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The J-1 Scholar Program

Categories within the J-visa program

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program encompasses 11 distinct and different categories, which have somewhat differing regulations.  The J scholar categories most prevalent on campus are:

The restrictions:

Use this as a checklist, to be sure the visa and the visitor are a good match.

• No Clinical Work:

The UW-Madison J-1 Scholar Program is only for non-clinical exchange participants. UW-Madison J-1 Scholars can only research, teach, observe or consult. A very limited amount of "incidental patient care" is permissible. Billing to a hospital or clinic is forbidden.

The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) is the only J-1 Program in the U.S. with the authorization from the U.S. Department of State to sponsor J-1 physicians in clinical training programs. For further information regarding the ECFMG, please refer to their website (

• No change of purpose:

J-1 Exchange Visitors are admitted to the U.S. to carry out a specified program or project. When the project or program has been completed, the Exchange Visitors are expected to return home to share their experience with their colleagues. The Exchange Visitor is unable to change the primary objective, as listed on the DS-2019 form, while in the U.S. For example, it is not possible to change from research scholar to student, nor from chemistry to history. A change to a different host department or lab is possible only if there would be no change in the initial objective. Under restricted circumstances, it is possible for an Exchange Visitor to transfer to another university or location.

The visitor’s purpose must be clear and unlikely to change.

The equivalent of an earned U.S. bachelor’s degree is needed for the J-1 scholar program. Beyond that, a good rule of thumb is that a J-Scholar should be required to have the same combination of academic credentials and experiences as would be required of a U.S. individual to hold the same appointment title, such as visiting researcher, scientist, etc.

The visitor must be appropriately qualified.

The project or program needs to be "achievable" within the five year time limit of the J-1 research scholar/professor categories. (There is a separate category, the "Short-Term Scholar," which has a limit of 6 months; "Specialists" have a one year limit.) Specialist cannot be extended beyond the 1 year limit, Short-Term Scholars cannot be extended beyond six months.

We anticipate that the project will be completed within the time limit on the appropriate category.

Like many nonimmigrant visas, the J-1 visa requires applicants to prove to the consular officer that they plan to return to their home country upon completion of the program before the visa will be issued. Many Exchange Visitors are subject to the two year home residence requirement (HRR), which means that they must return to their home country for two years before being eligible for H-1B or permanent resident status. The HRR is based on the home country’s skills list, US or home government funding or obtaining graduate medical education. A waiver of the requirement may be difficult to obtain, particularly in the case of US government funding or graduate medical education.

The visitor plans to return home at the completion of the program, and is aware of the requirement and its restrictions.

The purpose of the Exchange Visitor Program is “to increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries by means of education and cultural exchanges.”  Some Exchange Visitors are employees of UW-Madison, but the primary activity is gaining or imparting specialized skills.

While the visitor may be employed, employment is a secondary purpose; the visitor is coming to improve his/her own skills.

It is no longer possible for a person to come to the U.S. as a research scholar or professor if at any time in the previous 24 months s/he has held either J-1 or J-2 status EXCEPT if the previous visit was under the "Short-term scholar" category. If the exception does not apply, then the person will only be able to begin the second J-1 program after 24 full months have elapsed from the previous program.

"Avoid if...": When NOT to use the J-visa program