As an exchange visitor, you’ll need a J-1 visa to enter the United States. To obtain a J-1 visa you must visit a US Embassy or Consulate. It is not possible to obtain a visa from within the United States. It is important to note that US Embassies have different visa application procedures for scheduling a visa appointment and may include unique document requirements.
NOTE for Canadian Citizens: A J-1 visa is not required to enter the US. However, I-901 SEVIS fee payment is required and must be shown to the Port of Entry (POE) officer upon entry to the US.
Step 1: Obtain a DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility) from USC
Step 2: pay the SEVIS Fee
Step 4: Enter the US with J-1 visa*
*Travel Note: You may enter the US 30 days prior to your DS-2019 start date. If you plan to arrive late, you may enter no more than 15 days from your DS-2019 start date. After 15 days, you will need an amended DS-2019 from OIS. Please review the Delayed Arrivals and Cancellations section of the OIS J-1 webpage for more information.
Documents required for obtaining a J-1 visa
- Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor J-1 Status)
- Invitation letter from program or school
- A receipt of the I-901 SEVIS Fee payment
- Proof of Funding (Invitation letter may serve as proof of funding if Exchange Visitor is paid by USC)
- Form DS-160 (On-line Application form for a non-immigrant visa)
- Non-immigrant visa application processing fee
- Other documents requested by the US Embassy or Consulate
For more information, visit the US Department of State’s website for J-1 Visa Application Instructions.
Interview Tips for VISA Appointment
Ties to Your Home Country
Under US law, all applicants for non-immigrant visas are viewed as intending immigrants until they can convince the consular officer that they are not. You must therefore be able to show that you have reasons for returning to your home country that are stronger than those for remaining in the United States. “Ties” to your home country are the things that bind you to your home town, homeland, or current place of residence: job, family, financial prospects that you own or will inherit, investments, etc.
Anticipate that the interview will be conducted in English and not in your native language. One suggestion is to practice English conversation with a native speaker before the interview, but do NOT prepare speeches!
Speak for Yourself
Do not bring family members with you to the interview. The consular officer wants to interview you, not your family.
Know the Program and How It Fits Your Career Plans
If you are not able to articulate the reasons you will pursue a particular program in the United States, you may not succeed in convincing the consular officer that you do not plan to immigrate. You should also be able to explain how your J-1 appointment in the United States relates to your future professional career when you return home.
Because of the volume of applications received, all consular officers are under considerable time pressure to conduct a quick and efficient interview. They must make a decision, for the most part, on the impressions they form during the first minute of the interview. Consequently, what you say first and the initial impression you create are critical to your success. Keep your answers to the officer’s questions short and to the point.
It should be immediately clear to the consular officer what written documents you are presenting and what they signify. Lengthy written explanations cannot be quickly read or evaluated. Remember that you will have 2-3 minutes of interview time, if you are lucky.
Not All Countries are Equal
Applicants from countries suffering economic problems or from countries where many nationals have remained in the United States as immigrants will have more difficulty getting visas. Statistically, applicants from those countries are more likely to be intending immigrants. They are also more likely to be asked about job opportunities at home after their stay in the United States.
Dependents Remaining at Home
If your spouse and children are remaining behind in your country, be prepared to address how they will support themselves in your absence. If your family does decide to join you at a later time, it is helpful to have them apply at the same post where you applied for your visa.
Maintain a Positive Attitude
Do not engage the consular officer in an argument. If you are denied a visa, ask the officer for a list of documents he or she would suggest you bring in order to overcome the refusal, and try to get the reason you were denied in writing.
This list was compiled by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. NAFSA would like to credit Gerald A. Wunsch, Esq., 1997, then a member of the Consular Issues Working Group, and a former U.S. Consular Officer in Mexico, Suriname, and the Netherlands, and Martha Wailes of Indiana University for their contributions to this document. NAFSA also appreciates the input of the U.S. Department of State.