Sponsoring a J-1 Exchange Visitor

Step 1: Determine J-1 eligibility
Step 2: UH invitation
Step 3: DS-2019 request & FSIS processing
Step 4a: Apply for J-1/J-2 entry or Step 4b: USCIS processing or Step 4c: Transfer to UH
Step 5: Attend FSIS registration/orientation


Step 1: Determine J-1 eligibility

When considering whether to sponsor an exchange visitor (EV) to conduct program activities at UH, the faculty sponsor, department chair, and dean should ensure all of the following initial requirements are met before inviting a prospective scholar to UH:

1 Ensure there is a designated UH department and faculty sponsor as well as adequate resources for the EV.

The U.S. Department of State’s (DOS) designation of UH as an Exchange Visitor Program sponsor extends to all campuses in the UH System. However, UH does not have an “umbrella” type of designation and therefore cannot sponsor the activities of external organizations’ scholars and students.

An invitation extended to a prospective EV must be fully supported by a UH department. Activities must take place primarily on a UH campus or UH-controlled site and also must be be closely overseen at all times by a designated responsible UH faculty member or other appropriate UH employee for the full duration of the program. Read the Agreement to Oversee J-1 and J-2(s) for a list of oversight requirements the faculty sponsor will need to fulfill throughout the EV’s program.

The faculty sponsor and the department should also carefully assess whether they have adequate time, space, and other resources to properly host an EV.

2 Create a program plan that sets forth the purpose, terms, and details of the program.

The faculty sponsor and department should have an established system to screen and select prospective EVs, and think about the purpose for inviting the EV,  as well as the intended activities to be conducted, length of the program, funding amount and sources, and departmental resources that will be needed. The EV’s qualifications, needs, objectives, and expectations should also be considered and factored into the program plan so there are no misunderstandings on either side about the terms of the program.

3 Determine the most appropriate EV category.

After creating a comprehensive program plan, the faculty sponsor should determine the most appropriate EV category in which to invite the EV. All categories except specialist and non-degree student minimally require a bachelor’s degree.

Note: A prospective EV who was previously in J-1 status anywhere in the U.S. may be subject to the 12-month and/or 24-month bar on repeat participation as a J-1 research scholar or professor. That is, it may not be possible to immediately sponsor an EV in the J-1 research scholar or professor categories. It is also not possible to sponsor back-to-back short-term scholar programs to circumvent the 12- and 24-month bars.

4 Determine the type of UH appointment.

Based on the intended activities, length of program, funding, and the person’s qualifications, the faculty sponsor, in consultation with the unit’s HR specialist, should determine the type of UH appointment the EV will hold. The most common types of appointments include:

  • Lecturer
  • Post-Doctoral Fellow
  • Visiting Colleague (non-compensated appointments)
  • Visiting Professional Colleague
  • Visiting Professor (all ranks)
  • Visiting Researcher (all ranks)

It is important to keep in mind that the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program is intended strictly for temporary educational and cultural exchange activities and is not an option for regular employment in APT (BU 8) and indefinite faculty (BU 7) positions. UH departments must request E-3, H-1B, or O-1 classification for tenure-track positions and E-3, H-1B, O-1, or TN classification for faculty positions without predetermined fixed periods (i.e. non-tenure track positions that can be renewed annually on an indefinite basis) and for APT positions. The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program cannot be used by departments as an initial screening mechanism to determine whether to hire an individual into an indefinite employment position at a later date.

5 Confirm there is sufficient financial support for the program.

The EV and J-2 dependents must have adequate financial support while they are in the U.S. A UH department may provide some or all of the funding or the EV may procure their own funding for the program. Either way, the EV and/or department must show there is enough money to meet these minimums for the entire period being requested:

  • EV: At least $2000 per month
  • Spouse: Additional $700 per month
  • Child: Additional $500 per month per child
6 Confirm English proficiency.

