Effective immediately, U.S. Embassies and Consulates will adjudicate visa applications that are based on a same-sex marriage in the same way that we adjudicate applications for opposite gender spouses. Please reference the specific guidance on the visa category for which you are applying for more details on documentation required for derivative spouses. For further information, please see our FAQ’s.
Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Exchange visitor (J-1) visas are nonimmigrant visas for individuals approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States.
Exchange Visitors cannot travel on the Visa Waiver Program or with Visitor Visas - Exchange visitors who are citizens of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) participating countries are not permitted to travel without a visa on the VWP, if their purpose of travel is to participate in an exchange visitor program, as explained below. For more information on the VWP, see Visa Waiver Program. Exchange visitors are not permitted to travel on business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas if their purpose is to participate in an exchange visitor program. All exchange visitors must travel to the United States with exchange visitor (J-1) visas.
Acceptance in Exchange Visitor Program - Before you can apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for a J-1 visa, you must first apply for and be accepted into an exchange visitor program through a designated sponsoring organization. Visit the Department of State J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program website to learn about program requirements, regulations, and more.
When you are accepted into the exchange visitor program you plan to participate in, you will be enrolled in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Most J-1 Exchange Visitors must pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee. Visit the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) website to learn more about SEVIS and the SEVIS I-901 Fee.
There are several steps to apply for a visa. The order of these steps and how you complete them may vary at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you apply. Please consult the instructions available on the embassy or consulate website where you will apply.
While interviews are generally not required for applicants of certain ages outlined above, consular officers have the discretion to require an interview of any applicant, regardless of age.
|If you are age:||Then an interview is:|
|13 and younger||Generally not required|
|14-79||Required (some exceptions for renewals)|
|80 and older||Generally not required|
You must schedule an appointment for your visa interview, generally, at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where you live. You may schedule your interview at any U.S. Embassy or Consulate, but be aware that it may be difficult to qualify for a visa outside of your place of permanent residence.
Wait times for interview appointments vary by location, season, and visa category, so you should apply for your visa early. Review the interview wait time for the location where you will apply:
Gather and prepare the following required documents before your visa interview:
You must read the Legal Rights and Protections pamphlet to learn about your rights in the United States and protection available to you. Review this important pamphlet before applying for your visa.
Review the instructions for how to apply for a visa on the website of the embassy or consulate where you will apply. Additional documents may be requested to establish if you are qualified. For example, additional requested documents may include evidence of:
Evidence of your employment and/or your family ties may be sufficient to show the purpose of your travel and your intent to return to your home country. If you cannot cover all the costs for your travel, you may show evidence that another person will cover some or all costs for your travel.
During your visa interview, a consular officer will determine whether you are qualified to receive a visa, and if so, which visa category is appropriate based on your purpose of travel. You will need to establish that you meet the requirements under U.S. law to receive the category of visa for which you are applying.
Ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken as part of your application process. They are usually taken during your interview, but this varies based on location.
After your visa interview, your application may require further administrative processing. You will be informed by the consular officer if further processing is necessary for your application.
When the visa is approved, you will be informed how your passport with visa will be returned to you. Review the visa processing time, to learn how soon your passport with visa will generally be ready for pick-up or delivery by the courier.
When you agree to participate in an Exchange Visitor Program and your program falls under the conditions explained below, you will be subject to the two-year home-country physical presence (foreign residence) requirement. This means you will be required to return to your home country for two years at the end of your exchange visitor program. This requirement under immigration law is based on Section 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Two-year Home-country Physical Presence Requirement Conditions - An exchange visitor is subject to the two-year home-country physical presence requirement if the following conditions exist:
Restrictions - When you, as an exchange visitor are subject to the two-year home-country physical presence requirement, you must return to your home country for a cumulative total period of at least two years before you can do any of the following:
Waiver of Two Year Home-Country Physical Presence Requirement - If you are not able to fulfill the home country presence requirement, you may be able to apply for a waiver. Select Waiver of the Exchange Visitor Two-Year Home-Country Physical Presence Requirement to learn more about this requirement and how to request a waiver.
A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry (generally an airport) and request permission to enter the United States. A visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the port of entry have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. If you are allowed to enter the United States, the CBP official will provide an admission stamp or paper Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record. Learn more about admissions and entry requirements, restrictions about bringing food, agricultural products, and other restricted/prohibited goods, and more by reviewing the CBP website.
Additional Information: Exchange visitors have an additional 30 days after the program end date listed on Form DS-2019 for domestic travel in the United States and/or to prepare for and depart the United States.
See Program Extension on the Department of State Exchange Visitor Program website to learn about requesting to extend your exchange visitor program beyond the date listed on your Form DS-2019.
Learn about maintaining your exchange visitor status on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement SEVP website under Maintaining Your Immigration Status While a Student or Exchange Visitor.
Failure to depart the United States on time will result in you being out of status. Under U.S. law, visas of travelers who are out of status are automatically voided (Section 222(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act). If you had a multiple entry visa and it was voided due to you being out of status, it will not be valid for future entries into the United States.
While in the United States, you may be able to request that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) change your nonimmigrant status to another nonimmigrant category. See Change My Nonimmigrant Status on the USCIS website to learn more.
Requesting a change of status from USCIS while you are in the United States and before your authorized stay expires does not require that you apply for a new visa. However, if you cannot remain in the United States while USCIS processes your change of status request, you must apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Exchange visitors are not permitted to enter the United States earlier than 30 days before their program start dates.
If you want to enter earlier than 30 days, you must qualify for, and obtain, a visitor visa. You would then enter the United States on the visitor visa and apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a change of status to exchange visitor (J) status. However, this is strongly discouraged because of potentially lengthy processing times with USCIS. You will not be permitted to begin your exchange program until the change of status is approved.
There are two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States. The J-1 exchange visitor visa is for educational and cultural exchange programs designated by the Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The Q-1 visa is for participation in certain international cultural exchange programs. These programs are designed to provide practical training and employment and allow program participants to share the history, culture, and traditions of their home countries in the United States. A person who wants to participate in an international cultural exchange program must be approved in advance by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on the basis of a petition filed by the U.S. sponsor.
Select Temporary Worker Visas to learn more.
Whether you are applying for the first time or renewing your visa, you will use the same application process (please review How to Apply, above). Some applicants seeking to renew their visas in certain visa classes may be eligible for the Interview Waiver Program (IWP) which allows qualified individuals to apply for visa renewals without being interviewed in person by a U.S. consular officer. Review the instructions on the website of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you will apply to determine if the IWP is available and if you qualify.
Review Visa Denials for detailed information about visa ineligibilities. denials, and waivers.
Yes, if you feel circumstances have changed regarding your application. Review Visa Denials to learn more.
Attempting to obtain a visa by the willful misrepresentation of a material fact, or fraud, may result in the permanent refusal of a visa or denial of entry into the United States.
Citizens of Canada and Bermuda do not require visas to enter the United States as students, although they must present a valid Form DS-2019 at the time of admission. For more information see information for Citizens of Canada and Bermuda.
Additional resources for Canadian visitors to the United States can be found on the U.S. Embassy and Consulate websites in Canada.