J1 & J2 Visas

The Exchange Visitor Visa

Author:
Immigration Attorney Kaushik Ranchod of the Ranchod Law Group in California

Applicants qualify for a J-1 & J-2 Exchange Visitor Visa if they are coming to the U.S. to participate in a program of studies, training, research, or cultural enrichment specifically designed by the United States Department of State (DOS). Individuals who qualify under this category are trainees, scholars, professors, teachers, medical graduates, students, and trainees.

J-2 Exchange Visitor Status

Like some other visa categories, such as H, L, R, etc., the J-1 exchange visitor visa also has a derivative visa status for the J-1 visa holder’s spouse and/or minor children (under age 21), known as the J-2 visa. However, unlike some visa categories with derivative status, the J-2 visa differs because the holder is allowed to work and can be subject to the home residency requirement.

The application procedure for J-2 status is the same as that for the J-1 primary visa applicant. When one applies for a J-1 visa, the exchange program sponsor must approve the accompaniment of the spouse and/or children. Once approved, each J-2 dependent, whether spouse or minor child, must have his or her own DS-2019, just as each has his or her own visa stamp and Form I-94 Departure Record. The spouse and children of a J-1 visa holder may apply for their J-2 visas at an embassy after the J-1 principal applicant has already traveled to the United States. The J-2 applicants must present the following at the embassy or consulate abroad: Form DS-2019 provided by the program sponsor;

Proof that the J-1 principal applicant is maintaining J visa status; Copy of the J-1 principal applicant’s visa; Proof of relationship to the J-1 principal applicant (marriage certificate, birth certificate, etc.); and Proof of finances to cover expenses in the U.S. Like J-1 visa holders, those with J-2 visas can enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the J-1 applicant’s exchange program start date. However, the J-2 dependents may not enter the U.S. before the principal J-1 has entered. The J-2 spouses and minor children of exchange holders can choose to accompany or follow to join the J-1 exchange visitor to the U.S. A J-2 spouse or holder seeking to engage in employment must obtain authorization from USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). This is done by submitting a completed Form I-765, the application for the Employment Authorization, with the correct fee to the USCIS office having jurisdiction over the J-1 applicant’s U.S. residence. J-2 spouses and dependents are only allowed to work if the money earned is used to support the family’s customary recreational and cultural activities. If the J-2’s income will be used to financially support the J-1 visitor, the application for employment authorization may be denied by USCIS. Those who accept unauthorized employment are in violation of status and can have their status terminated. A J-2 visa holder’s employment can be authorized for the duration of the J-1 principal’s authorized stay or for a period of four years, whichever is shorter. The employment authorization is valid only if the J-1 principal is maintaining his or her lawful status and the relationship to the J-1 visa holder (such as marriage) continues to exist. Once the application is approved, the J-2 holder may engage in any employment.

At the end of the exchange program, the visitor and his or her dependents are expected to return home to share their U.S. experiences. The exchange visitor and his or her dependents have up to 30 days from the end of the program to leave the U.S. This time restriction does not apply if the family has changed visa status or has received extensions of stay. Some exchange visitors are required to return to their home country for a minimum of two years upon completion of their exchange program, known as the home residency requirement. If this applies to a J-1 exchange visitor, then it will apply to his or her spouse or children. If the family would like to apply to waive the home residency requirement, the J-2 holders may be included in the J-1’s application.

There are several instances when a J-2 visa holder can apply for a waiver separately from the J-1 principal. In these cases, the U.S. State Department may sponsor the waiver. These exceptions include A J-2 spouse whose marriage to a J-1 exchange visitor has terminated by either death or divorce; or If a J-2 child marries, turns 21, or leaves the household.

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