Immigration Law Center, L.L.C.
P.O. Box 11032
Montgomery, Alabama 36111-0032 U.S.A.

Telephone:  (334) 832-9090

J-1 visas: Plan ahead if you want to stay

Attorney at Law and Civil Law Notary

    J-1 visas in the United States are administered by the United States Information Agency (USIA) of the U.S. Department of State and by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
    The IAP-66 (or Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status) is the three-page, USIA-controlled document used by J-1 students to obtain an entry visa and enter the United States.  Your copy of the IAP-66 is the pink copy. It contains important information including your program sponsor and an expiration date.  Keep the IAP-66 in your passport, or at least a legible copy of it.  It is a good idea to get a written endorsement on your IAP-66 from your J-1 program officer when you travel. Some U.S. consulates in foreign capitals do not authorize re-entry, under any circumstances, unless the students files a new  IAP-66.
    Student spouses and/or children applying for J-2 visas must present four documents in the U.S. embassy or consulate: Form IAP-66, personal affidavit of support, financial documentation, and proof of relationship to the J-1 student (marriage certificate, birth certificate, etc.). Exchange Visitors (J-1) must furnish copies of this financial documentation to the program sponsor: the dean of students or the international program counselor at the University. The sponsor then issues the IAP-66 form.
    Students must be able to support their families in the United States. The international student counselor at the college or university should have cost of living estimates for married students with or without children. You must make an appointment with a counselor at the college or university when requesting documents to bring your dependents (unless you are on an outside sponsor's J-1 program).  Your university will only issue dependent documents if you have enough money to support your family.
    A valid entry visa and a valid IAP-66 are required for re-entry from most countries.  However, a valid U.S. entry visa may not be required for entry from Canada, Mexico or most islands in the Caribbean. Check your travel documents with the DSO (designated school official for international student programs) or dean of students at least two weeks before you leave the United States; you may learn that you will need new documents to re-enter the United States. It is better to know before you go. Keep both your I-94 and IAP-66 valid.
    Remaining in the United States beyond the departure date on your I-94 is a deportable offense. Contact your DSO, the dean of students, or your J-1 Exchange Visa program sponsor 60 days before your I-94 expires to receive the necessary forms for extension. If your I-94 carries a "D/S" (Duration of Status) expiration date, contact your program sponsor 60 days before your IAP-66 expires. Some program sponsors issue the IAP-66 in one-year increments to more closely monitor or control the alien's progress toward the program objectives. Application for an extension of stay is made on Form I-539, a new IAP-66, the I-94s of the J-1 and his dependents, and the filing fee.
    J-1 visa students are required to enroll for a full course of study for fall and spring semesters. Summer enrollment is optional unless you are admitted for the summer session. Twelve hours is considered a full-time enrollment for undergraduates. There are certain instances in which the INS allows less than a full academic courseload. You should always consult with your college or university DSO and counselor if you think it is necessary to reduce your courseload.

Change of visa status

    Certain nonimmigrants may apply for a change of status. Changes of status are made to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, either through travel or by application. A request to change visa status is not always approved.   Visa changes from J-1 exchange visitor to F-1 student or H-1B temporary worker in a specialty occupation are not always possible. Also, a change from a B-2 tourist visa to that of student (F-1 or J-1) is not easily accomplished. If you plan to enter the United States to be a student, you should apply for a student visa, not a tourist visa, and enter the United States with an approved I-20 or IAP-66. Any application for change of visa status should be discussed with your DSO, the office of the dean of students, or a qualified U.S. immigration lawyer.


    If you wish to transfer schools, you should check with your DSO, or dean of students. When first entering the United States for study, J-1 exchange visitor students must proceed to the school whose name appears on the IAP-66.  All transfers should involve your DSO or the dean of students at both institutions. Failure of this transfer process will result in the student being out of status and losing his or her visa. Part-time employment on or off campus may be authorized for J-1 exchange visitors.   Full-time employment may be authorized during the J-1s vacation periods. Employment for J-1s may be authorized under terms of a scholarship or fellowship. No authorization for this type of employment is required.