The DOS requires all EVs to be sufficiently proficient in English to successfully participate in the program as well as to function in the community on a day-to-day basis. The DOS has authorized three ways of documenting an individual’s adequate English proficiency (see the J-1 English Proficiency Certification form for more details on these three options):

  • Results of a recognized English language test;
  • Signed certificate or letter from an academic institution or English language school; or
  • Documented interview conducted by UH either in-person or by videoconferencing. A telephone interview is an option only if an in-person interview or a video conference is not possible. The interviewer must attach a list of the questions asked, responses given, and comments on the suitability of the responses.

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Step 2: UH invitation

Once a UH sponsoring unit and the responsible faculty sponsor have determined they can provide a fulfilling opportunity for a prospective exchange visitor (EV) to accomplish the program objectives, the faculty sponsor must send the person an official letter of invitation signed by the faculty sponsor and E/M that includes the following information:

  • UH appointment title;
  • EV category;
  • Start and end dates of the program;
  • Campus(es)/site(s) where the program activities will take place; and
  • Description of the proposed activities.

The EV will need to sign the letter of invitation to accept the conditions.

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Step 3: DS-2019 request & FSIS processing

After the exchange visitor (EV) accepts the UH invitation, FSIS will issue the EV and each accompanying J-2 dependent a Form DS-2019 which they will need to begin the UH program. To obtain DS-2019s for the EV and dependents, the sponsoring department should initiate the appropriate type of DS-2019 request (see table below).

UH departments should submit all types of initial DS-2019 requests to FSIS no later than three months prior to the requested J-1 start date. This time is necessary for FSIS to issue the DS-2019s and for the sponsoring unit to mail the DS-2019s to the EV. It is also needed in cases where the EV and dependents must apply for U.S. visas and enter the U.S. or receive U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approval of a change of status application.

If a department wishes to submit a DS-2019 request less than three months prior to the start date, the HR specialist for the college/school/unit should first consult with FSIS. If FSIS determines it is not possible for the EV to arrive on time, the start date may need to be postponed. If the date cannot be postponed, the department should be aware that submission of a late request may significantly delay the EV’s arrival date. It can even result in the loss of legal immigration status in the U.S.

There are four types of DS-2019 initial requests. The UH department should follow the applicable procedures below for the specific type of request.

Type of initial request Procedures
J-1 entry from outside the U.S.

This is the most common type of request. It is used when an EV and dependents are outside the U.S. and will apply for J-1/J-2 admission to begin a new UH program.

  1. UH department initiates the DS-2019 request by preparing the DS-2019 Initial Request Form and its portion of the attachments.
  2. Department sends the request to the HR specialist for the college/school/unit.
  3. HR specialist reviews the packet, adds any remaining documents, and forwards the complete request to an International Scholar Specialist at FSIS.
  4. FSIS reviews the packet and may seek clarifying information and/or additional documents. If appropriate, FSIS issues Forms DS-2019 for the EV and each J-2 dependent and attaches important information for the EV and dependents.
  5. FSIS sends the documents to the department via the HR specialist.
  6. The department mails the DS-2019s and other documents to the EV. The appropriate individuals should sign the DS-2019s (see “DS-2019 signatures” below this table).
  7. The EV and J-2 dependents follow the procedures in Step 4a: Apply for J-1/J-2 entry.
USCIS processing in the U.S.

If the EV is already in the U.S. on another visa type (e.g. F-1) and cannot depart and reenter the U.S. to begin the UH program, this option may be used to apply for an in-country change of status to J-1.**

After FSIS issues the DS-2019, the EV must file an I-539 application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to request an in-country change of status. Dependent family members may be included on an I-539 so they can change to J-2 status. USCIS normally takes 2-3 months to process I-539s; there is no way to expedite an I-539, so EVs and departments should plan ahead if they wish to use this option.

