In order to qualify for the J-1 Exchange Visitors Visa, an alien who is a bona fide student, scholar, trainee, teacher, professor, research assistant, specialist, or leader in a field of specialized knowledge or skill, coming temporarily as a participant in a program designated by the Department of State for the purpose of teaching, instructing, lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, practical training, etc. in an approved exchange program, and the alien's spouse and minor children of such participant, are admissible in J-2 visa categories. Certain J-1 aliens, and their dependents, are required by law to return to their own country for a period of two years to impart the knowledge they have gained in the U.S. before they may apply for H or L visas, or status as immigrants, unless a waiver of such two year period is granted. The J exchange visitors subjected to this two-year foreign residency requirement include doctors who receive post-graduate medical training in the U.S., trainees whose programs receive government funding, and any scholars or trainees whose exchange program is in a field designated by the home country as a skill set that country wishes to retain. The initial period of admission for a J nonimmigrant is as specified on the authorizing Form DS-2019 (formerly IAP-66) issued by the program sponsor, which varies according to the type of exchange program - up to three years for scholars, teachers and research fellows; up to 18 months for trainees.
The status of J-1 exchange visitors and their programs is carefully monitored through the Department of Homeland Security’s interactive SEVIS database in much the same way as the status of F-1 students.
J-1 trainees must have completed a Bachelor’s degree abroad and have one year experience in the field or have five years experience in the field. Individuals who graduated from U.S. colleges and universities are NOT eligible for J-1 visa status unless they have another foreign degree or which the training is based. J-1 status may also be granted for an “internship” for a period of 12 months to a foreign national who completed a Bachelor’s degree abroad within the past 12 months.