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J-Visa Information

Obtaining a J-Visa

To take part in one of the J-1 Visa programs you must have a designated sponsor, in this case, Western Carolina University would be your designated sponsor. The designated sponsors supervise the application process and are the main point of contact throughout the exchange program process. Students must possess sufficient proficiency in the English language to participate in a program. 

Required Activities For Maintaining Status
It is the responsibility of each international visitor to the United States to maintain proper immigration status, to refrain from unauthorized work, and to file for an extension of stay in a timely manner.

Insurance Requirement
All J-1 and J-2 immigration classification holders are required to carry health insurance that meets specifications outlined in the J regulations in order to maintain their immigration status. If you have questions concerning this requirement, please refer to the document:

The J-Exchange Visitor Health Insurance Requirement (PDF)

J-1 Students must pursue the course of study required by their WCU programs or schools and must make satisfactory progress toward a specific educational objective.

J-1 Scholars at WCU usually hold one of the following J-1 categories: researcher, professor, or short-term scholar. In this document, we will use the term “scholar” to refer to that entire group unless otherwise indicated. If you are uncertain of the J-1 category you hold, refer to Item #4 on your DS-2019 to see which category is marked. All J-1 scholars, regardless of category, must engage only in the approved activities for which the DS-2019 was issued (e.g., teach, conduct research, train). These activities must take place either at WCU or at another location specified and authorized in writing by the J-1 immigration sponsor prior to the commencement of those activities. J-1 scholars are permitted to take courses to supplement or enhance their research, but they may not enroll in a full-time degree program, as this will change their objective from “teaching and research” to “study.” Note that if your activities, your supervisor, or the location of your activities will change, you must contact the SEVIS Coordinator prior to these changes so that we ensure that the new circumstances are consistent with your immigration status.

J-1 Students may stay for the time needed to complete the educational program they are pursuing but must keep the ending date on the DS-2019 valid into the future at all times.

J-1 Professors and Researcher Scholars have a 5-year time limit on their stays in this immigration class. US Dept. of State (DOS) does not permit extensions beyond 5 years.

J-1 Short-term Scholars have a 6-month time limit on their stays in this immigration class. DOS does not permit extensions beyond 6 months.

J-2 dependent extensions are generally filed at the same time as the J-1 extension.

NOTE: If your activities, supervisor, or the location of your activities will change, contact the IPS Office prior to these changes so that we can assist you in obtaining the proper visa documentation.

J-2 dependent spouse or child is in status only while the J-1 is in status. A J-2 dependent who works without USCIS authorization is out of status even though the J-1 still may be in status.

J-1 students and scholars are admitted either until the ending date on their DS-2019 or until their program ends, whichever comes first. They then are permitted to remain in the U.S. 30 days to pack and travel, but no work is permitted during this 30-day grace period. For example, if the DS-2019 ends September 30th, then the authorized stay will end 30 days later on October 30th. An extension is filed by completing a request through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) before the ending date listed on the current DS-2019. You should contact the IPS Office at least 2 months before your current DS-2019 expires if you wish to apply for an extension. J-1 students may stay for the time needed to complete the educational program they are pursuing. If they need to stay beyond the ending date listed on their DS-2019, they must contact the International Office.

J-1 professors and researchers have a 5-year time limit on their stays in this visa class with a possible 6-month extension. Only under exceptional and unusual circumstances will the Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) grant an additional 6-month extension.

J-1 short-term scholars have a 6-month time limit on their stays in this visa class. No extensions are possible.

J-1 specialists have a 12-month time limit on their stays in this visa class. No extensions are possible.

J-1 alien physicians sponsored by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) have a maximum 7-year time limit on their stays in this visa class. Only under exceptional and unusual circumstances will the EVP grant an additional 12-month extension.

J-2 dependents’ extensions are filed at the same time as the J-1s.