**We highly advise that the F-1 depart the US and reenter in J-1 status.

  1. UH department initiates the DS-2019 request by preparing the DS-2019 Initial Request Form and its portion of the attachments.
  2. Department sends the request to the HR specialist for the college/school/unit.
  3. HR specialist reviews the packet, adds any remaining documents, and forwards the complete request to an International Scholar Specialist at FSIS.
  4. FSIS reviews the packet and may seek clarifying information and/or additional documents. If appropriate, FSIS issues Forms DS-2019 for the EV and each J-2 dependent and attaches important information for the EV and dependents.
  5. FSIS sends the DS-2019s and other documents to the department via the HR specialist.
  6. The department sends the DS-2019s and other documents to the EV. The appropriate individuals should sign the DS-2019s (see “DS-2019 signatures” below this table).
  7. The EV follows the procedures in Step 4b: USCIS processing to apply for an in-country change of status.
Transfer to UH.

An EV who is already in J-1 status with another U.S. sponsor may transfer to UH as long as all of the following criteria are met:

  • Transfer is necessary to complete original program objectives;
  • Field of study/research to occur at UH is the same or closely related to the original field;
  • Time spent in all J-1 programs will not exceed the limit for the specific J-1 category; and
  • Program status is still “active” in SEVIS and will not complete before the transfer occurs.
  1. UH department initiates the DS-2019 request by preparing the DS-2019 Initial Request Form and its portion of the attachments.
  2. Department sends the request to the HR specialist for the college/school/unit.
  3. HR specialist reviews the packet, adds any remaining documents, and forwards the complete request to an International Scholar Specialist at FSIS.
  4. FSIS reviews the packet and may seek clarifying information and/or additional documents. If a transfer is possible, FSIS issues a “Request to Transfer J-1 Exchange Visitor to UH” form to the EV and department.
  5. The EV sends the “Request to Transfer” form to the other sponsor’s Responsible Officer/Alternate Responsible Officer (RO/ARO).
  6. Other sponsor’s RO/ARO completes, signs, and returns the “Request to Transfer” form to the EV, UH department, and FSIS and processes a “transfer out” to UH in SEVIS.
  7. The EV follows the procedures in Step 4c: Transfer to UH to begin the UH program.

Note: FSIS cannot issue the DS-2019s until the effective date of the transfer to UH. The DS-2019s will be given directly to the EV at the orientation/registration appointment.

J-2 dependents will arrive separately.

As a general rule, a department should request J-2s’ DS-2019s at the same time it requests a DS-2019 for an EV even if the family members are already planning to come to the U.S. after the EV arrives. However, it is possible to subsequently request DS-2019s for dependent family members of an EV who has already begun a UH program.

  1. UH dept initiates the request by preparing the DS-2019 Request Form for J-2s Arriving Separately and its portion of the attachments.
  2. Department sends the request to the HR specialist for the college/school/unit.
  3. HR specialist reviews the packet, adds any remaining documents, and forwards the complete request to an International Scholar Specialist at FSIS.
  4. FSIS reviews the packet and may seek clarifying information and/or additional documents. If appropriate, FSIS issues Forms DS-2019 for each J-2 dependent and attaches important information for the EV and dependents.
  5. FSIS sends the documents to the department via the HR specialist.
  6. The department sends the DS-2019s and other documents to the EV, who must mail the DS-2019s to their dependents. The appropriate individuals should sign the DS-2019s (see “DS-2019 signatures” below this table).
  7. The J-2 dependents follow the procedures in Step 4a: Apply for J-2 entry.

DS-2019 signatures

The EV and J-2 spouse should sign their own DS-2019s and write in the location (i.e. city, state/province, and country) and date. J-2 children over 16 years of age should sign their own DS-2019s; the EV should sign DS-2019s issued for J-2 children under 16.

Program cancellations

If an EV is unable to come to UH for any reason, all DS-2019s must be returned immediately to FSIS. The U.S. Department of State requires FSIS to keep track of unused DS-2019s.

