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Visa Compliance & Requirements

J-1 Exchange Visitors (EV) must abide by certain visa requirements and rules, which are listed below. Also, there are additional rules for those in the Student Intern, and Research Scholar or Professor categories.


J-1 Exchange Visitors may receive a salary or stipend from various parties. They can receive funding from Northwestern, the government, private organizations, their current place of employment (outside the U.S.), or personal funds, but the funding must meet the current living expense requirements.  This requirement is currently $2,470/month or $29,640/year for a scholar with an additional $610 per month for each dependent (spouse or child). This amount does not include childcare or healthcare costs.

English Language Proficiency

Per U.S. government guidelines, J-1 Exchange Visitors must possess “sufficient proficiency in the English language, as determined by an objective measurement of English language proficiency, successfully to participate in his or her program and to function on a day-to-day basis. A sponsor must verify an applicant's English language proficiency through a recognized English language test, by signed documentation from an academic institution or English language school, or through a documented interview conducted by the sponsor either in-person or by videoconferencing, or by telephone if videoconferencing is not a viable option.”

The purpose of this Department of State requirement serves many purposes, mainly to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of the visitor:

  • The visitor will be able to contact authorities in the event of an emergency and discuss medical treatment with a doctor.
  • The visitor will not be dependent on others for translation services.
  • The visitor will be able to be productive and start the program objectives from day one without having to struggle too much with language.
  • The visitor will have an easier time with day-to-day life. For example, the visitor will be able to order meals at a restaurant and if he/she is a parent, the visitor will be able to discuss academic progress or any issues with the school teachers and administrators.

In order to be eligible for J-1 sponsorship, all new and transfer J-1 scholars will need to provide evidence of English Language Proficiency in one of the following ways:

  1. Copy of a diploma or other signed documentation that confirms the scholar earned a degree from an institution of higher education that operates in English
  2. Approved English test score from the past 2 years:
    1. TOEFL score of at least 57 (87 if the visitor will be teaching)
    2. IELTS score of at least 5.5 (7.0 if the visitor will be teaching)
    3. English3 Interview of at least 3 (4 if the visitor will be teaching)
    4. J-Check/iTEP score of at least 3.5 (4.0 if the visitor will be teaching)
    5. Cambridge English score of at least 162 (185 if the visitor will be teaching)
  3. If the exchange visitor has lived, worked, or studied in an English speaking country* for two years within the past five years, a verbal interview can be used to evaluate English proficiency. Please see English Proficiency Attestation for interview guidelines.

*The World Factbook has information about languages spoken in a given country. Please select the country in question from the menu and look under "People and Societies" for language information.

Northwestern University has partnered with both English3 and J-Check to provide discounted exams. To access the discounted rate, please have your prospective J-1 scholar follow the steps below:

  • For English3, complete the interview online and receive the score within 24 hours. The interview takes about 25 minutes. Receive the 30% Northwestern discount by entering the code “TAMUJ130”.
  • For J-Check, go to and then click on the "Find my School" link. (If you currently live in China, please email for registration details. You should provide your name, email address, and a note that you are affiliated at Northwestern University.) Click on the Northwestern logo and follow instructions for the "Buy Now" link. After payment, feel free to use the complimentary practice ID to practice the exam before using the official ID and test link to take the exam.

Scores should be send to the hosting department after they are received. The hosting department will include the score with the exchange visitor request to OISS.

Maintaining J-1 Status

Enter the Country in the Correct J-1 Status

  • Present your DS-2019 and visa stamp to immigration official to ensure you are entered in J-1 status correctly.
  • Even if you have a valid B-1 visa or are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program, it is important that you always enter in J-1 status to maintain this status. If you do not enter in the correct status, you will need to leave the U.S.. and reenter.

Maintain Valid Immigration Documents

  • Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months into the future at all times.
  • Your DS-2019 dates should be valid. Apply a DS-2019 extension before the expiration date.
  • Your visa stamp must be valid for entry into the U.S.. It is not a problem if the visa stamp expires while in the U.S.
  • Access your Electronic I-94 record online each time you enter the U.S.. and save it for your records.

Maintain Accurate Records

If your residential address changes, email your assigned OISS Advisor within 10 days.

30-Day Grace Period

  • Enter/exit the country within 30-days before/after the program.
  • You are not allowed to work or conduct research during the grace period.

Providing Off-Campus Lectures or Consultations

Off-campus lectures/consultations at other institutions are allowed as long as they do not interfere or delay the J-1 program objectives. You must acquire written approval from the Office of International Student and Scholar Services.

Please e-mail your assigned OISS advisor prior to any off-campus lecture/consultation for written approval before the lecture/consultation. Provide the following information so that we may write you a letter:

  • Name of host institution
  • Name of main contact at host institution
  • Address at host institution
  • Date(s) of talk/lecture/consultation
  • Name (if any) of presentation

The Two-Year Home Residency Requirement - 212(E)

After completion of the J-1 program, you must spend two years physically present in the country of citizenship or last legal permanent residence. Time does not have to be continuous. The 212(e) will apply to your record until the requirement has been waived or fulfilled.

The following exchange visitors are subject to the requirement:

  • Any EV whose field of study is listed on the State Departments's Exchange Visitor Skills List. Double-check the Skills List even if your documentation does not reflect subjectivity.
  • Any EV receiving U.S.. or home government funding specifically targeted to sponsor the exchange.
  • Any EV receiving graduate medical education or training.

Until the requirement is fulfilled:

  • You are not eligible to obtain an H or L visa at a U.S.. consular office, or to change to these visa categories within the U.S..
  • You are not eligible for lawful permanent residence status.
  • You are not eligible to apply for a Change of Status within the U.S.., any change of status must be done by exiting and re-entering.

Applying for a 212(e) Waiver

The waiver process should be initiated and filed by you, not by the Office of International Student and Scholar Services. More information on this waiver process can be found on the Department of State's website.

Important notes about the 212(e) waiver:

  • Ineligibility for extension: Once you receive a written waiver recommendation from the US Department of State, you cannot extend the current end date of your DS-2019.
  • Transferring after waiver: While not recommended, if you are a J-1 scholar at another institution who has already received the 212e waiver but would like to transfer your record to Northwestern, it is possible to transfer the J-1 provided the end date remains the same on the current DS-2019.