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About the J-1 Visa

According to the United States Department of State, the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program was created to “increase mutual understanding between people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchanges.” It is sometimes referred to as the J-1 Research Visa. 

Some features of J-1 Visa status include:

  • Flexible source(s) of funding

  • Those with J-1 may participate in conferences/lectures and be paid from other sources

  • Dependents of J-1 visas are eligible for J-2 status and may apply for permission to work in the U.S.


There is an application timeline of the steps you must take to get a J-1 Visa sponsorship. Please see below.

Required Checklist

It is very important that you complete all items on this checklist when you receive your DS-2019 (J visa eligibility document); please see check list below.

Insurance Requirements

The U.S. government requires that J-1 Exchange Visitors buy health insurance for themselves and any accompanying J-2 family members. Information provided below.

Rules and Regulations

Below we’ve compiled a list of Rules and Regulations pertaining to J-1 Visas

Error on DS-2019 Form

If there is an error on your DS-2019, it is very important that you contact the GPS office immediately.

Entering the U.S.

To enter the U.S., a valid visa and documents that support it are required. Learn more about the process of entering the U.S. as you read through our visa information section. 

Arrival Date

If you cannot arrive in the U.S. within 30 days before or after the start date listed in Section 3 of your DS-2019 form, it is very important that you contact the Mass General Brigham Office for Global Professionals and Scholars (GPS) office about your new arrival date.

Application Timeline for J-1 Visa

If you have any questions, your Mass General Brigham department must act as the liaison with our GPS office until GPS sends the DS-2019 to you.

Here is a timeline of the steps you must take to get J-1 visa sponsorship.

3-5 Months Before

The Mass General Brigham hospital department will provide you with online application instructions to generate a DS-2019 (J visa eligibility document). You will complete the visa sponsorship application material.  Your sponsoring Mass General Brigham hospital department will review the request. 

Ask your Mass General Brigham hospital department about their internal processing times. Each Mass General Brigham department requires days or weeks of internal administrative procedures before they submit application forms to GPS. After the U.S. hospital’s internal administrative procedures are complete, they will submit the visa sponsorship application to GPS office.

If you would like to make travel plans before you receive your DS-2019, please confirm the date that your paperwork was delivered to GPS with your Mass General Brigham hospital department. Processing time to issue a Form DS-2019 is approximately one month after a complete file has been received at GPS from your Mass General Brigham hospital department. Faster DS-2019 processing times are not possible.

If you need to purchase airplane tickets in advance, purchase only refundable/flexible tickets to enter the U.S. GPS cannot process a DS-2019 earlier for those who have purchased non-refundable airplane tickets, rented an apartment, etc. 

Ask your sponsoring Mass General Brigham department for your lab site address and suggestions to help you identify Boston-area neighborhoods to live in.

Confirm that your passport is valid at least six months beyond your expected arrival in the U.S. If your spouse and/or children will accompany you, also confirm their passport validity.

 If you have children less than five years old who require daycare, learn more about daycare and join daycare company waitlists. If you have children 5-19 years old who have not yet completed secondary school, review schools. Visit our “Living in Boston” section of our site for helpful information about daycare.

3 Months Before

Decide whether you want a realtor to help you find an apartment. There is helpful information in our “Living in Boston” section of our site about apartment hunting/renting.

When the DS-2019 Has Been Mailed to You

You will receive a “Visa Guidance” email from GPS. 

After you receive the DS-2019 package, follow all of the instructions on the Required J-1 Checklist. Not following the exact checklist instructions may result in the cancellation of your J visa status and government fines.

When You Receive Your Visa*

  • Make arrangements to enter the U.S. (purchase a plane ticket, etc.)

  • Notify your U.S. hospital department of the date you will arrive in the U.S.

  • If you would like to reserve your apartment before you arrive in the U.S., contact your realtor or start searching for an apartment.

  • If you will not have an apartment upon arrival in the U.S., reserve a hotel room.

  • Review U.S. banking options and how you plan to transfer or access money.

  • Notify your credit card companies, bank, cell/mobile phone company, and other relevant businesses in your home country of your move to the U.S. 

When You Arrive in the U.S.

Review the Required J-1 Checklist to confirm that you completed all items.  

Not following the exact checklist instructions may result in the cancellation of your J visa status and government fines. A copy of the checklist follows below.

Notify your Mass General Brigham department of your arrival. They will provide you with onboarding information (such as hospital computer login/password, email, hospital ID, etc.). 

*Canadian citizens do not need to obtain a visa from the American Embassy/Consulate.

J-1 Visa Required Checklist

You must complete all items on the "J-1 Exchange Visitor Checklist" when you receive your DS-2019 (J visa eligibility document) from our GPS office. 

Not following all of the "J-1 Exchange Visitor Checklist" instructions may result in the cancellation of your J visa status and/or government fines.

J-1 Exchange Visitor Checklist:

  • Review your DS-2019 when you get the package. 
  • Contact us if there are any errors.
  • Pay the SEVIS fee on

As a J-1 Exchange Visitor, you are responsible for paying the SEVIS fee, and this fee is an addition to any other regular visa application fees/machine-readable visa fees.*1

Go to the U.S. Department of State website to fill out the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-160 and to pay the visa application fee.

