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- Frequently Asked Questions
The Immigration and Nationality Act provides two non-immigrant visa categories for persons to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States. The “J” visa is for educational and cultural exchange programs designated by the U.S. Information Agency, (USIA) and the “Q” visa is for international cultural exchange programs designated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
The “J” exchange visitor program is designed to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills in the fields of education, arts, and sciences. Participants include students at all academic levels; trainees obtaining on-the-job training with firms, institutions, and agencies; teachers of primary, secondary, and specialized schools; professors coming to teach or do research at institutions of higher learning; research scholars; professional trainees in the medical and allied fields; and international visitors coming for the purpose of travel, observation, consultation, research, training, sharing, or demonstrating specialized knowledge or skills, or participating in organized people-to-people programs.
The “Q” international cultural exchange program is for the purpose of providing practical training, employment, and the sharing of the history, culture, and traditions of the participant’s home country in the United States.
Participants in the “J” exchange visitor program must have sufficient funds to cover all expenses, or funds must be provided by the sponsoring organization in the form of a scholarship or other stipend. “Q” exchange visitors will be paid by their employing sponsor at the same rate paid to local domestic workers similarly employed.
“J” exchange visitors must have sufficient scholastic preparation to participate in the designated program, including knowledge of the English language, or the exchange program must be designed to accommodate non-English speaking participants. The “Q” exchange visitor must be 18 years old and be able to communicate effectively about the cultural attributes of his or her country.
Medical Education and Training
Exchange visitors coming under the “J” program for graduate medical education or training must meet certain special requirements. They include having passed the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination in Medical Sciences, demonstrating competency in English, being automatically subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement (later), and being subject to time limits on the duration of their program. Physicians coming to the United States on exchange visitor programs for the purpose of observation, consultation, teaching, or research in which there is little or no patient care are not subject to the above requirements.
Participants in the “J” program must present a Form IAP-66 prepared by a designated sponsoring organization. Participants in the “Q” program must have the designated sponsoring organization file Form I-129, Petition for Non-immigrant Worker, with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The INS will notify the sponsor on Form I-797 when the petition is approved. It should be noted that the approval of a petition does not guarantee visa issuance to an applicant found to be ineligible under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Visa Ineligibility/ Waiver
The non-immigrant visa application Form OF-156 lists classes of persons who are ineligible under U.S. law to receive visas. In some instances an applicant who is ineligible, but who is otherwise properly classifiable as an exchange visitor, may apply for a waiver of ineligibility and be issued a visa if the waiver is approved.
Applying For The Visa
Applicants for exchange visitor visas should generally apply at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence.
Each applicant for an exchange visitor visa must pay a nonrefundable US$20 application fee and submit:
- An application Form OF-156, completed and signed. Blank forms are available without charge at all U.S. consular offices;
- A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant’s intended period of stay in the United States. If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must make an application;
- One photograph 1 and 1/2 inches square (37x37mm) for each applicant, showing full face, without head covering, against a light background; and
- For the “J” applicant, a completed Form IAP-66. For the “Q” applicant, a notice of approval, Form I-797.
Both “J” and “Q” applicants must demonstrate to the consular officer that they have binding ties to a residence in a foreign country which they have no intention of abandoning, and that they are coming to the United States for a temporary period. It is impossible to specify the exact form the evidence should take since applicants’ circumstances vary greatly.
U.S. Port of Entry
Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The INS has authority to deny admission. Also, the period for which the bearer of an exchange visitor visa is authorized to remain in the United States is determined by the INS, not the consular officer. At the port of entry, an INS official validates Form I-94, Record of Arrival-Departure, which notes the length of stay permitted.
Employment while in “J” exchange visitor status depends upon the terms of the program. Participants in programs which provide for on-the-job training, teaching, research, or other activities which involve paid employment may accept such employment. Participants in programs which do not involve work may not accept outside employment. The “Q” international cultural exchange program specifically authorizes paid employment as part of the program.
Foreign Residency Requirement
Certain “J” exchange visitors who participate in programs which were financed in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, by an agency of the U.S. Government or by the exchange visitor’s government, or who are nationals or residents of a country which have been designated by USIA as requiring the skills of the exchange visitor, must return to their country of nationality or last residence after completing their program in the United States, and reside there physically for two years before they may become eligible to apply for an immigrant or temporary worker visa. “Q” exchange visitors may not particpate in another “Q” program until they have been abroad for one year.
The spouse and minor children of participants in “J” exchange programs may apply for derivative “J-2” visas to accompany or follow to join the principal alien by presenting a copy of the principal’s Form IAP-66. They must demonstrate that they will have sufficient financial resources to cover all expenses while in the United States. Dependents may apply to the INS for authorization to accept employment in the U.S. The “Q” exchange program does not provide for the admission of the spouse or children of a participant in a derivative status.