J-1/F-1/M-1 VISA

The Exchange Visitor Visa (J)

1. Overview

The exchange visitor (J) nonimmigrant visa category is provided for persons who are approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the U.S., under provisions of U.S. immigration law. This means that before you can apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for a J visa, you must first apply, meet the requirements, and be accepted for one of the Exchange Visitor Program categories through a designated sponsoring organization. If you are accepted as a participant in an exchange program, the sponsor will provide you with information and documents necessary to apply for the J visa to enter the U.S. For a brief overview, visit the America.gov article The Basics on U.S. Visas.

2. When Can a Visitor Visa Be Used Instead of an Exchange Visitor Visa?

In certain circumstances, some activities that are done on exchange visitor visas are also permitted on business (B-1) or tourist (B-2) visas. Short periods of study, or study which is recreational, and not vocational, and incidental to the trip, is permitted on a visitor visa. The determining factor is the traveler’s primary purpose in coming to the U.S. Any kind of study that would earn credit or certification is not permitted on a visitor visa. As an example, if you are taking a vacation to the U.S., and during this vacation you would like to take a two-day cooking class for your enjoyment, and there is no credit earned, then this would be permitted on a visitor visa. A consular officer will determine the visa category you will need based on the purpose of your travel, and your supporting documentation.

3. Exchange Visitors Cannot Travel on the Visa Waiver Program

Citizens from a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) who want to enter the U.S. temporarily as exchange visitors, must first obtain a an exchange visitor visa. Exchange visitor program participants cannot travel on the VWP, nor can they travel on a visitor (B) visa. Those travelers coming on the VWP to participate in an exchange program may be denied admission to the U.S. by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. immigration inspector at the port of entry. For more information on VWP, see Visa Waiver Program.

4. Qualifying for an Exchange Visitor Visa

Exchange visitor applicants must meet specific requirements to qualify for an exchange visitor (J) visa under immigration law. The consular officer will determine whether you qualify for the visa. Additionally, applicants must demonstrate that they properly meet requirements, including the following:

  • That they plan to remain in the U.S. for a temporary, specific, limited period;
  • Evidence of funds to cover expenses in the U.S.;
  • Evidence of compelling social and economic ties abroad; and other binding ties which will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit.

Student Visas (F-1 and M-1)

1. Overview

For student related information, visit the EducationUSA website created by the Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to learn about educational opportunities for undergraduate and graduate study, opportunities for scholars, financial aid, testing, admissions, and much more. For a brief overview, visit the America.gov article Basics on U.S. Visas. The first step for a prospective nonimmigrant student is being accepted for enrollment in an established school which is SEVP certified. In general, for academic students attending a university, college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory or other academic institutions, including a language training program, an F visa is the appropriate category. For students attending vocational or other recognized nonacademic institutions, other than a language training program, an M visa is generally the appropriate category.

If you are going to the U.S. primarily for tourism, but want to take a short course of study that is recreational, and the course is less than 18 hours per week, you may be able to do so on a visitor (B) visa. If your course of study is 18 hours or more a week, you will need a student visa. When traveling to the U.S. to attend seminars, conferences or a program of study for academic credit then you will need a student visa.

2. Qualifying for a Student Visa

The Immigration and National Act is very specific with regard to the requirements which must be met by applicants to qualify for the student visa. The consular officer will determine whether you qualify for the visa. Additionally, applicants must demonstrate that they properly meet student visa requirements including:

  • Have a residence abroad, with no immediate intention of abandoning that residence;
  • Intend to depart from the United States upon completion of the course of study; and
  • Possess sufficient funds to pursue the proposed course of study.

3. Spouses and Children

Applicants with dependents must also provide:

  • Proof of the student’s relationship to his/her spouse and/or children (e.g., marriage and birth certificates.);
  • It is preferred that families apply for F-1 and F-2 visas at the same time, but if the spouse and children must apply separately at a later time, they should bring a copy of the student visa holder’s passport and visa, along with all other required documents.

4. Optional Practical Training

Students who are authorized for Optional Practical Training (OPT) must have an I-20 endorsed for OPT, and provide a USCIS-issued Employment Authorization Document (EAD). When authorized, Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to the eligible F-1 student’s area of study. To learn more about OPT, please visit the USCIS Website and the ICE international Students webpage.