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/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.

Visa interview wait times and processing times are highly variable and depend on the specific consulate, volume of other applicants, and the visa applicant’s individual circumstances. For some applicants, it may only take a few weeks to get a visa interview and for the visa application to be processed. For other applicants, the entire process may take several months. For this reason, you must begin the visa application process as soon as possible after receiving your Form DS-2019. Also, you should not make any definitive travel plans until you have received your J-1 visa.

With the COVID-19 global pandemic, all US Embassy/Consulate locations are operating at a severely reduced capacity. Some US Consulate locations remain closed altogether. This means that the availability of visa interview appointments is greatly reduced and that visa application processing times are much longer. Therefore, it is extremely important that you plan ahead to allow for any delays at the consulate as a result of COVID-19 modified consular operations.

Please be aware that MUSC cannot guarantee that you will be issued a J-1 visa. Issuance of any visa is at the sole discretion of the US Department of State.

Visa Application

In most circumstances, nonimmigrant visa applicants must complete the Form DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. While completing the Form 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.

If you have dependent family members who have received J-2 Forms DS-2019 from MUSC, each dependent family member must also complete the Form DS-160 and apply for a J-2 visa. 

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 (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
  • 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

Keep in mind that the J-1 visa classification requires nonimmigrant intent. This means that you must demonstrate that you have strong ties to your home country and that you will return to your home country upon completion of the J-1 program in the US. You should be prepared to answer questions from the consular officer regarding the ties to your home country and your plans upon completion of the Exchange Visitor Program.

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. Visit the US Department of State website to view estimated visa processing wait times. Note that these published wait times are simply estimates and not guarantees.

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, you must inform CGH so that we are aware of any delays that may prevent you from beginning your program on the program start date. If your application 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.

If your visa application is approved, you will receive a J-1 visa foil stamp affixed to your passport. Your specific consulate will provide you with instructions on how to submit your passport for visa stamping and how you will receive your passport after the visa has been issued. Please note that it may take a few weeks for you to receive your passport with the visa stamp after you have been notified of the approval of your application. Again, you should not make any definitive travel plans until you have received your passport containing the J-1 visa.

Canadian Citizens

Citizens of Canada do not need a visa in their passport to request entry into 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 exchange visitors 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 (signed by you)
  • SEVIS I-901 fee payment receipt
  • Evidence of financial resources (including program offer letters)