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Step 4a: Apply for J-1/J-2 entry

After the exchange visitor (EV) receives the DS-2019 and additional documents in the mail from the sponsoring UH department, they should complete the following:

1 Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee must be paid for the EV; it is not required for J-2 dependents. Read important information on paying the SEVIS I-901 fee, including who is required to pay, who is exempt from paying, the deadline to pay, and how to prove payment when applying for the visa.

2 Apply for J-1 and/or J-2 visa(s).

Citizens of Canada and Bermuda can skip this section and proceed to “3. Prepare to move to Hawaiʻi” below.

Citizens of all other countries must obtain the appropriate visa at the nearest U.S. embassy/consulate before they can enter the U.S. The EV must apply for a J-1 visa; accompanying family members must obtain J-2 visas.

To apply for a J-1/J-2 visa, the EV/dependent should visit the U.S. Department of State’s U.S. embassies and consulates website to view the visa application requirements and to make an appointment for a visa interview. It is best to try to apply at the U.S. embassy/consulate having jurisdiction over the place of residence, though they may apply at any U.S. embassies/consulates worldwide that permit third country nationals’ applications. Anyone who was ever a visa overstay in the U.S. must apply for the visa at a consular office in their country of nationality.

J-1 and J-2 visa application requirements differ by embassy/consulate, so the EV should check directly with the specific U.S. embassy/consulate on the requirements for the visa application if there are any questions. The EV and J-2 dependents should apply for their visas as soon as possible because it may take awhile for the consulate to issue the visas. All visa applications undergo a security check and some may require a more extensive security clearance that may take several weeks.

Generally, all J-1 and J-2 visa applications must include:

  • DS-160 nonimmigrant visa application confirmation page;
  • Visa interview appointment confirmation page;
  • Proof of payment of visa fees;
  • A passport-style photograph that meets DOS’s nonimmigrant visa photo requirements;
  • A valid, unexpired passport valid for at least 6 months beyond the DS-2019 end date;
  • Original Form DS-2019 issued by FSIS;
  • Invitation letter from UH sponsoring unit;
  • Evidence of financial support, such as letters or documents proving receipt of a fellowship, grant, salary from employer in the home country, bank statements, or affidavits of support; and
  • Any other documents required by the specific U.S. embassy or consulate.

When the EV and family members receive their visas, the consular officer should return the original DS-2019s and other documents to them.

3 Prepare to move to Hawaiʻi.

The EV and J-2 family members should read up on the basics about living in Hawaiʻi. When they first arrive here, they should bring enough money to secure housing and to purchase food and other necessities. They may also need to know how to apply for a Social Security Number, set up a bank account, purchase health insurance, among other common arrangements. Hawaiʻi’s culture is also very different compared to many other areas in the U.S.

4 Apply for J-1/J-2 admission at a U.S. port of entry.

The EV must enter the U.S. on or up to 30 days before the start date on the DS-2019. If an EV cannot enter the U.S. on time, the department or HR specialist must notify FSIS immediately so we have enough time to change the start date in SEVIS and issue a new DS-2019. If an EV is unable to come to UH for any reason, the EV’s and any J-2s’ DS-2019s must be returned to FSIS.

The EV and each accompanying J-2 family members must present these documents to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at a U.S. port of entry to apply for admission:

  • Original DS-2019;
  • Passport valid for at least 6 months after the DS-2019 end date;
  • J-1 or J-2 visa in passport (N/A for Canadians and Bermudians); and
  • SEVIS I-901 fee receipt (EV only).

Individuals are not guaranteed entry to the U.S. The CBP officer will review all documents and ask each person about the purpose of the visit. These officers have the discretion to admit an EV in J-1 status and any family members in J-2 status and may refer them to a more detailed secondary inspection.

