The J-1 visa program (J-1) or Exchange Visitor Program, according to the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services, is authorized for nonimmigrant aliens who intend to participate in an approved program for the purpose of teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, receiving training, or to receive graduate medical education or training. These programs are designed to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge and skills in education, arts and science. Spouses of J-1 visa recipients may also work any job without restriction once an approved I-766 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is issued.
In carrying out the responsibilities of the Exchange Visitor Program, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) designates public and private entities to act as exchange sponsors. J-1 nonimmigrant aliens are screened and selected by an exchange program sponsor and awarded the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status (Form DS-2019).
The J-1 visa program masquerades as a “cultural exchange” program whereby nonimmigrant aliens can enter the U.S. to gain “valuable experiences” to take back to their home countries. In reality, the program is a gateway for young nonimmigrant aliens to work in the U.S. as “interns” for corporations, seasonal workers in the hospitality and service industry, and au pairs for wealthy families while having no legal labor protections.
Because the DOS classifies J-1 recipients as cultural exchange study-abroad students, there is no labor oversight. This results in the visa program functioning as an unregulated pipeline for cheap, temporary, foreign labor to the enrichment of the hospitality and tourism industries. There is no legal requirement for sponsors to demonstrate that they first tried hiring qualified American workers before sponsoring a nonimmigrant alien for a J-1.
The U.S. government has also invited foreign doctors to participate in medical residency programs using the J-1. Upon completing their medical residency, most switch to an H-1B visa and later apply for permanent residency (Green Card). The original intent was to provide a means by which foreign doctors could gain more formal training and skills in a U.S. medical residency program that would ultimately benefit their home countries. Unfortunately, the majority never return to their home countries.
The nonimmigrant alien visa recipients are required to return to their home country for two years at the end of their programs. A waiver application process does exist. To the detriment of American physicians, the American Medical Association promotes the waiver process on their website and has adopted policy and continues to support legislation that will ensure international physicians, students and residents can practice medicine and obtain their medical training in the U.S.
J-1 Visa Stats
- An estimated 300,000 J-1 visas are issued each year.
- More than 12,000 Exchange Visitor Physicians were sponsored by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates in 2019.
- Canada, India and Pakistan had the most physicians sponsored in 2019.
- The leisure and hospitality sector is the largest employer of J-1 visa holders.