Practical training

    Practical training for J-1s may be authorized within 30 days of degree program completion for up to 18 months in the aggregate if the student is (1) in the United States primarily to study rather than to engage in academic training; (2) participating in academic training directly related to his or her major field of study at the post-secondary institution listed on the IAP-66; (3) in good academic standing; and (4) the training is authorized in advance in writing by the DSO. J-1s may have more than one employer, if the DSO approves.

    WARNING:  If you work without authorization, you will lose your student visa. Students who wish to remain in the United States should be particularly careful not to do anything that is not permitted by their visa.

    Long-term employment following graduation must be applied for in advance and takes some planning. Many international students obtain offers of temporary employment and apply for H (temporary worker) visas, usually good for three years. Some receive offers of permanent employment following graduation and apply for lawful permanent resident status ("green card") based upon the employer's offer of permanent employment. Both of these processes take careful coordination Ä particularly if the student seeking an H (temporary worker) visa really wants to get a "permanent" job and a "green card."
    The employment rules concerning the latter process are very strict. You should consult a qualified immigration lawyer to learn how the process works. Over the years, the "212(e) waiver," as it is called, has become more difficult to obtain. For example, those J-1s who wish to change to L (intracompany transferee) status may not do so under any circumstances. The two-year foreign residency requirement applies to those J-1 exchange visitors whose exchange programs are financed by their home government or by the U.S. government, their skills have been determined by the USIA to be in short supply in their home countries, or exchange programs involve graduate medical education or clinical training.

Waivers of the two-year home residency requirement

    Waiver requirements include proof that departure of the J-1 visaholder would cause an exceptional hardship to the U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien spouse or child, or would result in persecution to the J-1 exchange student on the basis of his race, religion, or political opinion. Waivers of the two-year foreign residency requirement may also be available to certain exchange visitors whose home country government indicates no objection to the alien's not returning, or where an interested U.S. government agency recommends the waiver as being in the national interest. If you J-1 exchange program was sponsored, either in whole or in part, by the U.S. government, your occupation is not on your country's exchange visitor skills list, or you are receiving graduate medical education or training, you may be eligible to apply for a 212(e) waiver of the two-year foreign residency requirement.
    You may contact the Immigration Law Center at (334) 832-9090, if you need help to get a waiver of the two-year foreign residency requirement. Any application for a visa or a waiver should be discussed with a qualified U.S. immigration lawyer.
    If you marry a U.S. citizen while you are here, or you find a permanent, full-time job and are able to undergo labor certification and your employer is able to get an employment-based immigrant visa approved for you before are required to leave the United States, you should remain here, and not leave without express permission of the INS, until you have filed for adjustment of status and completed your interview at the INS district office that has jurisdiction over your place of residence. If you must leave the United States, you should ask the INS for permission to leave so that you can preserve your continuous residence in the United States for immigration purposes.

    WARNING Family and friends are good sources of bad information about immigration law and procedures. You should find and hire a qualified immigration lawyer to guide you and help you with a change in visa status or immigrant visa. If you do not know a qualified immigration lawyer, call your state's bar association or the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) at (202) 216-2400.

    Boyd F. Campbell is a member of the American Bar Association (ABA) and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).  He served as Chair of the Immigration Law Committee of the ABA's General Practice / Solo and Small Firm Lawyers Section and was a member of the ABA's Coordinating Committee on Immigration Law from 1994 to 1998.  He is also a member of the ABA's International Law Section.  Mr. Campbell served as Chair of the International Law Section of the Alabama State Bar from 2000 to 2002.  In August, 2001, he was appointed Alabama's first practicing civil law notary by the Alabama Secretary of State.  He is listed in The Best Lawyers in America Consumer Guide, published by Woodward/White, Inc.  Best Lawyers is a subscription service available on the World Wide Web at

Questions or comments about this article may be directed to:
Immigration Law Center, L.L.C.
P.O. Box 11032
Montgomery, Alabama  36111-0032  USA

Telephone:  (334) 832-9090

NAVIGATION:  Back to the Immigration Law Center Home Page:  CLICK HERE