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The United States hosts nearly a million foreign students in academic, vocational and English learning programs. In fact, international education is considered one of the leading service sector “exports” of the United States. Many students return to their home countries and develop into national leaders in business, education, government and other walks of life. Others remain in the United States, for employment or family reasons, often becoming permanent residents and later citizens of the United States. International education is vital to United States national interests, both because of the partnerships that are developed with foreign students who return home, and because of the outstanding talent and energy provided by those students who choose to remain.
The most common student visa is the F-1, used for academic programs. The J-1 exchange visitor visa also has a category for exchange students and students with sponsored funding. The M-1 is used for vocational education. Generally, attorneys are not involved when students seek admission to a school, apply for student visas, or transfer between schools. In some cases, a student may need an immigration attorney’s help if the student has lost his or her immigration status, has been denied a visa, or needs to change immigration status in order to attend school. Otherwise, international student advising offices at the school or university provide advice to students about requirements to maintain student immigration status and work and travel considerations for foreign students.
The Exchange Visitor Program, and its associated J-1 visa, exist to enhance mutual understanding between citizens of the United States and other countries. The J-1 is administered by the U.S. Department of State, through numerous approved sponsors. A broad variety of categories exist within the exchange visitor program, including:
Each of the various categories has its own requirements, benefits and limitations. Attorneys are most often needed and involved in trainee and intern programs. Otherwise, the program sponsor is responsible to inform exchange visitors regarding the details of the visitor’s respective category of participation.
Qualifying individuals may receive on-the-job training for up to 18 months under the Exchange Visitor Program. A trainee is a foreign national who has a foreign degree or professional certificate plus one year of experience outside the United States, which relates to the training program, or a foreign national without such degree or certificate, with 5 years of related, foreign experience. A U.S. host employer is required, and a structured training plan must be in place. A variety of other requirements and limitations apply.
An intern is a student engaged in a postsecondary academic program outside the United States, participating in a structured internship program up to 12 months in duration. A variety of other requirements and limitations apply.
The Exchange Visitor Program goals are best met when the exchange visitor returns home to share his/her experiences with fellow citizens in the home country. For that reason, many J-1 exchange visitors are subject to a 2-year home residency requirement, that prohibits acquiring H-1B or L-1 employment visas for work in the United States, or acquiring lawful permanent residence (green card) in the United States, until the individual has been physically present in his/her home country for 2 years. It is important for anyone considering use of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program to understand whether the 2-year home residence requirement will apply to them, and if so, whether a waiver of the requirement is possible, in the event the individual seeks to remain in the United States in some other immigration status. See our page on J-1 waivers for more information.
Ostrom Law Office helps host employers, foreign students and exchange visitors meet their goals in appropriate cases. We have extensive experience with F-1 and J-1 visas, and have assisted many host employers in arranging J-1 training programs and plans, and evaluated many J-1 2-year home residence issues and waivers.
Based in Minneapolis, we assist clients worldwide who are seeking United States immigration advice. We encourage you to contact us if you need legal advice regarding F-1 or J-1 visas.