The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States. The “J” visa is for educational and cultural exchange programs designated by the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, and the “Q” visa is for international cultural exchange programs designated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The “J” exchange visitor program is designed to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills in the fields of education, arts, and sciences. Participants include students at all academic levels; trainees obtaining on-the-job training with firms, institutions, and agencies; teachers of primary, secondary, and specialized schools; professors coming to teach or do research at institutions of higher learning; research scholars; professional trainees in the medical and allied fields; and international visitors coming for the purpose of traveling, observing, consulting, conducting research, training, sharing, or demonstrating specialized knowledge or skills, or participating in organized people-to-people programs.
The “Q” international cultural exchange program is for the purpose of providing practical training and employment, and the sharing of the history, culture, and traditions of the participant’s home country in the United States.
Participants in the “J”exchange visitor program must have sufficient funds to cover all expenses, or funds must be provided by the sponsoring organization in the form of a scholarship or other stipend. “Q” exchange visitors will be paid by their employing sponsor at the same rate paid to local domestic workers similarly employed.
“J” exchange visitors must have sufficient scholastic preparation to participate in the designated program, including knowledge of the English language, or the exchange program must be designed to accommodate non-English speaking participants. The “Q” exchange visitor must be at least 18 years old and be able to communicate effectively about the cultural attributes of his or her country.
Generally, Q applicants must have an employer sponsor in the United States actively conducting maintenance of an international cultural exchange program offering wages equivalent to local domestic workers; financial ability to do so must be demonstrated. The visa is of limited duration of 15 months or the duration of the program, whichever is shorter. Several qualifications apply which require careful attention.
A nonimmigrant temporarily enters the United States for a specific purpose. Exchange visitors are nonimmigrants (J-1 status) who participate in the Exchange Visitor Program. This program, which is administered by the Bureau of Consular Affairs, seeks to promote peaceful relations and mutual understanding with other countries through educational and cultural exchange programs. Accordingly, many exchange visitors entering the United States are subject to a requirement that they return to their home country to share with their countrymen the knowledge, experience and impressions gained during their stay in the United States. Unless USCIS approves a waiver for this requirement, exchange visitors must depart from the United States and live in their country of residence for two years before they are allowed to apply for an immigrant visa, permanent residence, or change to a new nonimmigrant status.
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