According to the Department of State (DOS), the purpose of the J-1 Exchange Program is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the US and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchanges.

The exchange of visiting scholars promotes interchange of knowledge and skills, mutual enrichment, and stronger links between research and educational institutions in US and foreign countries.

Details on the J-1 Visiting Scholar program are broken into 3 sections:

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  1. Review all the important details in the program Overview
  2. Prepare for the Application process
  3. Understand how to Maintain Valid Status


  • J-1 Categories
  • J-1 visiting scholar appointments at Penn fall into one of the following categories:

    A professor teaches, lectures, observes, or consults  A professor’s primary activity will be teaching and lecturing, but may also conduct research, unless disallowed by the sponsor.”

    • Minimum stay of 3 weeks required 
    • Maximum stay of 5 years

    A research scholar conducts research, observes, or consults in connection with a research project. A research scholar may also teach or lecture, unless disallowed by the sponsor.

    • Minimum stay of 3 weeks required
    • Maximum stay of 5 years 

    A short-term scholar: comes to the US for a period of up to 6 months to lecture, observe,  or consult, and participate in seminars, workshops, conferences, study tours, professional meetings, or similar types of educational and professional activities.  

    • No minimum stay required
    • Maximum stay of 6 months (NOTE: no extensions beyond six months under any circumstances

    A specialist is a world-renowned expert in a field of specialized knowledge or skill who comes to the US to demonstrate his/her special knowledge/skills, observe or consult. 

    • Minimum stay of 3 weeks required
    • Maximum stay of 12 months
  • J-1 Appointments at Penn
    • J-1 scholar status is limited to those who hold university temporary, "visiting" academic positions. It cannot be used for tenure-track faculty positions, regular faculty or support positions, administrative positions, or staff positions.
    • Departments should check their own school's internal policy regarding appointments, positions, lengths, and restrictions (e.g. SOM's Visiting Scholar policy).  If unsure, please check with the school dean's office. 
    • Also, the J-1 program of Penn may not be used for clinical appointments to the School of Dental Medicine, the School of Veterinary Medicine, or UPHS hospitals.
    • Similarly, the J-1 program of Penn may not be used for foreign medical graduates (FMGs) who will be involved in clinical activities or for those receiving medical training.  
    • FMGs who wish to participate in clinical programs of graduate medical education or training cannot be sponsored by Penn's exchange visitor program.
    • The only exchange program authorized to sponsor FMGs as J-1 exchange visitors for internships, residencies, specialized clinical training, and in other positions involving more than incidental patient contact, is the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG).
  • Bars/Limitations for J-1 Professor and Research Scholar Categories
  • 12-Month Bar: A foreign national is ineligible to participate in a professor/research scholar exchange program if he/she has held any J nonimmigrant status within the 12-month period immediately preceding the start of the exchange program. This 12-Month Bar applies to J-2 dependents as well as J-1.  The following 3 exceptions exist:

    • J-1 transfers to Penn without any gap
    • Prior presence in J status in the US was of less than 6 months duration
    • Presence in J status as a Short-Term Scholar

    24-Month Bar (also known as the Two-Year Bar): An individual who participates in the Exchange Visitor Program as a J-1 Professor or Research Scholar becomes subject to the 24-Month Bar on "repeat participation" in those particular categories after completing his or her program even if the program lasts less than five years. DOS has taken the position that the 24-Month Bar will also apply to J-2 dependents of J-1 Professors or Research Scholars if the J-2 subsequently wishes to return as a J-1 Professor or Research Scholar.

  • Two-Year Home Country Residence Requirement
  • J-1 visiting scholars who have received funding from their home country government or the US government for J-1 program participation, or whose skills are deemed to be in short supply by their home country on the Skills List, must leave the US after J-1 program completion. Also known as 212(e), the two-year home country residence requirement does not apply to all, as many countries do not have a list of skills in short supply.

    Those who are subject must "reside and be physically present" in their "home" country for an aggregate of two years before being eligible for certain immigration benefits. For more information, click here.  

    If subject to the Two-Year Home Country Residence Requirement, one is not eligible to:

    • Change nonimmigrant status within the US from J to any other nonimmigrant category except A (diplomatic) and G (international organization) statuses
    • Receive an immigrant visa or for adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident (immigrant/green card) status
    • Receive an H visa for temporary workers and their dependents, or an L visa for intracompany transferees and their dependents.

    In some cases, this requirement may be waived upon recommendation of the home government or on other grounds. ISSS is not able to give detailed guidance on the waiver process; however, most information can be found via the link above. The final authority to grant the waiver lies with USCIS.

