If you’re reading this then you’re probably thinking of relocating to the USA one day and in order to make the move, you will need to obtain a U.S. visa. With all the bureaucracy and different types of visas, the process of getting it can be quite challenging and also confusing. That’s why I’ve decided to share with you a how-to guide for J-1 visa application and make your life easier. When I moved to Chicago , my best option at that time was to get this type of visa and I have the most experience with it so in this blog post the focus is mostly on J-1.
I will also provide some general information for other types of visas and shortly talk about green cards. Moreover, you will find everything you need to know about the requirements for U.S. visa, how much are the fees, and what do you need for a visa appointment at U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
You have to be aware of the fact that for J-1 visa the processing time is between 2-3 months, so you can plan your move according to this. If you decide to apply for H-1B visa(for persons who have been employed in highly specialized fields) it can take 6 months or even longer to finish up the whole process.
1. Types of U.S. visas
In order to apply for a U.S. visa you will have to learn the specifics for different countries. You can use this Visa Guide to find the right information for your country.
There are different types of visas. Most common nonimmigrant are business/tourist, work, student and exchange visitor visas:
Business/tourist visa = visitor visa for people traveling to the United States temporarily for business (B-1) or for pleasure or medical treatment (B-2)
Work visa = H-1B (specialty occupation, if you are coming to the United States to perform services in a pre-arranged professional job) and H-1B1 (treaty-based temporary work visas)
Student visa = F-1 Visa (if you want to attend U.S. college or university, private secondary school, or approved English language program) and M-1 Visa (if you applied to non-academic or vocational study or training at a U.S. institution)
Exchange visitor visa = J-1 (foreign citizens who want to come to the U.S. to be a part of exchange programs)
2. What excatly is the J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program
The J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program is specifically prepared for non-U.S. citizens who want to learn about American culture and exchange skills and knowledge in art, education, and science. They are given the opportunity to work, learn, teach, or consult in the U.S. Basic requirement for this type of visa is to have a sponsor who will prepare and guide you through the whole process. I chose Cultural Vistas and I will talk more about them in the following steps. You will also need sufficient proficiency in the English language and medical insurance. Sponsors will help you with the insurance and verify if it meets the regulatory requirements.
There are 13 different categories in for J-1 visa:
College and University Students Teachers
Secondary School Students
Summer Work Travel Program
I was doing an internship in Chicago, that’s why this type of visa made the most sense and as you can see, there are many options under J-1. So, for example, if you want to teach in the U.S. or maybe work as an Au Pair you can definitely apply for a J-1.
3. Finding a J-1 Sponsor
If you want to apply for J-1 visa, you will first have to find a sponsor. Sponsor is an organization who will guide you through this whole process and provide you with the relevant documents. I’ve decided to go with Cultural Vistas, but they are only specialized for interns. So if you get an internship in the U.S, I would recommend choosing them. They were really helpful and nice from the very beginning and made this whole journey way easier. If you want to check out the other options you can take a look at this Exchange Visitor website, where you can choose between a lot of different organizations. Check out also some reviews and feedback from others, who already went through this process and make sure you choose the sponsor who will support and navigate you from the beginning to the very end and will answer all of your questions.
When I started the application process, I was in contact with Cultural Vistas on a daily basis and we were staying in different time zones, but they have always responded to my emails on the same day and made sure everything was running smoothly.
4. DS-2019 and DS-160 online application form
After you find the sponsor and connect with them, you will have to obtain a DS-2019 form. DS-2019 is also known as Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status. The form is issued by the U.S. Department of State and you will need it for your visa appointment at the Embassy. This form is issued by the chosen sponsor and all the information will be prefilled by them, so you won’t have to worry about it.
Besides getting the DS-2019, you will also have to apply for DS-160 form. I know, there are a lot of different documents that you need and it may sound complicated but it actually isn’t. For the DS-160 you will have to complete an application online and you can do it here https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/. This form is also one of the requirements for your Embassy appointment. DS-160 is an online nonimmigrant application and all visa applicants have to submit one so the Consular officers can determine whether you’re eligible for a nonimmigrant visa.
5. Paying the fees
The next step is to pay for all the fees. You will have to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee, which is an automated system that tracks exchange visitors in the U.S. If you choose Cultural Vistas as your sponsor the SEVIS fee costs about $220 (around 200 euros). You will also need to cover the cost of Embassy appointment, which is usually $160 (140 euros). All the participants are required to have medical insurance and with Cultural Vistas they offer two different options, standard package for $55/month or enhanced for $95/month.
6. Visa appointment at U.S. Embassy or Consulate
When you have all the documents ready, then you can schedule an appointment at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country. You will probably have to wait for at least 1-2 weeks because they are usually really busy. If your internship start date is really close you should check if you’re eligible for an emergency appointment. For your appointment you will need:
DS 2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status
A Training/Internship Placement Plan, Form DS-7002 (you will also get this from your sponsor)
Online Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application, Form DS-160
A passport that is valid for at least 6 months after your internship ends
One (1) 2x2 inch photograph
Proof of funds (potentially)
The interview for J-1 Visa usually lasts around 15 minutes. You will have to answer a bunch of questions, for example, why have you decided for this program, where are you going to stay, what type of work you’ll be doing and so on. It’s important to know that you have to demonstrate you have no intention of abandoning your home country and you’re going to the U.S. just for a temporary period.
7. What is a Green Card
I’ve noticed that a lot of people who are interested in moving to the U.S., they want to know more about the Green Card and if you’re eligible to get it. Having a Green Card allows you to work and live permanently in the U.S. In order to apply for it you have to be eligible under one of the different categories. For example, if you’re an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, you definitely have the chance to get it. You may also apply if you’re an immigrant worker who has extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, or you’re an outstanding professor or researcher.
If you’re a religious worker an