Applying for an Initial J-1 Visa

You are eligible to apply for a J-1 visa at a US Embassy or Consulate abroad after you receive the DS-2019 form. Visit US Embassy to locate the US Embassy or Consulate where you will apply for your visa, and refer to that Consulate’s website for further instructions on the visa application process. 

It is recommended that you apply for a visa in your country of citizenship. Applying for a visa at a consulate in another country is somewhat riskier and can take a bit longer. Visa refusal is more likely when applying for a visa in a country which is not your home country (called a “third” country). This is because the consular officer must take extra measures to verify your relationship to your home country. If you do choose to apply for a visa in a country other than your country of residence, you should contact the consulate where you plan to apply and ask if they will accept an application from a “third country national.” Some consulates may put limits on the number of third country national visa applications that they will process.

You should not make any definitive travel plans until you have received your J-1 visa.

Visa Application

In most circumstances, nonimmigrant visa applicants must complete the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160. While completing the DS-160, you will be required to upload your photo. Your photo must be in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements on the US Department of State website. Once you have completed the DS-160, print the application form confirmation page to bring to your interview.

Visa Interview

A personal interview is required as part of the visa application process. You will want to schedule your visa interview as soon as possible once you receive your DS-2019. During your visa interview, a consular officer will determine whether you are qualified to receive a visa, and if so, which visa category is appropriate based on your purpose of travel. You are responsible for establishing that you meet the requirements under US law to receive the category of visa for which you are applying.

You should bring following documents to your visa interview:

  • Valid passport - Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the US.
  • Form DS-160 confirmation page
  • Visa application fee payment receipt, if you are required to pay before your interview
  • I-901 SEVIS fee receipt
  • Photo – You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. If the photo upload fails, you must bring one printed photo in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements.
  • Form DS-2019 signed by you
  • J-1 program invitation letter from the MUSC sponsoring faculty member
  • Financial documentation indicating sufficient funding to support you and any J-2 dependents
  • Additional documentation may be required – Review the instructions for how to apply for a visa on the website of the US embassy or consulate where you will apply

Visa Processing & Issuance

Specific visa processing time varies depending on the consulate, location and time of year. The visa process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. You should be aware of processing times and the potential for delays due to security checks and plan your travel accordingly. For more information on processing times and procedures for visa application, visit Travel.State.Gov.

Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant’s interview by a Consular Officer. Applicants are advised of this requirement when they apply. When administrative processing is required, the timing will vary based on individual circumstances of each case, though most administrative processing is resolved within 60 days of the visa interview.

If your visa application is selected for administrative processing, it is important that you inform MUSC so that we are aware of any delays that may prevent you from beginning your program on the program start date. If you case is selected for administrative processing, contact Erin Huley and provide your visa application/case ID number and the name of the consulate where you applied for the visa.

Please be aware that MUSC cannot guarantee that you will be issued a visa. 

Canadian Citizens

Citizens of Canada do not need a visa to enter the United States. If you are a Canadian citizen, you can apply for entry to the US in J-1 status directly at the port-of-entry. However, you are still required to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee prior to traveling to the US.

Canadian students must have the following documents when traveling to the US:

  • Passport (valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the US)
  • Form DS-2019
  • SEVIS I-901 fee payment receipt
  • Evidence of financial resources (including program offer letters)

Traveling to the US

Once you have your J-1 visa, you can travel to the US no up to 30 days in advance of your J-1 program start date. We highly recommend that you take advantage of this entire pre-program grace period. This period of time will allow you to find housing, complete any University onboarding requirements, apply for a Social Security number (which you must do in person), and settle in to living in the United States.

When you travel, you should carry some specific documents on your person—do not check them in your baggage. If your baggage is lost or delayed, you will not be able to show the documents to the Customs and Border Protection Officer and, as a result, may not be able to enter the United States.

Documents to carry on you:

  • Passport with nonimmigrant visa
  • Form DS-2019
  • Evidence of financial resources (including program offer letters)

A visa allows a foreign citizen coming from abroad to travel to a United States port-of entry and request permission to enter the US. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Department of Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States.

When you arrive at the port-of-entry, you will be asked to state the reason you wish to enter the United States. You will also be asked to provide information about your final destination. Once your inspection is complete, the CBP officer will stamp your passport and return your Form DS-2019 to you.

If you arrive at a US port of entry and do not have all your signed required documents or have a SEVIS status issue, the CBP officer may deny your entry into the United States. As an alternative, the officer has discretion to issue you a Form I-515A. This document allows you to have temporary admission into the US for 30 days. To maintain your nonimmigrant student status, you must address your Form I-515A within the time provided to you. If you receive a Form I-515A upon entry into the US, you must notify the Center for Global Health immediately.

I-94 Arrival Record

Each time that you enter the US, you will be issued an I-94 arrival record. The I-94 record is important because it serves as evidence of the nonimmigrant status you were granted when you last entered the US, and how long you may legally remain in the US.

Unless you are arriving at a land port-of-entry, you will not receive a paper I-94 record due to the automation of I-94 records. You can access your I-94 arrival record online at the I-94 website. Each time that you enter the US, you must go to the I-94 website and retrieve your I-94 record. You must save a copy of every I-94 record for your own records. We recommend that you print each I-94 record and save an electronic copy.

Your I-94 record should list J-1 as your class of admission. Your I-94 record should list D/S for your Admit Until Date, which means “duration of status.” It is extremely important that the information in your I-94 record is correct. If you find an error in your I-94 record, contact the Center for Global Health.