Applying for a J-1 visa can be confusing. Here's a list of steps to get you started.
A J-1 visa is a great way to study or even work in the US without applying for permanent residence. However, in order to qualify you generally need to be a participant in an Exchange Visitor Program approved by the Department of State. J-1 status has some nice perks over other student visas: J-1 students can work in the US for longer than F-1 students and their family members can work in the US too.
On the other hand, a disadvantage of J-1 status is that, generally, J-1 students need to leave the US for two years after completing their study (although there are cetain exceptions to this requirement). All in all, the J-1 visa is a great opportunity. If you're not sure whether you are a participant in an approved Exchange Visitor Program, ask your school or program before applying.
You must complete online Form DS-160 Application for Nonimmigrant Visa.
The application fee is $160 for a J-1 exchange visitor visa. Review the website of the US embassy or consulate where you will apply for instructions about fee payment. Be sure to keep the receipt from this fee payment because you will need it to schedule your visa interview.
You must also pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) I-901 fee, which is $180. The SEVIS I-901 fee is paid through the SEVIS I-901 Payment website.
When you complete your application online you will be required to upload a passport-style photograph of yourself. The file must be in JPEG format. You could also take an actual photo and have it scanned. Please be sure to follow the detailed Digital Image Requirements.
When you are accepted by the exchange visitor program you plan to participate in, the program will provide you with a Form DS-2019 or "Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status", to present to the consular officer when you attend your visa interview. The Form DS-2019 identifies you and your sponsor and provides a brief description of your program, including the start and end date, category of exchange, and an estimate of the cost of the exchange program.
This requirement only applies if you will be attending a training or internship program. If Box 7 on Form DS-2019 indicates that you will be a trainee or intern, you must also present Form DS-7002 Training/Internship Placement Plan, when you attend your visa interview.
When you attend your visa interview, you may be required to bring proof of financial ability to pay the costs of your tuition and living expenses as shown on the Form DS-2019. Check the website of the US embassy or consulate where you will apply for more details.
If you are already lawfully in the US in another status and you want to change status to the exchange visitor category instead of going abroad, you do not submit the DS-160 visa application as above. Instead you must file Form I-539 Application to change or extend your nonimmigrant status with a $290 filing fee, which must be a check or money order payable to the US Department of Homeland Security.
Also submit a copy of your current I-94 arrival departure record. If you entered the US after April 2013, you can obtain your I-94 number online. If you arrived other than by airplane and do not have an I-94 card, you must submit other proof of inspection and admission, such as a copy of a stamped page of your passport. Submit Form I-539 to the correct USCIS filing address.
Any document that you submit in a language other than English must be accompanied by a certified translation. The translator must attach a statement declaring that he or she is competent to translate and that the translation is accurate and complete. The certification format should include the certifier's name, signature, address, and date of certification.