342,639 visas issued in 2018
11% of J-1 visas originate in China
Source: U.S Department of State
Last updated Nov. 2015
The J-1 nonimmigrant visa allows individuals to come to the United States under the auspices of an educational and cultural exchange visitor program. When the program was created, its purpose was to promote international understanding. The Department of State (DOS) – as the federal agency that maintains foreign relations – manages the program. The exchange visitor program was not designed to import foreign labor. However, in practice, the J-1 visa is routinely used as a temporary work visa. Despite this reality, the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) does not evaluate the J-1 program’s effect on the labor market. USDOL plays no role in regulating the J-1 program other than to enforce the standard federal wage and hour laws that apply to the general workforce. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also plays a limited role through two components. DHS’s Student Exchange Visitor Program is responsible for operating the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) – the federal database which tracks all foreign students and exchange visitors. DHS’s Customs and Border Patrol oversees every person’s admission, including J-1 exchange visitors, at land border crossings and all other ports of entry. DOS regulations outline fourteen distinct categories and subcategories within the J-1 program: au pair, camp counselor, college and university students, government visitors, international visitors, physicians, professors and research scholars, high school students, short term scholars, specialists, summer work travel, teachers, interns, and trainees. At least six of these categories -- summer work travel, camp counselors, trainees and interns, au pairs, and teachers -- present situations where J-1 workers are vulnerable. Indicators such as geographic isolation, employment in private homes or in low-wage, unskilled industries, and lax worker protections and oversight contribute to their vulnerability to exploitation. DOS data shows that these six categories make up just over half of all total J-1 visas issued. In 2012, 312,522 individuals received J-1 visas.