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Pre-Entry and Arrival

International Visitor Program


Exchange Visitors must complete several steps in preparation for their arrival. Please read the following requirements carefully and refer to thethroughout the process.J-1 Exchange Visitor Checklist

Passports and Expiration Dates

Passports must be valid for 6 months beyond the period of the approved stay in the US. International visitors should check the passport expiration date and get a new passport or an extension if needed.  It is best to do this before applying for the J-1 visa. If an extension is required after arrival, foreign embassies in the US can provide instructions on renewals. This process can take several weeks so allow plenty of time.

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J-1 Visas

The J-1 visa stamp in an exchange visitor’s passport, along with the DS-2019, gives permission to apply for entry into the US.  Exchange visitors should contact the US Embassy or Consulate that has jurisdiction over his/her place of residence and follow the appropriate procedures to obtain a visa to enter the US. One may also apply for a visa in another consular jurisdiction where you are “physically present”, but only if that country has agreed to process visa applications for “third country nationals” (TCNs). The majority of consular officers do accept applications from TCNs; nevertheless, it may be more difficult or time consuming than applying from your home country.  If a visitor is already in the US with a visa classification other than J-1, the person wishing to hold a J-1 visa must apply for a change of status, or consider departing the country and re-entering. See the section on “Change of Status” for more information.

Immigration and consular officials carefully scrutinize a visa applicant’s intentions.  The burden is on the visa applicant to prove strong ties to his/her home country and intent to return home.  Without proof, an applicant will be denied a visa as it is assumed s/he has intent to stay in the USA or “immigrate.” 

In general, an exchange visitor will need the following to apply for a J-1 Visa:

  1. Valid Passport
  2. Form DS-2019 issued by current sponsor
  3. Financial Support Documentation
  4. Letter of Invitation for Special Program, Seminar or Meeting
  5. Form DS-160
  6. Photographs
  7. Machine Readable Visa Fee Payment Receipt
  8. Any Applicable visa reciprocity fee
  9. Proof of intent – Evidence of residence abroad and intent to depart the US after completion of the program - such as a letter from employer in home country or student enrollment records for future study
  10. Evidence of English ability sufficient for exchange program
    (The US Forest Service Program does not require standard test scores from standardized test such as the TOEFL or IELTS. However, if the applicant has taken these exams, they may wish to have these documents with them.)

The consular officer will evaluate the documents submitted, conduct an interview, and determine if the applicant is eligible for a J-1 visa and whether s/he would be subject to the 2-year home country physical presence requirement. The officer will verify that the DS-2019 was issued through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). They will also review funding, English language ability, residency, future plans, etc. If eligible, the officer will sign and return the DS-2019 and issue a J-1 visa.

The visa for entry to the US in and of itself does not determine how long one can stay. Do not confuse the validity of a visa stamp as being the sole indication of the length of approved stay here. The visa must be valid at the time of any entry to the US; it does not have to be valid for you to remain in the US as long as you have a valid DS-2019 form and a valid I-94 entry record. The combination of a visa, I-94 entry record and stamped DS-2019 form indicate the approved length of stay.

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Student and Exchange Visitor Information System - SEVIS Fee Requirements

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires the collection of a one-time SEVIS fee from certain J-1 Exchange Visitor students and scholars.  If your official sponsor is the US Forest Service, a US Government Agency, you do not have to pay this fee.  The fee is waived for participants in an Exchange Visitor program sponsored by a US government agency.  The participant will still have a SEVIS record, regardless of the fee requirements.  Once the visitor has applied for and obtained a J-1 visa through a US Embassy or Consulate, this information is recorded in SEVIS.  Customs and Border Patrol Officers at the port of entry record the entry in SEVIS, as well.  Once in the US, International Programs is responsible for validating and updating the visitor’s SEVIS record.  The IVP Program Specialist continues to monitor and update the record as necessary throughout the program.

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Mandatory Security Checks

Prior to issuing a DS-2019, the US Forest Service submits exchange visitor information for a required security clearance.  Upon applying for a visa at a US Consulate abroad, the applicant may be subject to additional security checks. Please note that security and name checks can significantly delay the visa approval process anywhere from 4-12 weeks. This varies from country to country. More information can be found on U.S. Embassy and Consulate websites.

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USCIS Biometrics

All non-immigrant visitors holding visas (regardless of race, national origin, or religion) participate in the Department of Homeland Security’s comprehensive registration tracking system for entries to and exits from the United States. The program involves obtaining a scan of two index fingerprints and a digital photograph.

Please go to the Department of State website for the most accurate and up-to-date information:

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Applying for a Visa & Entering the United States

1. Receive Pre-Arrival Information Packet and DS-2019 form US Forest Service. Complete and Return the required forms .
2. Complete visa application forms (DS-160 online and upload your photo).

3. Schedule visa interview appointment with US Embassy/Consulate and pay the Visa Application Fee (do not pay a SEVIS fee as it is waived for J-1 visa holders sponsored by US government agencies). Get instructions online or from the nearest consulate.

4. Gather and take all necessary and related documents to visa interview – please check the Embassy website to ensure you have all proper documentation prior to your interview.
5. Wait for security checks, if necessary.