Visit the U.S. Embassy or Consulate’s website for a list of all the U.S. embassies/consulates. Consult the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate where you plan to apply to complete the required forms, schedule an interview, and obtain specific J-1 Exchange Visitor visa application instructions. *2 Review visa appointment wait times here.

If you cannot arrive in the U.S. within 30 days before or after the start date listed in Section 3 of your DS-2019 form, you must inform our office no later than 15 days after the DS-2019 start date.

When you are ready to schedule your exact date of arrival in the U.S., follow our "Entering the U.S." instructions which appear in the upcoming pages of this section about J-1 visas.

Within 3 calendar days after your arrival in the U.S., you MUST register with our office*3 and sign up for International Orientation *4  

Do NOT register with our office before you enter the U.S.

If you are applying for a social security number, you must wait at least five business days after you receive an email from GPS confirming your orientation date.

You are required to purchase health insurance within 30 days of your arrival in the U.S.

 *1 Canadian citizens do not need to obtain a visa from an American Embassy/Consulate, but they must pay the SEVIS fee.

*2 If you are asked for a letter to confirm your current J-1 research participation, please request the letter from your employer/department at the hospital. The DS-2019 form is the only document provided by GPS for your visa application. Please note that you will not need to complete Form DS-7002, which is specific to the J Training/Internship visa category that our office does not sponsor.

*3 You must register with our office even if you have previously lived in the U.S. or previously been in J visa status. 

*4 All J-1 Exchange Visitors are required to attend one International Orientation as soon as possible after arrival. Spouses are invited to attend, but children are not permitted. The orientation provided by your U.S. hospital cannot replace the International Orientation 

J-1 Visa Health Insurance Requirements

The U.S. government does not have standard public health insurance for the general public. 

You are responsible for getting your own health insurance for you and your family within 30 days of arriving in the U.S. An attestation with our office will be required after you attend International Orientation.

Health insurance in the U.S. is very expensive (paying $200-$650 a month per person for health insurance is normal).

The U.S. government requires that J-1 Exchange Visitors buy health insurance for themselves and any accompanying J-2 family members.  Massachusetts and federal laws also require that you buy health insurance.

J-1 Exchange Visitors and their J-2 dependents must purchase a health insurance plan that meets all of the requirements as outlined in the image below. For a detailed description of the requirements, refer to the sections Part A and Part B on this page.


Medical benefits of at least $100,000 for each accident or illness

Some plans limit what they will pay for services, such as overnight hospital stays or surgery. If the actual charge for these services is higher than your policy’s limits, you will be responsible for the remainder of the cost.     

Deductible no more than $500 per injury or illness 

A deductible is the amount of money you must pay before the insurance will pay your medical bills. After you pay the deductible, the insurance company begins to pay the expenses. Deductibles are usually $100, but the amount varies.

Co-payment no more than 25% per accident or illness 

This means that the insurance policy must pay at least 75% of covered medical expenses. 

Examine closely how the co-payment works. Some polices pay 100% of covered costs until the insurance company has paid a specific amount, then pay only 80% or 90% of your remaining medical bills. 

Other policies require that you pay the co-payment at the beginning (for example, 10% or 20% of the medical cost), and then the insurance company pays your remaining medical bills. Many insurance companies require you to pay a $15-$30 co-payment for each doctor’s visit.

Coverage for activities normal to working in a hospital 

The insurance company may have a list of exclusions for medical care if something happened to you while doing certain “high-risk” things (such as skiing, skydiving, etc.). Read the list of exclusions from the policy carefully to guarantee that certain risks that may be an everyday part of your research activity will not be excluded from the policy.


Medical evacuation in case of serious accident or illness in the amount of $50,000. 

If it is judged necessary by a medical doctor that the Exchange Visitor should be transferred elsewhere because of serious illness or injury, the insurance policy must pay up to $50,000 for this travel. 

This benefit is generally used in three cases: 

  1. If the Exchange Visitor is away from the host community and needs to be transported back to the host (for example, during a vacation or field trip)

  2. If the Exchange Visitor needs to be transported to another hospital for more specialized treatment

  3. If the Exchange Visitor needs to be transported to his or her home country for medical reasons

Repatriation of bodily remains in the amount of $25,000

If an Exchange Visitor passes away while in the U.S., the insurance policy must have sufficient benefits to send the Exchange Visitor’s remains to his/her home country for burial. Some credit cards include medical evacuation and repatriation insurance if you buy your plane ticket to the U.S. with that credit card. Contact your credit card company directly to see if they offer this benefit.

If your home country's hospital/university, previous employer, or government provides health insurance coverage, confirm that it meets all the requirements outlined above. If it does not meet them, review the alternatives below.

Mass General Brigham Health Insurance

The employer usually pays for the cost of the health insurance as part of the “fringe benefits,” that you receive in addition to your salary. If you meet the salary or hourly requirements (see table below), you may qualify for the hospital health insurance. If eligible, you will attend a hospital orientation during which health insurance options will be explained.