Employment Authorization

J-1 students under WCU’s J-1 sponsorship (i.e., J-1 students whose DS-2019 forms were issued by WCU), are permitted to work on campus only if the employment is part of a scholarship, fellowship, etc. connected to the course of study. No other work is permitted unless specifically authorized in writing by the IPS Office. Students sponsored by other agencies (refer to Item #2 on the DS-2019 to identify your sponsor), must obtain permission in writing from their J-1 visa sponsors prior to working on campus. On-campus employment is limited to 20 hours a week when school is in session and to 40 hours a week during holidays and school vacations. Other J-1 students can obtain authorization to work off campus for the purpose of academic training.

J-1 scholars (i.e., researchers, professors, short-term scholars, specialists, alien physicians, trainees) are authorized only for the employment associated with the activities described in the addendum to the cover letter accompanying the DS-2019, with the activities ending on the date listed in Item #3. NO outside employment is permitted unless the IPS Office specifically authorizes it in advance and in writing.

J-2 dependents must apply to the US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) for work authorization by filing Form I-765 with the appropriate fee and supporting documents. If work authorization is granted, then any work is permitted until the employment termination date indicated on the I-765, Employment Authorization card (EAD), as long as the J-1 principal remains in status. If the J-1 violates status, changes from J-1 to some other nonimmigrant class, or leaves the J program altogether, the work authorization for the J-2 dependent ceases to be valid.

Extending Employment Authorization

J-1 students authorized for academic training can extend their work authorization through the IPS Office. The maximum time allowed varies based upon the previous study and the kind of work.

J-1 scholars automatically extend their work authorization when they extend their stays. It is important to note that a J-1 scholar is authorized to work only to the date on the DS-2019 unless a timely application for an extension has been filed.

J-2 dependents may extend their work authorizations after their stays have been extended with the J-1 principal’s extension. The J-1 must follow the same filing procedures as before by submitting a Form I-765 to USCIS with the appropriate fee and supporting documentation.

"Academic Training" is the name used by the Department of State for certain types of study-related employment. This applies only to J-1 students. Certain conditions must be met in order to qualify for "Academic Training," and the steps to apply follow.

"Academic Training" is flexible in its format and offers a variety of employment opportunities to supplement a J-1 student's academic program in the United States. It is available both before and after the completion of an academic program of study. As long as students stay within the stipulated time limits, "Academic Training" allows them to work part-time while classes are in session and full-time during vacation periods; and, under certain circumstances, a student may interrupt study to work full-time, for example, while writing a thesis. J-1 students in non-degree programs also are eligible for "Academic Training."

Your J-1 Responsible Officer

To qualify for "Academic Training," students first must obtain approval in writing from their J-1 Responsible Officer, an individual who represents their J-1 sponsor and who issues their Form DS-2019. S/he must evaluate the proposed employment in terms of a student's program of study and individual circumstances and then decide whether the employment is appropriate or not. For WCU-sponsored J-1 students, they may contact their Responsible Officer by contacting International Programs & Services (227-3455/3433). For students sponsored by other agencies (e.g. ISEP) they must contact the agencies directly, for only their representatives can approve "Academic Training."




  1. Student's primary purpose in the United State must be to study rather than to be employed.
  2. The student must be in good academic standing at the school named on the Form DS-2019.
  3. The proposed employment must be directly related to a student's major field of study.
  4. Throughout the "Academic Training" period, the student must maintain permission to remain in the United States (maintain J-1 student status) and apply for extensions as necessary.
  5. The student must maintain health insurance and medical evacuation/repatriation coverage for him/herself and any J-2 dependents through the "Academic Training" period.

Limitations - general

  1. Student's employment may be authorized for "the length of time necessary to complete the goals and objectives of the training, provided that the amount of time…is approved by [both] the academic dean or advisor and…the Responsible Officer," to quote the regulations. It may not exceed "the period of full course of study" or 18 months, whichever is shorter. However, for Ph.D. students, their "post-doctoral training" may last as long as 36 months, and it may be possible to extend Academic Training by 18 months.
  2. Part-time employment for "Academic Training" counts against the 18 or 36-month limit the same as full-time employment.
  3. Earning more than one degree does not increase a student's eligibility for "Academic Training."


