The J-1 Visa Program: For Work-Trainees & Physicians
The J-1 Visa Program provides an option to consider as a way to obtain a job related visa that is particularly useful for employee-trainees. The J-1 Program involves a somewhat streamlined process, and may be useful in situations where the applicant does not meet the more stringent requirements of the H1-B program. The J-1 Program also provides and route for qualified physicians to receive a nonimmigrant visa in order to pursue graduate medical training at a U.S. medical facility.
J-1 Visa Program Highlights
- Employee qualifications: Foreign employees may qualify for a J-1 visa as an employee-trainee with a minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree or in some cases no more than a high school diploma and a minimum amount of work experience relevant to the field of employment. The J-1 Program thus has much less stringent requirements than the H1-B Visa program for skilled workers. Common age guidelines for participants are from age 20 to 35 but these guidelines are flexible.
- Nonimmigrant intent: In order to qualify for the J-1 program, applicants must demonstrate that they have no intent to immigrant and will retain and not abandon their foreign residence. Applicants for a J-1 visa must prove to the US Consulate that they have strong enough family, economic and social ties to their own country that they will not immigrate to the United States, but will depart the United States when the training program is completed. As a practical matter, nonimmigrant intent can generally be demonstrated by obtaining an offer of future employment from a company in the alien’s home country abroad commencing at the time the US training is completed.
- Streamlined application process: Although there are special rules about what companies or organizations may serves as sponsors (as discussed further below), the J-1 Program generally operates under a streamlined process and can result in a J-1 visa being granted in a matter of weeks.
- Limited Visa Duration: One limitation of the J-1 Program is that J-1 visas are limited in duration to 18 months compared to the H1-B Program which provides for visas for a 36 month period.
- Company sponsorship: In order to obtain a J-1 visa for an employee, a company must either become designated by the U.S. Department of State as a J-1 visa program sponsor or initiate an application through an approved third party training sponsor organization.
The process for a company to receive approval as a J-1 Program sponsor may be time-consuming and only make sense for large, multinational companies that anticipate frequent application for visas under the J-1 Program. As an alternative to qualifying in their own right, many company prefer instead to apply for J-1 visas for employees through an existing third party training sponsor organization. Such organizations will typically allow a company to hire a foreign employee in as little as two weeks (which is significantly quicker than the time associated with making an H-1B application for a qualifying employee).
There are several dozen organizations that are authorized by the Department of State to act as a third party sponsors in association with J-1 training programs. Each of these organizations has its own unique requirements and guidelines a prospective employer must follow but the general process is usually quite similar, starting with the submission of a detailed training program description, which spells out in explicit detail the type and chronology of training, which will be accomplished, even if it will take place through on-the-job training.
Third party sponsors can take as little as 2 weeks to review and approve J-1 applications and training programs. Ultimately when the application is approved, the third party sponsor will send Form DS-2019 to the employee abroad. The employee then submits the Form DS-2019 to the US Consulate in his or her home country and obtains the J-1 Visa. Processing times are generally from 1 day to 1 week, depending on the US Consular post where the visa application is made.
Additional J-1 Program benefits:
The spouse and single children (under 21) of a J-1 applicant are also able to come to the United States on J-2 visas for the duration of the J-1 training program. An additional benefit of the J-1 visa is that the spouse may obtain Employment Authorization through the USCIS by submitting Form I-765, subject to the restriction that a J-2 alien spouse may only use his or her income to support the family’s customary recreational and cultural activities and related travel among other things. The USCIS will not authorize employment for J-2 dependants if the income is needed to support the J-1 principal alien.
While the employment of the J-1 principal is limited to the employer as set forth in the application made to through the third party sponsor, the employment authorization offered to a J-2 dependant permits employment in the open market. The J-1 visa is the only nonimmigrant visa which allows employment of dependants.
Potential 2 Year Restriction After J-1 Program Participation:
There is a potential 2 year home residency requirement that may be application for certain J-1 Program participants after the completion of their J-1 visa training program. Specifically, J-1 applicants from certain countries who obtain training in fields or occupations designated on the Department of State’s “skills list”, are not allowed to change to any other nonimmigrant status in the US or immigrate to the United States until they have returned to their home country for two years. The skills list is organized by country and contains several skills groups, each of which contain numerous categories of skills. Because of the difficulty of obtaining a waiver of the two-year home residence requirement, it is important for applicants to check the skills list before applying for the Certificate of Eligibility. Most European and Asian countries do not fall under the skills list.
J-1 Program for Physicians:
J-1 Physicians, also known as Foreign Medical Graduates (FMGs) or International Medical Graduates (IMGs), are physicians from other countries who have sought and received a J-1 exchange visitor visa in order to pursue graduate medical training in the United States.
Foreign nationals entering the United States as Exchange Visitor Program participants are subject to the home residence requirement pursuant to Section 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, if they:
(i) receive U.S. or foreign government financing for any part of their studies or training in the U.S.;
(ii) studied or trained in a field deemed of importance to their home government and such field is on the “skills list” maintained by the Department of State in consultation with foreign governments; or,
(iii) entered the United States to pursue graduate medical education or training.
An exchange visitor subject to §212(e) is not eligible for an H or L visa, or legal permanent resident status until the home residence requirement is fulfilled or waived.