J1 and H1B nonimmigrant visas allow you to work in the United States temporarily. The requirements and benefits of J1 and H1 visas are similar, but they are entirely different visas with unique criteria and applications. You and your sponsor must meet the requirements of the specific nonimmigrant visa you apply for.

Let’s explore the two visas in more detail.

What is a J1?

A J1 is an exchange visitor’s visa that allows nonimmigrants to work for approved sponsors that are part of the J program. The visa is designed to build cross-cultural relationships and experiences. About 300,000 foreign visitors come to the United States from 200 countries to participate. The diverse positions available under the programs include au pair, camp counselor, physician, teacher, professor and various trainees and interns.

What is an H1B?

An H1B is a specialty occupation visa. You must have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, hold the appropriate occupational license or have the equivalent specialized education, training and experience to qualify for the job. You must be sponsored by an employer, but it does not need to be part of a special program as with the J1 visa. However, some J1-eligible positions would not qualify as a specialty occupation under the H1B criteria. Therefore, you may only have the option of either J1 or H1B in many cases.

The number of H1Bs granted are capped every year. The 2017 caps are 65,000 H1B visas and 20,000 for advanced degree exemptions, which require a U.S. master’s degree or higher degree. If the USCIS receives enough applications to fulfill its quota in the first five days of the annual application open period, the agency uses a lottery selection process to grant the approved visas.

If you and your sponsoring organization qualify for the J1 program and if you are not concerned about the two-year residency requirement, you might have a better chance of securing the J1 visa since it does not have the cap restrictions.

Can You Change from a J1 to an H1B visa?

Whether you can change status from a J1 to an H1B depends upon whether you are subjected to the two-year foreign residency requirement. Certain J1 holders must return to their home country at the conclusion of their J1 program. Certain exchange programs were established to train foreign workers in important skills. Thus, the foreign residency rule is in place to ensure the U.S. does not drain valuable human resources away from countries in need. Medical doctors, people on the skills list and those receiving funding from a U.S. or home country agency are typically required to meet the two-year residency rule.

During that two-year period, you can return to the United States under a B visitor visa, an F-1 student visa or another J-1 exchange visa, but you are not eligible for an H1 until the two years have expired.

You may change status or return to the United States to work before expiration of the two-year residency requirement, however, if you meet the criteria for a waiver of:

  • No objection
  • Interested U.S. government agency
  • Fear of persecution
  • Exceptional hardship

Applying for the wrong visa can cost you considerable time and money and ultimately result in denial of your application. A qualified immigration attorney can advise you on which visa you qualify for and is best suited to your individual circumstances and career goals. Browse through our attorneys to find the right lawyer for you.

*The content and materials available via Ask Ellis are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.

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