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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 the J-1 Exchange Visitor Checklist throughout the process.

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 exchange visitor finds 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 United States. 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 one is already in the United States 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 this 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-156 (Application for Non-immigrant Visa)
  6. Form DS-157 Supplement to DS-156 for males between 16 and 45
  7. Form DS-158 Supplement to DS-156 for F, M and J visa applicants
  8. Photographs
  9. Machine Readable Visa Fee Payment Receipt
  10. Any Applicable visa reciprocity fee
  11. 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
  12. 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 office 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) by checking the their database. 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, which is affixed in the passport.

The visa for entry to the United States in and of itself does not determine how long one can stay in the US . 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 and I-94 card marked “D/S” and you are within the stated program dates on your DS-2019. The combination of a visa, stamped I-94 card 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 U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires the collection of a one-time SEVIS fee of $100 USD 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. Unfortunately, some visa application and appointment scheduling systems in certain countries have not been adjusted to allow for waiving this fee. In such cases, there is no possibility to complete process without paying the fee. We understand the US Department of State is working on adjusting systems, but until this is rectified, some applicants will have to pay the SEVIS fee, which is non-refundable. Once the visitor has applied for and obtained a J-1 visa through a US Embassy or Consulate, this information is recorded in the SEVIS system. Customs and Border Patrol Officers at the port of entry record the entry in SEVIS, as well. Once in the United States , International Programs is responsible for validating and updating the visitor’s SEVIS record. The Responsible Officer continues to monitor and update the record as necessary throughout the program. For more information about the SEVIS system, go to:

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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.

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

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The Process: Applying for a Visa & Entering the USA

Receive Pre-Arrival Information Packet and DS-2019 form from US Forest Service. Complete and Return the required forms .
Complete visa application forms (DS-156, DS-157 & DS-158).
Schedule visa interview appointment with U.S. Embassy/Consulate. Get instructions online or from the nearest consulate.
Take all necessary and related documents to visa interview.
Wait for security checks, if necessary.

After interview, necessary security checks, and the consular officer’s approval, you receive J-1 visa in passport from U.S. Embassy/Consulate. If your visa application is denied, follow Consular Officer’s instructions and request an explanation of the denial in writing.
Upon being issued a J-1 visa, notify host unit and International Programs so that travel arrangements can be finalized.
TRAVEL DATES - Enter U.S. 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 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 IP 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 IP immediately.  Your program dates will need to be modified so that your program will not be cancelled and that entry to the USA will not be denied.

TRAVEL - Complete the Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94) on the airplane and present to officials upon entering the country. It is VERY important that every number and letter on this card can be easily read. The data from this card is entered into systems that track international visitors. These systems are accessed for various purposes. For example, the social security administration accesses the SAVE system to check your entry and information. If the information on the I-94 card was not clear or was entered improperly, it could delay the process of obtaining a social security card.

Keep the I-94 Card stapled in your passport next to the J-1 visa and entry stamp passport. Keep these documents and the DS-2019 in a safe place. These are permanent records of your immigration status. They are required for exiting and re-entering the USA . DO NOT LOSE THEM!

REGISTRATION/SEVIS VALIDATION - Report to the program site and complete the Arrival/Check-In Forms within 48 hours of arrival. Fax the signed Arrival Form, I-94 card and copies of DS-2019, visa/passport which have been stamped by the Customs and Border Patrol Officer to the International Programs office. This will allow International Programs to validate your program participation in SEVIS.

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.

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,
  • Ashlee Jackson, International Visitor Program Specialist, (202) 644-4644,
  • Lee Blaser, International Visitor Program Specialist, (202) 644-4631,

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