J-1 visas are for those who have been accepted into an exchange visitor program designated by the U.S. Department of State. Exchange visitor programs are designed to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills in the fields of education, arts, and sciences. There are many categories of exchange visitors, including: students in secondary schools, colleges, or universities; trainees obtaining on-the-job training at firms, institutions, or agencies; teachers at primary, secondary, or specialized schools; professors (to teach) and research scholars (to conduct research) at institutions of higher learning; physicians in the medical and allied fields; government visitors; international visitors; internship for college/university students or recent graduates; camp counselors; summer work travel for college/university students; specialists in certain fields; and au pairs (nannies).
Before applying for a J-1 visa, you must first apply for and be accepted into one of these exchange visitor programs. Please visit the following U.S. Department of State website for details: http://j1visa.state.gov/programs.
If you are eligible for a J-1 visa, your dependent family members---spouse and children (under 21 and unmarried)---are eligible to J-2 visas. Once admitted into the U.S., dependents in J-2 status may apply to USCIS for employment authorization (a work permit) so that s/he can legally accept employment and work in the U.S.
How to apply
Generally, you and your dependents have to submit:
1. On-line Non-immigrant Visa Application (DS-160) for each person;
2. Visa application fee for each person (if applicable; depends on the type of exchange visitor program);
3. Valid passport and photos for each person;
4. Form DS-2019 for each person;
(---> Form DS-2019 is a Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status, generated by the SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) and provided by your program sponsor to each of you and your dependents)
5. Form DS-7002 (if participating in a trainee or an intern category);
6. Receipt for payment of SEVIS I-901 fee;
7. Documents showing the purpose and plan of your travel;
8. Documents showing you have enough funds to cover your and your dependents' travel and stay in the U.S.;
9. Documents supporting your intent that you will depart the U.S. and return to your home country when your studies are completed; and
10. Documents proving your family relationship (if applying for J-2 visas as well).
Employment while in J-1 status depends on the category/terms of the program you are participating in. If your exchange visitor program provides for on-the-job training, teaching, research, or other activities which involve paid employment, you may accept such employment within the terms of the program. Participants in programs which do not involve paid employment may not accept employment in the U.S.
Foreign Residency Requirement
If you are a J-1 exchange visitor and fall under one of the following three categories, you must, at the end of your exchange visitor program, return to your home country and physically reside there for a cumulative total period of at least two years before you can apply for a temporary worker visa (H), an intracompany transferee visa (L), a fiance/fiancee visa (K), or an immigrant visa:
1. The program is financed, in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, by the U.S. government or the government of your nationality or last residence;
2. You entered the U.S. to receive graduate medical education or training; or
3. You are a national or permanent resident of a country that has deemed the field of specialized knowledge or skill necessary to the development of the country, as shown on the Exchange Visitor Skills List fount at: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/study-exchange/exchange/exchange-visitor-skills-list.html.
If you fall under one of these three categories but cannot fulfill the two-year home-country physical-presence requirement, you may be able to apply for a waiver. Please visit the following link for details: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/study-exchange/student/residency-waiver.html.