The J-1 classification, otherwise known as an exchange visitor program, is a nonimmigrant visa category available to foreign nationals who desire to participate in an approved work- and study-based program in the United States.

Each year, about 300,000 J-1 visas are issued to applicants from different countries around the world. Examples of qualified J-1 applicants include, but are not limited to:

  • Scholars or professors
  • Research assistants
  • Trainees
  • Students
  • Au Pairs (caregivers)
  • Specialists
  • Teachers
  • Camp counselors

See the USCIS information about exchange visitors for more information on the J-1 visa application process, employment, and family members of J-1 visa holders.

J-1 Visa Interview

Getting to this stage means you have successfully completed the preliminary stages of your J-1 application, which include acceptance into an exchange visitor program, completion of the application forms, and the availability of your SIVES-generated DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status. Therefore, the next step is to schedule an interview.

Schedule Your J-1 Visa Interview

Generally, all visa applicants are required to attend an interview as part of their J-1 application process at a U.S. embassy or consulate. The few exceptions to this are minors who are younger than 13 and those who are 80 years old and older. So, as an applicant, if you are between the ages of 14 and 79, you should prepare for a J-1 visa interview.

You will likely need to schedule your visa interview appointment at the U.S. embassy located in the country where you permanently reside. Although visa applicants aren’t restricted from attending an interview outside the country where they live, it may be challenging to qualify for a visa in another country.

You will have to wait for some time after scheduling your interview before the interview takes place. The wait times between the schedule and the actual interview vary depending on your location, the time you apply, and the workload at the embassy. To avoid missing the start date for your J-1 visitor program in the U.S., ensure that you schedule your visa interview early to have enough time before the commencement of the program.

Pay Your Visa Application Fee

Before the interview, you will need to pay a non-refundable application fee of $160. If you are participating in a U.S. government-sponsored J-1 program, such as a program in the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of State, or an educational or cultural exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, you and your dependents included in the application are not required to pay the visa application and visa issuance fees.

For this fee, ensure that you print a copy of the receipt because you will need it at the interview. Speak with your immigration attorney for the full fees and cost of the exchange visitor program application process.

Prepare the Required Documents

Going into the interview unprepared or without the necessary documents will not only cause you to seem not serious about your visa, but it will also likely result in a delay in your application and may lead to missing the start date for your program.

You need to avoid this by going through the checklist for the J-1 visa application and gathering the required documentation. Generally, the following are the required documents for the J-1 visa interview:

  • Passport: Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your intended period of stay for your J-1 visitor program. If you are applying with your family members, each person must submit a passport with the same stipulations.
  • Confirmation Page of Your DS-160: The nonimmigrant visa application is filled and submitted online. However, you will need to print the confirmation page with the barcode and take it to the interview.
  • Payment Receipt: If you paid the application fee.
  • One 2×2 Photograph: When filling your DS-160, you will be asked to upload your photo. However, if you were not able to upload the photo online, you will need to bring it to the interview. The photograph must be according to these particular specifications.
  • Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor: You and your family members traveling with you will be provided with a SEVIS-generated DS-2019 form by your program sponsor, which you will need to bring to your interview.
  • The DS-7002, Training/Internship Plan: If your exchange program falls under the J-1 trainee and intern categories, you will also need to bring the form to your interview.
  • The original copy of your interview appointment letter
  • Original copies of your certificates or transcripts
  • Ties to Your Home Country: You will be required to demonstrate to the consular officer that you have the intention of returning to your home country after completing your program. The USCIS seeks to avoid giving J-1 visas to applicants who have the intention of abandoning their home country and living permanently in the U.S.There is no universal way of demonstrating these ties. Therefore, each applicant’s evidence of home ties will depend on how well they are able to convince the immigration officers of their willingness to return home upon the completion of their program. However, evidence that you have loved ones, employment, property, and other home-based ties will help.
  • Evidence of Financial Ability to Pay for Your Travel and Program: You will need to demonstrate that you have sufficient funds to pay for your J-1 visitor program. Some of the documents required to prove this include bank statements, employment letters, pay slips, and tax returns for the past three years.If you were given a scholarship, the scholarship paperwork should also be provided at the interview. If you are going to be financially supported by your parents or a family member, you will need to bring the necessary documents to show that the person can cover the cost of the program.

Attend Your J-1 Visa Interview

When the date for your interview arrives, ensure you arrive early enough before the appointment time. Many visa applicants get restless and disorganized when attending the consulate interview, which can only hurt your case—it is just an interview and not interrogation

The primary purpose is for the consular officer to interact with you to help confirm your eligibility for the program you have applied for and to be sure you are not inadmissible to the U.S. based on health grounds or criminal activities. All things being equal, the whole process will only take between 20 and 30 minutes.

Be very honest while answering the interview questions as any detection of falsehood may lead to visa denial and total forfeiture of your intended J-1 program. As part of your application process, you will need to undergo ink-free, digital fingerprint scans. Depending on the location, many embassies conduct the scan during the interview.

After the interview, the consular officer may require further administrative processing of your application, if this is necessary in your own case, you will be duly informed. If your visa application is approved after the whole process, arrangements will be made on how you will get your approved visa and the passport you submitted. Nationals of some countries are also required to pay a visa issuance fee after their visa has been approved.

J-1 Visa Interview Questions to Expect

Generally, the interview questions will be about your personal information and your intended program. You can expect questions such as:

  • What program are you applying to?
  • Why did you choose the United States and not other countries?
  • What are your academic qualifications?
  • Which university did you graduate from or gain admission to study?
  • When did you apply for the program?
  • What is your placement fee?
  • Are you traveling with your family members or friends?
  • Do you have relatives based in the U.S.?
  • What are your plans after completing your J-1 program?

Tips for J-1 Visa Interview

  • Be civil all through the interview; don’t argue with the consular officer
  • Be concise in answering the questions
  • Never give the impression that you are going to prioritize employment over your study in the U.S. This may portray you as someone who intends to abandon his or her home country.
  • If you are leaving dependents in your home country, be ready to explain how their needs will be met in your absence.

J-1 Visa Application Denial

The consular officer may deny your J-1 visa application after the interview if he or she isn’t convinced about your eligibility for the program; if you fail to provide all of the information required; or you are considered to be inadmissible to the U.S. due to your current and/or past actions, such as criminal and drug cases. If you are denied a J-1 visa, you may have the option of reapplying in the future or appealing the decision. Consult an immigration attorney for advice before taking further action on a denied visa.

How VisaNation Law Group Can Help

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Applying for a visa is an investment of time, energy, and money. The best way to protect this investment is to ensure your interview goes right. VisaNation Law Group has a team of experienced immigration lawyers that have helped many foreign nationals file and acquire their J-1 visas. 

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