After the interview, necessary security checks, and the consular officer’s approval, you will receive your J-1 visa in your passport. If your visa application is denied, please follow the Consular Officer’s instructions and request an explanation of the denial in writing.
6. Upon being issued a J-1 visa, notify host unit and International Programs so that arrival arrangements can be finalized.
7. TRAVEL DATES - You may enter the US up to 30 days PRIOR to the program start date on the Form DS-2019 and no later than 30 days AFTER the program start date on the Form DS-2019. You must have your passport with your J-1 visa, a stamped DS-2019, and other relevant documents with you as you pass through customs and border patrol/ immigration checkpoints.  You must arrive and report to your program specialist within 30 days of the start date indicated on the Form DS-2019.  If your arrival is delayed and you will not be able to report to your program site within 30 days after program start date, notify your program specialist immediately.  Your program dates will need to be modified so that your program will not be cancelled and that entry to the US will not be denied.

8. REGISTRATION/SEVIS VALIDATION - Report to the program site and complete the Arrival/Check-In Form within 48 hours of arrival.  Email scanned copies of DS-2019 form, visa/passport which have been stamped by the Customs and Border Patrol Officer, I-94 entry document (retrieved from and US residential address to the International Programs office. This will allow International Programs to validate your program participation in SEVIS.

9. ON-SITE ORIENTATION - Complete on-site arrival registration and orientation. Host unit provides information on program, insurance, allowances, community, office procedures and security.

10.ORIENTATION – Register and attend an orientation webinar, which occurs the 1st Thursday of every month.

ON-SITE ORIENTATION - Host unit provides information on program, insurance, allowances, community, office procedures and security.

ORIENTATION - Complete online US Forest Service International Visitor Program Orientation and receive briefing from Responsible Officer.

Entering the United States

An exchange visitor may enter the United States up to 30 days prior to the start date on the DS-2019 or no later than 30 days after the start date on the DS-2019.  If you are unable to enter within this 60-day period and report to the program site within 48 hours of arrival, the exchange visitor and hostunit must inform the IVP program specialist so program dates can be amended and a new DS-2019 can be issued and sent to the visitor. The visitor will not be allowed to enter the USA outside this window of 60 days.

At a US port of entry, the Exchange Visitor will present his/her passport and US visa along with the DS-2019 form, which has the preliminary endorsement of a consular or immigration officer. The immigration officials may also ask for other documents that may have been presented to the US Consular Officer (proof of financial support, invitation letter, etc.).  The Customs and Border Patrol Officer will approve entry and stamp the passport and DS-2019 Form indicating that the visitor has entered the US on a J-1 visa for a specific period of time. This is usually indicated as “D/S” for Duration of Stay which allows the visitor to stay for the length of program indicated by the dates on the DS-2019 form.  The date of entry and the port of entry will be recorded in the SEVIS system. 

Temporary Admission by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services with Form I-515
If the DS-2019 is lost, not stamped or signed or there is any other problem when presenting it at the port of entry, the immigration officer will determine if you have a valid J-1 visa stamp and are qualified in all other respects for admission as an Exchange Visitor. The officer may then admit you to the US in Exchange Visitor status for a period of 30 days and issue Form I-515 (Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor). There is no guarantee that the officer will temporarily admit you to the US if you do not have your DS-2019. You may be required to leave the US without being admitted. You must inform the IVP program specialist about this notice as soon as you arrive at your program site.  Those issued a Form I-515 must go to a local United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office and present updated documents and a fee during the 30-day period.  The IVP program specialist will assist in helping you with your documentation and give you instructions on contacting the appropriate office for your appointment.

Arrival Check In and Validation of Program Participation

When an exchange visitor enters the US for the first time, s/he is in “Initial” SEVIS status.  The process of converting an exchange visitor from “Initial” to “Active” is the Validation of Program Participation. After arriving in the United States, the visitor must report to his/her activity site and email the required documents within 48 hours of arrival.  An International Visitor Program Specialist, who serves as an Alternate Responsible Officer for the J-1 program, will validate program participation in the SEVIS system. If a visitor is not validated in this system within 30 days of the program start date (or 30 days after a transfer effective date), the visitor will be considered a “no show” and program participation is effectively cancelled or “terminated.”  If the program is not validated, legal immigration status is pending.   If an arrival is not properly validated, the visitor may have to go through a lengthy process (up to several months) of requesting re-instatement through the U.S. Department of State.  Such errors may limit visitors from inviting dependents or traveling while corrections are pending. Hence, validation within a few days of arrival is extremely important.

To validate program participation, please send the following by email to the Alternate Responsible Officer listed on the DS-2019:  

  • Passport Biodata page
  • J-1 Visa in Passport with entry stamp
  • I-94 Form (retrieved from CBP website  )
  • DS-2019 Form with embassy stamp
  • Residential address in the USA and current contact information

> If you have any questions, please contact:

  • Brenda Dean , International Visitor Program Coordinator, Responsible Officer, (202) 644-4640,
  • Rima Eid, International Visitor Program Specialist, Alternate Responsible Officer, (202)644-4642,
  • Kristin Corcoran, International Visitor Program Specialist, (202) 644-4643,
  • Misty Sidhu, International Visitor Program Specialist, (202) 644-4645,
  • Lee Blaser, International Visitor Program Specialist, (202) 644-4631,
> Click here and read about latest activities and news of the International Visitor Program.

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