When the EV is admitted into the U.S., all documents should be returned and an admission date stamp should be placed in their passport with the notations “J-1” (EV) or “J-2” (dependents) and “D/S,” which stands for “duration of status” and indicates the person is authorized to stay in the U.S. according to the DS-2019 presented. The CBP officer should instruct each person to access and print an I-94 arrival record on CBP’s I-94 website. The admission stamp with notations and the I-94 printout are proof of admission to and legal immigration status in the U.S. In some cases, a person may be issued a paper I-94 card at entry, but CBP is phasing those out. If anyone is issued a paper I-94, that card is evidence of legal status in the U.S.

EVs and J-2 family members should keep copies of their DS-2019s, passport biodata/expiration pages, visas, admission stamps, and I-94 records permanently in case any of these documents are lost or stolen.

5 Contact UH faculty sponsor and schedule FSIS orientation/registration appointment.

After arriving in Hawaiʻi, the EV should report immediately to their faculty sponsor.

Within 10 business days of arriving in the U.S., the EV must contact FSIS to schedule a mandatory registration/orientation appointment.

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Step 4b: USCIS processing

1 Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee must be paid for the EV; it is not required for J-2 dependents. Read important information on paying the SEVIS I-901 fee, including who is required to pay, who is exempt from paying, the deadline to pay, and how to prove payment when filing the I-539.

2 Prepare and submit Form I-539 to USCIS.

The EV needs to download Form I-539 and the I-539 instructions USCIS’s website, being careful to review the instructions closely before completing the form. After thoroughly reading the instructions, the EV should follow these procedures:

  1. Complete the I-539 and sign and date the form in Part 5. If the spouse and/or minor children under 21 years of age are in the U.S. and need to change to J-2 status, also complete Supplement 1 of the I-539.
  2. Attach these supporting documents to the I-539:
    • Cover letter briefly explaining the reason for requesting a change of status to J-1, including the reason they did not originally enter the U.S. in J-1 status and the changes in circumstances that led to the need for the change of status;
    • SEVIS I-901 fee payment receipt;
    • Original signed DS-2019s for each person (EV and J-2 dependents);
    • Marriage certificate for spouse and birth certificate for each child;
    • Evidence of each person’s valid immigration status in the U.S.
      • Copies of I-94s printed from CBP’s I-94 website;
      • Copies of current Forms I-20 (if F-1) or Forms I-797A/I-797B (if H-1B, TN, etc.); and
    • Evidence of financial support (e.g. letter from funding organization, certified bank statement if on personal funds, etc.).
  3. Staple a filing fee check/money order from a U.S. bank, payable in U.S. dollars to the “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” to the bottom right corner of the first page of the I-539. The filing fee is currently $370, subject to change — review the I-539 instructions to confirm.
  4. Make a copy of the entire application packet for personal records.
  5. Mail the I-539 with the fee and supporting documents to the proper USCIS mailing address. USCIS will issue a receipt notice upon accepting the I-539 for adjudication. The EV should keep this notice as a record of the receipt number, which can be used to check the status of the application.

After mailing the I-539 to USCIS, the EV and dependents on the application should not leave the U.S. until USCIS reaches a decision on the I-539. If they absolutely must depart the U.S. while the I-539 is pending, they will abandon the application and then must follow the J-1/J-2 entry procedures to acquire J status.

If the EV would like FSIS to review the application before mailing it, they should make an appointment with the appropriate International Scholar Specialist

3 Prepare to move to Hawaiʻi.

While the I-539 is pending and unless the EV and their family are already residing in Hawaiʻi, they may want to read up on the basics about living in Hawaiʻi. When they first arrive here, they will need to bring enough money to secure housing and to purchase food and other necessities. They may also need to know how to apply for a Social Security Number, set up a bank account, purchase health insurance, among other common arrangements. Hawaiʻis culture is also very different compared to many other areas in the U.S.

Note: Anytime EVs move to a new U.S. address, they must notify USCIS immediately. If the I-539 is still pending, the U.S. Postal Service will not forward mail from USCIS to the new address, so the EV must report the new address to USCIS to receive I-539-related correspondence.

