Ask Sophie: What do I need to know about getting a J-1 exchange visa?

Here’s another edition of “Ask Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

TechCrunch+ members receive access to weekly “Ask Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie,

I just found out that I’ve been selected as a trainee in the J-1 exchange program.

I’m currently in the U.S. on a B-1/B-2 visitor visa. The sponsoring company would like me to start in August. I heard it can take several months to change my status to a J-1. Is there a way to get a J-1 faster?

Is there anything I should know about the J-1, particularly if I later decide to stay in the U.S. once the J-1 program ends?

— Techie Trainee

Dear Techie,

Congratulations on being selected as a J-1 educational and cultural exchange trainee!

The purpose of the J-1 is to exchange knowledge between countries. Check out my podcast that provides an overview of the J-1 as well as the waiver process. The J-1 visa is intended for people from around the globe to work or study in the U.S. and then take their newly acquired knowledge and skills back to their home country.

The Trainee J-1 usually lasts 18 months. Some J-1 holders are required to return to their home country for at least two years once your J-1 status ends. The waiver process can be particularly tricky. I recommend you consult an immigration attorney before you begin your program to confirm if you are subject to the two-year foreign residency requirement. They can also help you with any J-1 change of status or waiver application as necessary.

Good news: USCIS just rolled out premium processing for J-1 changes of status, shortening the process for individuals currently inside the United States!

Sophie Alcorn headshot

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

Keep in mind: non-immigrant intent

Most U.S. visas such as the B-1/B-2 for visitors, J-1 for exchange visitors, and F-1 for students require their holders to have non-immigrant intent: it’s your job to prove to the U.S. government that you plan to depart the United States at the end of your program. Evidence of immigrant intent—your intention to live permanently in the U.S. by obtaining a green card—is cause for immigration officials to deny your visa. Other factors, like having a U.S. citizen significant other, or stating that you are planning to work in the U.S. long-term, could also be interpreted as evidence of your immigrant intent.

For the J-1, you will need to demonstrate to immigration officials that you intend to eventually return to your home country by maintaining a residence in your country or showing you have ties to your country of residence. The reason the State Department administers this program is to promote the flow of knowledge around the world. (Remember, before the internet, we generally had to physically travel to share knowledge, information, and network with people in other countries!)

How to get a J-1

After you enroll in a program, it will issue you a Form DS-2019, which is the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status. Most people as of recently have been applying for new J-1 visas at the consulate and receive a multiple entry visa. The duration is based on whatever reciprocity agreements the State Department has in place with the government of your country of citizenship.

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