After completion of a student's program of study

  1. "Academic Training" approved after completion of the academic program must be reduced by any prior periods of "Academic Training."
  2. Whether the other items in the application are ready or not, a student must obtain a written offer of appropriate employment and present a copy to the J-1 Responsible Officer no later than his/her graduation date (degree program) or the last day of final examinations (non-degree program ).
  3. If students plan to leave the United States after completing their programs of study and reenter the country for J-1 "Academic Training," they must obtain employment authorization and a new Form DS-2019 before leaving. If this is not done, there is no basis for being eligible for readmission.


The application

  1. A student must obtain a letter of offer from a prospective employer that includes:
    1. job title;
    2. a brief description of the "goals and objectives" of the "Training Program" (i.e. employment);
    3. the dates and location of the employment;
    4. the number of hours per week;
    5. the name and address of the "training supervisor" (quotations come from the regulations); and
    6. the salary amount to be paid must be included to ensure that personal living expense obligations can be met. (Proof of funding must be presented to cover living expenses before a new DS-2019 can be issued.)

All elements must be present in order for the employer's letter to be acceptable.

  1. Employer's letter must be presented to a student's academic advisor or dean for use in writing to the appropriate J-1 Responsible Officer at the International Programs & Services office recommending the "Academic Training." According to the text of the U.S. regulations, the academic advisor's letter must set forth:
    1. goals and objectives of the specific training program;
    2. a description of the training program, including its location, the name and address of the training supervisor, the number of hours per week, and the dates of the training;
    3. how the training relates to the student's major field of study; and
    4. why the training will serve as an integral or critical part of the student's academic program.

The academic advisor also must approve "Academic Training" "for the length of time necessary to complete the goals and objectives of the training."

  1. When the academic advisor's recommendation is ready, the student should make an appointment with the J-1 Responsible Officer and bring the offer letter, advisor's letter, passport, I-94 card and DS-2019 to the appointment.
  2. The J-1 Responsible Officer must evaluate the "Academic Training" program and decide whether it is warranted and appropriate. If so, a letter of approval will be written that will serve as the official work authorization document. At this same time, an extended DS-2019 should be issued.
  3. "Academic Training" must be applied for and approved BEFORE the end of the J-1 student's academic program.

Authorization to Work

A Social Security Number
To put you on the payroll, an employer must have your Social Security number, which you can obtain by applying for a Social Security card. If you do not already have a Social Security Number, take your passport (if you are Canadian, you may use another form of photo-bearing identification), your I-94 Departure Record card, the DS-2019, and the J-1 Responsible Officer's written work authorization to an office of the Social Security Administration. Your Social Security card may be stamped "Valid Employment only with U.S. government approval." In the case of J-1 "Academic Training," this stamp means that the Social Security card is valid for working only if accompanied by a properly completed DS-2019 and a valid I-94 Departure Record card.

Form I-9, "Employment Eligibility Verification"

When you begin work, you and your employer must complete Form I-9 which requires you to document your identity and work authorization according to directions on the back of the form. Of the various items acceptable as documentation, you may find that the most convenient combination is your passport (or other photo-bearing identification if you are Canadian), I-94 Departure Record card, the DS-2019, and the J-1 Responsible Officer's written work authorization. Your employer, who keeps the Form I-9 on file, may make copies of the documents you submit and should return your original documents to you. Form I-9 is date specific and must be updated any time that you receive a renewal of your permission for "Academic Training."

Social Security and other Taxes

Social Security taxes. In general, as a J-1 student, you will be exempt from Social Security (F.I.C.A.) taxes for your first five (5) years in the United States, as long as you continue to declare non-resident status for tax purposes (see Internal Revenue Service Publication 519, "U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens.")

