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Exchange Visitor Visas

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What Is an Exchange Visitor Visa?

Immigration laws currently provide two visa categories for exchange visitors to the United States.  These two visa categories are known as J Visas and Q Visas.  These “Exchange Visitor” visas allow nonimmigrant foreigners to participate in exchange programs for a short time in the United States.

J Visas are reserved for nonimmigrant aliens who will be participating in educational or cultural exchange programs approved by the Department of State, such as “study abroad” or student exchange programs.

Q Visas are generally reserved for foreign participants in international cultural exchange programs that have been approved or accredited by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Each of these two exchange visitor visa categories are associated with different requirements and eligibility factors.  Their availability may vary according to the year of application as well as the applicant’s country of origin.

What Are the Requirements for J Visa?

J Visas are reserved for participants in programs that are designed to enhance the exchange of knowledge, skill, and experience in the fields of art, science, and education.  Participants in J visa programs often include students, professors, teachers, researchers, and employees engaged in on-the-job training for certain companies.

To obtain a J Visa, the non-immigrant applicant must prove:

  • That they have sufficient funds to cover travel expenses
  • They have the required educational or vocational preparation for the particular program
  • They have a working knowledge of the English language
  • They have “binding ties” to their residence in their country of origin, which are ties sufficient enough to show that they will return to their country of origin
  • They will only stay in the U.S. temporarily in connection with the program

What Are the Requirements for Obtaining a Q Visa?

The requirements for obtaining a Q Visa are similar for the requirements for a J visa.  However, J visa applications tend to focus more on the individual applicant, whereas Q visa applications tend to focus more on the program that the person will be participating in.

To obtain a Q Visa, the applicant must demonstrate that:

  • They are at least 18 years of age
  • They have an employer who is willing to act as their paying sponsor
  • They have the ability to communicate in the English language effectively
  • They have “binding ties” to their residence in a foreign country and have no intentions of abandoning their country of origin
  • They will only be staying in the U.S. for a short time

With Q visas, the sponsor is crucial in the application process.  The sponsor must meet several different criteria that are set forth by the USCIS.  The program must be approved in advance, through the filing of Form I-129.  New programs must pass through an accreditation process, wherein the USCIS determines the nature and goals of the program. 

What Are Some Common Issues That Arise with Exchange Visitor Visas?

There are many different legal issues that can arise in connection with a J or Q Exchange Visitor Visa.  Some of these issues and concerns can include:

  • Traveling outside the U.S. after being admitted into the country on a J or Q visa
  • The process of having a cultural or educational program designated in connection with J or Q visas
  • Limits on the number of exchange visitor visas that may be issued in a particular year

If you have any questions or concerns regarding these related issues, you may wish to speak with an immigration lawyer immediately for advice.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Exchange Visitor Visas?

If you or an employee of yours will be applying for an exchange visitor visa, you may wish to consult with an immigration lawyer for further instructions.  Your attorney can help determine whether you are eligible for a J or a Q visa, and what steps you need to take to obtain one.  Also, if you are denied an application, your lawyer may be able to help you appeal your case if it is allowed.  

Photo of page author Kristen Johnson

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 05-20-2014 04:04 PM PDT

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