Exchange visitor visas permit nonimmigrant foreigners to participate in exchange programs for short periods of time in the United States. Immigration laws currently have two visa categories for exchange visitors coming to the United States.

The two categories are J visas and Q visas. Both of these visas are temporary in nature.

J visas are for nonimmigrant aliens who are participating in educational or cultural exchange programs that are approved by the Department of State. These include study abroad and student exchange programs.

Q Visas are typically reserved for foreign aliens who are participating in international cultural exchange programs. In most cases, these are programs that have been approved or accredited by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Both of these two exchange visitor visa categories have different requirements and eligibility factors. The availability of these visas may vary according to the year of application as well as the applicant’s country of origin.

What is a J Visa?

The purpose of a J visa is to promote the exchange of individuals, knowledge and skills in the fields of education, arts, and sciences. The J visa is popular among students who are obtaining medical degrees in the United States.

J visa participants may Include:

  • Students and teachers at any academic level;
  • Trainees who are obtaining on-the-job training or training in the field of medicine;
  • Professors conducting research or teaching at an institution; and
  • Visitors who are:
    • observing;
    • consulting;
    • conducting research;
    • training; or
    • sharing specialized knowledge or skills.

What are the Requirements for Obtaining a J Visa?

J visas are for applicants who are participating in programs that are designed to enhance the exchange of knowledge, skill, and experience in the fields of art, education, and science. 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 applicant must show that:

  • They have enough funds to cover their travel expenses;
  • They have the required vocational or educational preparation for the particular program;
  • They possess a working knowledge of the English language;
  • They have binding ties to their residence in their country of origin. These are ties which are sufficient enough to show that they will return to their country of origin; and
  • They will only stay in the United States temporarily in connection with the program.

If an applicant is coming to the United States for medical education or training they must pass the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination in Medical Services and speak English competently. Physicians who are using a J visa for the purpose of consultation, observation, teaching, or conducting research in a program where there is little to no patient care are not subject to the above mentioned requirements.

The spouse and minor children of a J visa holder may apply for a J-2 visa and accompany the J visa holder. The J-2 visa applicant must provide sufficient financial resources to cover their expenses in the United States. They may also apply for authorization from the USCIS to accept employment.

It is important to note that the J-2 visa holder’s employment cannot be used to support the J-visa holder. Their employment is limited to the duration of the J visa holder’s program or 4 years, whichever time is shorter.

What is a Q Visa?

A Q visa is used for the purpose of providing practical training and employment so long as there is a sharing of the history, culture, and traditions of the visa holder’s home country. Prior to applying for a Q visa, the applicant’s employer must obtain approval for their international cultural exchange program.

The international cultural exchange program must take place in a school, museum, or other location where the public may be exposed to the foreign culture. The cultural component must be an essential part of the Q visa holder’s employment or training. An attorney can assist an individual in obtaining approval of their cultural exchange program.

It is important to note that the Q visa does not include admission for an applicant’s spouse or minor children. There may, however, be other options available for the family members of the applicant, such as B-2 visas. A Q visa usually only lasts for 15 months are is not renewable.

What are the Requirements for Obtaining a Q Visa?

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

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

  • They are at least 18 years of age;
  • They have an employer that 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; and
  • They will only be staying in the United States for a short time.

The sponsor is crucial in the application process of a Q visa. The Q visa sponsor must meet several different criteria that are required by the USCIS. The program the applicant will participate in must be approved in advance. This is accomplished by completing Form I-129.

If a program that the applicant will participate in is new, it must pass an accreditation process. During this process, the USCIS will determine the nature and goals of the program.
The employer of the Q visa applicant must show that the holder of the Q visa will be paid a comparable wage and provided comparable working conditions. They must also demonstrate that they have the financial ability to pay that wage.

What are Some Common Issues that Arise with Exchange Visitor Visas?

There are many different legal issues that may arise in connection with a J exchange visitor visa or a Q exchange visitor visa. These may include:

  • The applicant traveling outside the U.S. after being admitted into the United States on a J or Q visa;
  • The process of having an educational or cultural program designated in connection with a J visa or a Q visa; and
  • A limit on the number of exchange visitor visas that may be issued in a particular year.

If an individual has any questions or concerns regarding these or any other issues related to a J visa or a Q visa, they should consult with an immigration attorney. An attorney will assist them during all steps of the application process.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Exchange Visitor Visas?

It is essential to have the assistance of an experienced immigration lawyer for any issues you may have regarding exchange visitor visas. If you or an employee of yours will be applying for an exchange visitor visa, your attorney can assist you every step of the way.

Your attorney can determine whether you are eligible for a J visa or a Q visa. They will also help you ensure your application is accurate and complete. If your application is denied, your lawyer can help you appeal your case, if an appeal is available.