Federal, State, and local income taxes. Unless you qualify under a tax treaty between the United States and your home government, your earnings as a J-1 student will be subject to applicable federal, state and local income taxes, and employers are required by law to withhold those taxes from your paychecks. By April 15 of each year, you must file a federal income tax return and a "Required Statement" covering the prior calendar year to determine whether you owe more taxes or if you have a refund coming.

Note of Caution!

J-1 students are eligible for a variety of work opportunities in the United States, but employment without proper authorization is a serious violation of status. Remember that before starting any kind of employment, you first must consult your J-1 Responsible Officer, whose written approval is necessary in advance.

J-2 dependents may apply to DHS for work authorization by filing Form I-765 with the appropriate fee and supporting documents. If DHS grants work authorization, then any kind of work is permitted until the employment termination date indicated on the I-765, Employment Authorization card (EAD), provided the J-1 principal remains in status. If the J-1 violates status, changes from J-1 to some other nonimmigrant class, or leaves the J program altogether, the work authorization for the J-2 dependent terminates.

J-2 Visa Holder Employment Eligibility Requirements

  • You must hold a valid J-2 Status, and the Exchange Visitor must hold valid J-1 status, as shown on your I-94 Departure Record Cards
  • Your income may not be used to support your J-1 spouse or parent.
  • You may work part-time or full-time, at any job, for any employer (except that you may not practice medicine, even if you have a license). There is no legal limit to the amount that you may earn.
  • US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) can authorize J-2 employment for as long as the J-1 Exchange Visitor has permission to stay OR for four years, whichever is shorter.
  • Permission to stay expires on the date shown on the I-94 card. If the I-94 card shows "Duration of Status" or "D/S," permission to stay expires on the date shown Form DS-2019.

How to Apply
Bring to the SEVIS Coordinator/Responsible Officer:

  • Copy of photo in passport
  • Copy of DS-2019 of spouse/parent
  • Copy of I-94 of spouse/parent (both sides)
  • Copy of I-94 of J-2 (both sides)
  • Completed Form I-765 (Complete Page 10)
  • Two immigration photos (Check with RO about local photographer)
  • $340.00 money order to Department of Homeland Security / "US Citizenship & Immigration Services"

Authorization to Work
The USCIS Form I-9, "Employment Eligibility Verification." When you begin work, your employer will ask you to complete Form I-9, which requires you to document your work authorization. To put you on the payroll, your employer will need your Social Security Number (SSN).

The earnings of J-2 dependents are subject to applicable federal, state and local taxes, and Social Security and employers are required by law to withhold those taxes from paychecks. By April 15 you must file an income tax return, Form 1040NR, with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), covering the prior calendar year. The return determines whether you owe more taxes, or have a refund coming. See IRS Publication 519, "U.S. Tax Guide For Aliens."

Students in J-1 status who are visiting Canada, Mexico and islands next to the U.S., (excluding Cuba) for less than 30 days do not have to show a valid visa in order to re-enter the United States. To qualify for this exception, you must meet certain conditions in addition to maintaining the J-1 status:

  • You must not apply for a U.S. visa during your stay abroad. (If you do, and it's denied, you will not be able to re-enter the U.S.)
  • You must not be from one of the following countries: Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea, and Cuba.
  • You must have a valid passport, I-94 and I-20/DS2019 signed for travel.

Travel to "Adjacent Islands" includes the following locations: Saint Pierre, Miquelon, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, the Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, and other British, French, and Netherlands territories or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea. Cuba does not qualify for this exception.

Depending on your country of origin, you may be required to obtain a visa for your travel destination. Be sure to check the websites of the embassies of the countries you plan to visit. For Citizens of Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, or Sudan, if you do not have a current unexpired multiple-entry visa, you will not be able to return to the US from Canada or Mexico. Consult with an IPS advisor if you have questions.

