once the exchange visitor receives the Form DS 2019 from the sponsor, they must pay the SEVIS I-901 fee and make a visa appointment at the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest their home.   At the visa appointment, the consular officer will determine whether the potential exchange visitor qualifies for the visa.  Applicants must demonstrate that they properly meet the requirements to be issued an exchange visitor visa, including the following:  
  • That they plan to remain in the United States for a temporary, specific, limited period; 
  • Evidence of funds to cover expenses in the United States;
  • Evidence of compelling social and economic ties to their home country. 

Which documents are most important for the exchange visitor?
The critical documents that each exchange visitor must protect for the duration of their stay in the United States are:
  • All Forms DS 2019 issued
  • Passport 
  • Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record (small white card stapled in passport by the Immigration Officer at the port of entry)
It is the responsibility of the Responsible Officer (RO) and Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO) to make sure the exchange visitor understands what each of these documents signifies.  Exchange visitors should be advised to keep a copy of their Form DS 2019 even beyond the end of their program in case it is needed at some future point. 

When can exchange visitors enter the United States prior to the start of their exchange program? And, when must exchange visitors depart the United States by after the completion of their exchange program?
Two 30 day periods govern an exchange visitor’s authorized stay in the United States.  The first 30-day period occurs before an exchange visitor’s program begin/start date stated on the exchange visitor’s Form DS-2019.  The second 30-day period occurs after the exchange visitor’s successful completion of the program end date stated on his/her Form DS-2019.  Both periods relate to non-immigrant visa holders’ immigration status in the United States.   
In addition, the 30-day periods (before and after the actual exchange visitor program start/end dates) fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  

How does an exchange visitor “Maintain Program Status”?
Exchange visitors are admitted to the United States for a specific period of time to engage in a particular program (activity), as described on their Form DS 2019.  Exchange visitors must maintain lawful (J-1) program status, as failure to do so can have serious long-term consequences.  

Key Reminders:
Exchange visitors must know the expiration date of their program (the end date in section 3 of the DS-2019 Form) and the expected departure date.   If regulations permit and the Exchange visitors J-1 program is extended, the sponsor must use SEVIS to change the end date on the Form DS 2019 prior to the expiration date of the original Form, reprint the Form, sign it in blue ink and give it to the exchange visitor.  
When traveling outside the United States, exchange visitors must first obtain a “travel signature” on the Form DS-2019 to facilitate re-entry.  Exchange visitors should be reminded to retain all copies of Form DS-2019 with their immigration papers.
Exchange visitors must never accept unauthorized employment. 
Exchange visitors must comply with the Department of State's health insurance requirements for J-1 visa holders and their families. Willful disregard of this requirement will result in termination of the J-1 program.
Exchange visitors must keep their passports valid. Passports can be renewed by foreign embassies in Washington D.C. and foreign consulates in other cities.  For information about embassies, see http://www.embassy.org.
What does the notation “D/S” on the I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, mean?
Exchange visitors (J-1) are admitted to the United States for the period of time necessary to complete their program, and are given the notation “D/S” (Duration of Status) on their I-94 Arrival/Departure Record by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration officials at the port of entry into the United States.    

For non-immigrants admitted with Duration of Status, unlawful presence in the United States begins to accrue on the date DHS finds a status violation while adjudicating a request for an immigration benefit (for example, a request for a change of status), or when an immigration judge finds a status violation during proceedings. For non-immigrants admitted with a date certain (as opposed to D/S), unlawful presence begins to accrue on the date the Form I-94 expires.

Where can I find useful travel tips to the United States?