Please note that those who receive stipends are not eligible for health insurance benefits. Please consult your Mass General Brigham department if you have any questions about payroll or stipends.






$10,000 per year

16 hours per week

20 hours per week 

Mass General Brigham hospitals (Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, McLean Hospital, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Mass Eye and Ear) do not include Medical Evacuation and Repatriation insurance, which you must buy separately as required by your J visa status. Review U.S. private companies that offer this coverage below. 

Private U.S. Companies

You can buy health insurance from a private company that specializes in providing health insurance plans to foreign workers, including Medical Evacuation and Repatriation coverage. It is extremely important that you research the medical benefits and exclusions of each health insurance plan. You are responsible for choosing your own plan.

Please review some of the companies used by many J-1 scholars below:

Confirm COVID-19 Coverage

Make certain that your insurance plan, in addition to being J-1 compliant, also covers expenses related to COVID-19.

Medical Evacuation offered through third-party company

Harvard Health Insurance

If you have a Harvard Medical School appointment, you may be eligible to buy health insurance from Harvard Medical School. The Harvard University-sponsored Blue Cross Blue Shield Plan is managed by the Harvard University Health Services (HUHS) and requires use of the HUHS facilities and/or Blue Cross Blue Shield participating health care providers.

You may purchase health insurance from Harvard if you are:

  1. Appointed at Harvard Medical School

  2. A post-doctoral fellow

  3. Not eligible for health insurance from a Mass General Brigham hospital

If you are not sure whether you have a Harvard Medical School appointment, please ask your Mass General Brigham department. If you would like health insurance from HUHS, you must enroll with HUHS within 30 days of your arrival in the U.S.

You can get more information about HUHS in the following ways:

  • Review the “Post-doc Affiliate” information on

  • Call 617-495-2008

  • Email

  • Go in person to 75 Mt. Auburn Street, 1st floor, Holyoke Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (Harvard Square)

Be sure to bring your Harvard ID badge and appointment letter or appointment documents.

Harvard University Health Insurance Plans do not include Medical Evacuation and Repatriation insurance, which you must buy separately as required by your J visa status. Review U.S. private companies that offer this coverage above.

Rules and Regulations Pertaining to J-1 Visas


Your legally married spouse and your unmarried children under 21 years old are eligible for J-2 visa status.

Each J-2 family member must have their own DS-2019 and get their own J-2 visa from the American Embassy/Consulate (only Canadian citizens do not need visas in their passport to enter the U.S.).

Please have marriage and birth certificates with English translations ready to present at the consulate and possibly at point of entry.

All J-2 family dependents must travel with their own DS-2019 and valid passport.

Your J-2 family members can enter the U.S. with you, or they can enter the U.S. separately after you if there have not been any significant changes in your J-1 program since the initial DS-2019s were issued.

There are restrictions on a J-2 visa holder switching to a J-1 research scholar visa; see the chart below which outlines the 24-month bar on repeat participation.

J-2 family members are not required to enter the U.S. within 30 days after the start date listed in Box 3 of the DS-2019.

Your family should always know your U.S. home address, where you will work, and what type of work you do.

Any other relatives, such as parents or cousins, may visit the U.S. with Visa Waiver for Tourism (must visit for not more than 90 days and have citizenship from a specific list of countries). Those who do not qualify for Visa Waiver for Tourism may enter the U.S. with B-2 Tourism visa status.

Note: For information about non-married partners, please visit the “Welcome to GPS” section of our site.

Two-Year Home Residency


Some J-1 Exchange Visitors may have a two-year home residency requirement, also known as Section 212(e). A two-year home residency obligates some J visa holders to return to their home country for an aggregate of two years upon completion of their J-1 program.

The J-1 Exchange Visitor must first live in their home country for two years or receive a “Waiver” (permission from the J-1's home government and the U.S. government to be released from the two-year home residency) if they want to obtain:

    H visa status

    K visa status

    L visa status

    Change to any other visa status without leaving the U.S.

    Permanent residence in the U.S (green card.)

Two-Year Home Residency May Apply for Three Reasons

J-1 Exchange Visitors have a two-year home residency if any of the following reasons apply:

  1. They come to the U.S. with money provided either by their home country government, the U.S. government, or some international organizations that receive government money

  2. Their country of citizenship or country of last permanent residence appears on the U.S. Department of State's Skills List and the J-1’s skill is on the list

  3. They come to the U.S. to obtain clinical training with ECFMG visa sponsorship

J-2 family dependents will also have a two-year home residency if the J-1 has a two-year home residency. The two-year home country residence requirement and other conditions of J-1 status are explained to the J-1 Exchange Visitor on the second page of the DS-2019.

The Exchange Visitor's home country and the U.S. Department of State frequently grant an official release ("Waiver") from the two-year home residency for those who would like to stay in the U.S. after completing their J-1 medical research program.

Starting New J-1 Programs

The U.S. government restricts the repeated use of the J-1 visa status.  If you complete your J-1 program or exhaust the maximum length of time for your type of J-1 visa status, you may be restricted from obtaining J-1 Research Scholar visa status again.

Please review the chart below to check if the 12-month bar or the 24-month bar applies to you.