Entering Canada or Mexico

For visits of 30 days or less, students and scholars must show the following documents at the Canadian or Mexican border:

  1. J-1 students/scholars: A valid I-20 or DS-2019 recently signed on the back by an International Student Advisor. H-1B or O-1 employees: Original I-797 Approval Notice.
  2. A valid passport (valid at least 6 months beyond the date you expect to return to the U.S.).
  3. A valid I-94 card. NOTE: If you will be in Canada or Mexico for 30 days or less, keep your I-94 card throughout your trip. The I-94 card SHOULD NOT be turned in at the border when you are leaving.
  4. A valid Canadian or Mexican Tourist Visa if you are from a country for which a visa is required please see the links below for information about visa requirements for entering Canada and Mexico.

Application forms for Canadian Tourist Visas are available from the Canadian Consulate General. You can apply online or by paper application. Please see the Canadian Consulate General's New York


Applications for Mexican Tourist Visas are available at the Mexican Consulate in Chicago. The visa application must be submitted in person at 204 S Ashland, Chicago, IL 60607. MEXICAN TOURIST VISAS MAY TAKE 6-8 WEEKS TO GET.

NOTE: All the above documents must be valid beyond the date you expect to leave Canada or Mexico.

Re-entering the U.S.

To re-enter the U.S. after your visit to Canada or Mexico, you must have:

1. J-1 students/scholars: A valid I-20 or DS-2019 recently signed on the back by an International Student Advisor.

H-1B employees: Original I-797 Approval Notice plus a letter from your department verifying continued employment.

2.A valid passport (valid for at least 6 months beyond the date you re-enter the U.S.)

3.A valid I-94 card.

4.A nonimmigrant visa that is valid or was valid (can be of a different status than the status you now hold). Exception: If you applied for a visa to Canada or Mexico and were denied, your student or scholar visa must be valid.

Before traveling outside the United States, make sure that you have the necessary documents for your return. Following is a checklist of items to consider before traveling and information on applying for a visa abroad.

You may need any of the following documents

  • Valid Passport: A valid passport is required to enter the United States. If your passport will expire within 6 months of your return, please contact your nearest home country embassy for renewal instructions before you travel.
  • U.S. Visa Stamp: You must have a visa that was issued for your current immigration status. (The exceptions are described below.) The visa must be valid on the day you will return and must have and least (1) entry remaining. An “M” printed on the number of entries indicates that you can use the visa for multiple entries.) If you do not have a visa, you must apply for one at an embassy outside the United States. Canadian citizens do not require a visa at any time. (Landed Immigrants of Canada do require a visa.)

Short trips to Canada, Mexico, and some nearby islands may be possible with an expired U.S. visa, or a visa for a different immigration status.

  • SEVIS Fee Receipt: This requirement only applies to J-1 students. If your program of study was started any time after September 1, 2004, you were required to pay a SEVIS fee and a receipt was issued. Please take this receipt with you when traveling. Additional information about the SEVIS fee can be found at
  • Travel Signatures: If you are a J-1 student, you will require a signature from International Programs & Services on your original I-20 form or DS-2019 form. You can request the travel signature by contacting IPS at or calling 828-227-7494. If your travel signature is older than six months, please drop it to IPS for a new signature.
  • Transit Visas: If your travel itinerary requires you to stop in a third country (not the United States or your final destination for any amount of time), research the visa requirements for that country. A few countries require a transit visa, even for layovers.
  • Non-U.S. Visas: You may need a visa if traveling to a country that is not your country of citizenship. Research the visa requirements of your destination to determine if this is necessary. This requirement may even apply to Canada and Mexico, depending on your country of citizenship.
  • Letter of Good Standing: If you are a J-1 student and will be renewing your visa while abroad, you will need a Letter of Good Standing to present to the Visa Officer. You can request your letter by contacting IPS at or calling 828-227-7494.
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