4 USCIS processes the I-539 application.

The EV cannot receive UH payments while the I-539 is pending unless they have some other type of valid work authorization (e.g. unexpired F-1 OPT EAD). An EV who does not have prior work authorization that is still valid must wait until USCIS approves the I-539 to begin the UH program. “Volunteering” in the meantime is not allowed.

If USCIS approves the I-539 application, the EV will receive an approval notice (Form I-797A) in the mail. J-1 status will begin from the approval date on the notice. USCIS should return the original DS-2019. The EV should provide copies of the approval notice and the returned DS-2019 (both sides of each form) to FSIS so we are made aware that the change of status has taken effect.

If USCIS denies the I-539 and the previous immigration status (e.g. F-1) has expired, the EV and any dependents (e.g. F-2) may begin accruing unlawful presence unless they have a legal basis to stay in the U.S. If there is no legal way to remain in the U.S., the EV and family members should leave immediately.

5 Contact UH faculty sponsor and schedule FSIS orientation/registration appointment.

If the I-539 is approved, the EV should contact the faculty sponsor immediately upon arrival in Hawaiʻi to begin the program. If the EV is already in Hawaiʻi, they should inform the faculty sponsor that the change of status has taken effect.

Within 10 business days of I-539 approval, the EV must contact FSIS to schedule a mandatory registration/orientation appointment.

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Step 4c: Transfer to UH

1 Prepare to move to Hawaiʻi.

After the other sponsor’s RO/ARO processes the “transfer out” in SEVIS, unless the EV and dependents are already residing in Hawaiʻi, they may want to read up on the basics about living in Hawaiʻi. When they first arrive here, they will need to bring enough money to secure housing and to purchase food and other necessities. They may also need to apply for a Social Security Number, set up a bank account, purchase health insurance, among other common arrangements. Hawaiʻi’s culture is also very different compared to many other areas in the U.S.

2 Contact UH faculty sponsor and schedule FSIS orientation/registration appointment.

The EV should report to the faculty sponsor immediately upon arrival in Hawaiʻi. If the EV is already in Hawaiʻi, they should inform the faculty sponsor that the transfer has been processed.

Within 10 business days of the transfer’s effective date, the EV must contact FSIS to schedule a mandatory registration/orientation appointment.

3 Pay the SEVIS fee, if required.

A Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee must be paid if the EV is transferring to UH from a U.S. federal government sponsor with a G-1, G-2, or G-3 program code. This fee is not required for J-2 dependents. Read important information on paying the SEVIS I-901 fee.

The EV does not need to pay the SEVIS fee if the prior sponsor does not have a G-1, G-2, or G-3 program code and the EV will remain in the same J-1 category.

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Step 5: Attend FSIS registration/orientation

After reporting to the faculty sponsor and within 10 business days of arrival, change of status, or transfer (as applicable), the exchange visitor (EV) must contact the appropriate FSIS International Scholar Specialist to schedule an in-person mandatory registration/orientation appointment. If the program site is not on the island of Oahu, FSIS will conduct registration/orientation with the EV by video conference. This session normally takes one hour, so we cannot accommodate walk-ins.

The EV should bring the items listed below to the appointment:

At registration/orientation, the International Scholar Specialist will review all immigration documents to check that the EV and J-2 dependents were properly admitted at the U.S. port of entry. FSIS will also give the EV an orientation packet containing information about the J-1 program rules, Social Security and other identification cards, and other materials to help the EV adjust to UH and the Hawaiʻi community. Once the EV completes the session and submits the required documents, FSIS will validate the J-1 program in SEVIS.

If an EV does not register with FSIS within 30 days of entering the U.S., changing status, or transferring to UH, the EV may be reported to the government as a “No Show,” which is a violation of J-1 status. This will make the EV subject to deportation and future inadmissibility to the U.S.

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