    Submission of a waiver application should be carefully timed. Once either a waiver approval notice (from USCIS) or a waiver recommendation (by DOS) is granted, the J-1 exchange visitor is no longer eligible for a program extension, etc. as s/he is no longer considered as a bona fide exchange visitor by the Department of State. S/he may, finish the current exchange program until the end date listed the DS-2019. 

  • Two-Year Home Country Residence Requirement, 12-Month & 24-Month Bar
  •   Two-Year Home Country Residence Requirement - 212(e) 12-Month Bar 24-Month Bar
    Who it affects May affect participants and their dependents in any category of J-1 Status including J-1 Professor, Research Scholar, Short-Term Scholar, Student, and J-2 dependents.

    J-1 scholars may be subject to the two-year home residence requirement if:
    • they received direct financial support from US or their home government
    • their home country is on the Skills List that includes their profession or field of research/study
    • their J Status is sponsored by ECFMG, Fulbright or other organizations
    Prospective J-1 Research Scholars or Professors who have been in the US in any J status (including J-2 status) except Short-Term Scholar for 6 months or more in the 12-month period immediately prior to the proposed start date of the new J-1 Research Scholar or Professor category. J-1 scholars and their J-2 dependents in the Research Scholar or Professor Category who have ended their previous programs and now seek to return in the J-1 Research Scholar or Professor Category.
    What is prohibited J Status holder is not eligible for H, L, K or immigrant (permanent resident) status and cannot apply for change of nonimmigrant status to any status within the US Prospective J-1 Research Scholar or Professor is not eligible to begin a new period of J status sponsorship for a period of 12 months (one year) after completion of any previous J program (except for Short-Term Scholar category). Scholar who has completed a program as a J-1 Research Scholar or Professor may not return to the US in J-1 Research Scholar or Professor Category for 24 months (2 years).
    What is not prohibited Scholars may be permitted to depart and return to the US in other nonimmigrant classifications, such as F-1 student, B-1/B-2 visitor, O-1 or TN prior to satisfying or waiving 212(e); may also return in another J-1 classification, if no bar applies. This bar does not prohibit entry to the
    U.S. in any other immigration categories.
    This bar does not prohibit entry to the US in any other immigration categories.
  • J-1 New Scholar Orientation/SEVIS Registration
  • Upon arrival at Penn all new J-1 Scholars are required to attend the New Scholar Orientation/SEVIS registration session. 

    • Sessions are held at ISSS weekly, on Mondays and Fridays at 10:30am
    • The sessions are usually one hour long, and we ask that the scholars arrive promptly on time.
    • Failure to attend the New Scholar Orientation session within 14 calendar days of the program start date on the DS-2019 will cause the scholar’s program to be automatically terminated, jeopardizing their legal status in the US.
    • Please notify ISSS via email if the J-1 scholar plans to arrive later than expected so that ISSS may defer the program start date on the DS-2019 to avoid SEVIS auto-termination.
  • Guidelines & Procedures for J-2 Dependents
    • The spouse and unmarried minor children (under 21 years of age) of the J-1 scholar are eligible for J-2 dependent status.
    • Each J-2 dependent must be in possession of own DS-2019.
    • When completing the J-1 Exchange Visitor Data Form provided by the J-1 scholar's hosting department, the J-1 scholar should fill in the section requesting information on any dependents accompanying him/her to the US.
    • When requesting a dependent DS-2019 after the scholar is in the US in J-1 status, he/she needs to submit the Request for Dependent I-20 or DS-2019 form with the appropriate financial funding information.
    • Once the dependent has the DS-2019 Form, he/she must either:
      • Apply for a US Entry Visa at the US Consulate overseas (except citizens of Canada & Bermuda). Gain J-2 status through entry to the US by presenting their dependent DS-2019, passport and US Entry Visa (accompanied by any supporting documents) at the US Port of Entry; OR
      • Apply for a Change of Status within the US (please meet with an ISSS advisor for further details)
    • J-2 dependents are eligible to apply for employment authorization from the USCIS as long as the employment is not for the purpose of supporting the J-1 scholar. See J-2 Work Permission.
    • The Department of State federally mandates all J-1 and J-2 status holders to carry adequate health insurance coverage. (Failure to comply will result in termination of the J program participation.)
    • J-2 children are permitted to enroll in elementary or secondary schools while in the U.S.  
    • Currently, there is no prohibition on J-2s engaging in post-secondary study full-time as long as the main reason for being in the US is to accompany the J-1. 
    • The duration of their study depends on the J-1’s period of stay.
    • If the J-1 scholar is eligible and applies for an extension of stay, the dependent's period of stay will automatically be extended.
    • A child may not continue to hold J-2 status upon reaching his or her 21st birthday.

What's Next?

Now that you have reviewed the program Overview, you can proceed to the Application guidelines and procedures.