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 scholars at Penn fall include 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: 3 weeks
    • Maximum:  5 years
    Research Scholar:

    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: 3 weeks
    • Maximum:  5 years
    Short-term Scholar:

    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:  6 months.  No extensions beyond six months will be permitted under any circumstances

    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: 3 weeks
    • Maximum:  1 year
  • J-1 Appointments at Penn
    • J-1 scholar status may NOT be used for tenure-track faculty positions, regular faculty or support positions, administrative positions, or staff positions.  It is limited to those who hold temporary, "visiting" academic positions.
    • Prior to requesting J-1 sponsorship from ISSS, 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 your school dean's office. 
    • NO CLINICAL APPOINTMENTS.  The  J-1 program may NOT be used for clinical appointments to the School of Dental Medicine, the School of Veterinary Medicine, or UPHS hospitals, or for foreign medical graduates (FMGs) who will be involved in clinical activities or for those receiving medical training.  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 Exchange Visitors
  • 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 stay in the US in  J status was for less than 6 months;
    • Presence in J status as a Short-Term Scholar.

    reside and be physically present

    24-Month 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"  as a professor or research scholar after completing his or her program even if the program lasts less than five years. 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.

    212(e) Two-Year Home Country Residence Requirement

    J-1 visiting scholars who have received funding from their home country government or the US government, or whose skills are on their home country’s Skills List, must leave the US after J-1 program completion.   Not all visitors will be subject to this requirement.

    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, the exchange visitor may NOT:  

    • Change to another non-immigrant status (except A or G) within the US.  The visitor may however, obtain a new non-immigrant visa by travelling abroad to a consulate;
    • 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.  Such waivers are the responsibility of the individual Exchange Visitor, and  ISSS is not able to give detailed guidance on the waiver process.  Detailed 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.

    Comparison Chart: 

    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 English Language Proficiency Requirements
  • J-1 Exchange Visitors must demonstrate English language proficiency by use of one of several established “objective measurements.”

    At Penn, this requirement may be met by one of the following options:

    1. An acceptable score on a recognized standardized English language test.
      • The exchange visitor must provide the test results directly to the host department, who will report them to ISSS during the application process.  For most degree and exchange students, this requirement will have already been met by the English language testing requirement of standard admission procedures.
      • Currently recognized tests and acceptable scores include the following:
      • TOEFL Internet Based Test

        (scores must be less than 2 years old)

        80 cumulative, min 18 speaking


        6 cumulative, min 6 speaking

        ACTFL OPI

        Intermediate High


        B2 overall, min 75 speaking




        Listening 400

        Reading 385

        Speaking 160

        Writing 150

        If you have scores from an alternative test that you believe may apply, please consult with ISSS before proceeding. Keep in mind that tests administered at an institutional level may not be accepted.

    2. Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) conducted by the English Language Program (ELP).
      • J-1 Exchange Visitors may satisfy this requirement by participating in an Oral Proficiency Interview conducted by Penn’s English Language Program.  The results of the interview will be provided directly to the sponsoring department who will report them to ISSS during the application process.

        For detailed information about the interview, please visit ELP’s website.

    3. Host Department Interview: 
      • Hosting departments may choose to conduct an interview on their own to determine whether or not the Exchange Visitor speaks English proficiently enough to successfully function in the Exchange Progam.  This interview may be conducted either in-person, via videoconference like skype or facetime, or by telephone if necessary.  The interview must be documented using the form found here.  The host department will determine internally who will be the best person to conduct such an interview.


    Exceptions may be made in the following cases:

    • The exchange visitor is a native speaker of English;

    • The exchange visitor has completed a degree at an English speaking institution;

    • The exchange visitor is transferring to Penn from an institution in the US;

    • The exchange visitor is already at Penn and would like to extend their program.

    • The exchange visitor has previously successfully completed his/her J-1 program without any language issue. 

  • Health Insurance
  • J-1 Exchange Visitors are required to have health insurance during the entirety of their stay.

    Willful failure to comply with these insurance requirements will result in termination of the Exchange Visitor's program.

    Insurance coverage must meet the following criteria:

    • The insurance must cover the entire period of participation in the Exchange Visitor program (i.e. from the DS-2019 program start date to the end date).
    • Medical benefits must provide a minimum of $100,000 per accident or illness.
    • Medical evacuation must be covered in the amount of $50,000, minimum. Medical evacuation is emergency transportation to the home country.
    • Repatriation must be covered in the amount of $25,000, minimum. Repatriation is the transportation of remains back to the home country in the unfortunate event of death.
    • The deductible must not exceed $500 per accident or illness.

    Penn's postdoctoral researcher insurance plan meets the DOS required health insurance coverage requirement for both J-1 scholars and their enrolled J-2 dependents.

    Some of Penn’s employee health insurance plans do not cover repatriation and medical evacuation; therefore, in these cases the J-1/J-2 should purchase supplemental insurance. Please see our Healthcare & Medical Insurance page for important information on choosing the right insurance.

What's Next?

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