If you want to travel to the United States as part of an exchange visitor program, you must apply for a J-1 visa. As part of the application process, nearly all prospective exchange visitor program participants must complete an in-person interview. This process can seem intimidating, but with helpful information and thorough preparation, you can answer all J-1 visa interview questions with confidence.
Reviewing the J-1 Visa Application Process
Before your interview, you will have already completed the following steps of the J-1 visa application process:
- Found a sponsor;
- Been accepted into an exchange visitor program;
- Had your information entered into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and checked with your sponsor to see if you need to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee;
- Obtained Form DS-2019, the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status, from your sponsor; and
- Completed Form DS-160, the online application for your J-1 visa, and uploaded the required photo with your application.
Once you have completed the above steps, you’re ready to schedule your interview.
When Will You Have Your J-1 Visa Interview?
If you want to make sure that your visa is approved in time to begin your exchange visitor program as scheduled, we recommend making an appointment for the interview as soon as you have sent in your J-1 visa application. You can schedule an appointment by contacting the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where you live.
Almost every J-1 visa applicant will be required to undergo an interview before their visa can be approved. If an applicant is older than 13 but younger than 80, it will be mandatory. Canadian citizens are not required to schedule an interview.
The waiting time to get an appointment can vary greatly according to demand. That is why we recommend scheduling the interview as soon as you can after applying for your visa. To find out how long the wait time is for an interview appointment at your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate, you can visit the Visa Appointment Wait Times page.
Before the interview, make sure you have paid your non-refundable visa application processing fee unless your program doesn’t require you to pay it. Check with your sponsor first to know if it’s required. If your program requires you to pay the fee, you will need to bring the original receipt as proof of payment to the visa interview.
What Should You Do to Prepare for Your J-1 Visa Interview?
You will need to gather several documents you must bring with you to the interview. Getting these documents together and choosing an appropriate outfit for your interview will help you feel confident and organized.
Next, think about the questions you will most likely be answering at your visa application interview and practice providing the answers with a friend or family member. This may feel a little strange to you, but thinking about the questions and answers ahead of time will help keep you from being caught off guard during the actual interview.
Finally, make any travel arrangements you will need to get to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate on time for your interview. Remember to take traffic into account and give yourself enough time so that you won’t be rushed. Taking care of these details will make you more relaxed, allowing you to focus on completing your interview and making a good impression with your interviewer.
Documents You Should Have
Even though you may not be asked for all of them during the actual interview, you are required to bring the following documents with you:
- Passport: Remember that your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the date that you plan to leave the United States. Citizens of the countries in the six-month club are exempt from this requirement and only need a passport valid for their intended period of stay in the U.S.
- Form DS-160 confirmation page: This shows that you submitted the nonimmigrant visa application online.
- Application fee payment receipt: If you were required to pay the visa application processing fee before your interview, you must bring the receipt to confirm it was paid.
- Photo: Bring a copy of the same photo you uploaded with your online Form DS-160 visa application. While you must do this if your photo upload failed for some reason, it’s a good idea to bring an extra copy to the interview with you.
- Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status, Form DS-2019: This is the form your sponsor should provide you after entering your information into the SEVIS database. Because this form contains details about your exchange program, your interviewer may ask you questions based on what it says. It’s a good idea to get very familiar with the information on this form since it’s likely to come up in your interview.
- Training/Internship Placement Plan, Form DS-7002: If your exchange program is in the J-1 Trainee or Intern category, you will also need to bring a copy of this form to your interview.
The following documents aren’t necessarily required for the interview, but it can be very helpful to have them on hand for answering certain types of questions that are likely to be asked:
- Visa appointment confirmation: When you schedule your visa interview, make sure they send you an appointment confirmation letter that you can print and bring with you. Though it’s not required, it can be handy in the event of any scheduling misunderstandings.
- Bank statement or other financial documents: During your interview, you may be asked about your financial status. This is because the interviewer needs to make sure you will be able to pay the travel costs necessary to return to your home country after your program ends. You can bring copies of your latest bank statements or other financial documents that can serve as proof of financial resources, especially if you will be receiving funds from a guarantor.
- Transcript: If you are going to the United States to study, conduct research, or receive further training in your field, it can be a good idea to bring an academic transcript or other documents demonstrating your interest or expertise in that area.
Choosing the Right Outfit for Your J-1 Visa Interview
Consider your outfit choice for your J-1 visa interview carefully. There is no formal dress code, but you want to choose attire that will make a good first impression on your interviewer. One good place to start is to think of what you would wear for a job interview in your field and go from there.
Some applicants choose to wear formal attire such as a business suit. While a suit can present a professional image, it’s not necessary especially if it makes you feel uncomfortable. More casual business wear is also acceptable. It’s more important to be sure your outfit is neat and fits you well.
What to Expect at Your Interview
When you get to the Embassy or Consulate, make sure to check in with the front desk staff to let them know you have arrived. While you are waiting to be called for your interview, a staff member may quickly take your fingerprint scan. This is just part of the application process and not a cause for concern.
Once it’s your turn, a consular officer will perform your interview. During the interview, the officer’s goal will be to determine whether you are qualified for an exchange visitor visa. The officer may also ask questions concerning the purpose of your travel, your intentions to return to your home country after your program, and your ability to pay all of your travel costs.
How Long Will the J-1 Visa Interview Last?
Interview lengths vary considerably. Your interview may be over in just a few minutes, or it can last longer depending on the questions and answers that come up in your interview.
Once your interview concludes, you may be told if your visa is approved right away. However, some visa applications will require further administrative processing, meaning that you won’t find out about the outcome of your visa application until a later date.
Common Questions You Might Need to Answer During Your J-1 Visa Interview
You may receive the following questions during your interview. When reviewing the listed questions, keep in mind that these are just examples. However, the categories represented below are some of the most common topics that come up during a J-1 visa interview.
People who apply for J-1 exchange programs come from all different types of educational backgrounds. The interviewer may ask about your educational background to see if it makes sense why you chose a particular student J-1 visa category.
- What university did you attend/do you plan to attend?
- What are your grades like?
- What is/was your major?
- Why did you choose your area of study?
- What were your standardized test (GRE, GMAT, SAT, TOEFL) scores?
- Do you plan to pursue further education?
The interviewer may ask financial questions to make sure that you will be able to pay for all of your travel costs while you are in the United States. You may want to bring information about your ability to pay or to show that someone else will cover these costs for.
- What are your parents’ professions?
- What is your income/your family’s income?
- Who pays for your education?
- Do you have a loan to pay for education costs?
- Do you have a copy of your bank statement?
- Do you have a scholarship?
Keep in mind that the J-1 is a nonimmigrant visa. The interviewer may ask questions about your family and personal relationships to verify that you have plans to return to your home country after your program.
- Do you have any relatives in the United States?
- Do you have siblings?
- Do you live with your family?
Questions about your job may help the interviewer better understand the purpose of your travel and your plans after you return from your exchange program.
- Where do you work?
- Do you plan to return to your job after your exchange program?
- Why did you leave your last job?
- What are your employment goals a few years from now?
These are a few other common questions that help the interviewer understand the reasons why you hope to travel to the United States.
- Do you know anyone in the United States?
- What are your plans if you receive the visa? What if you are rejected?
- Why do you want to be part of an exchange program?
10 Tips to Answer J-1 Visa Interview Questions Confidently
Now that you’ve reviewed the questions, here are some tips that can help you ace that visa interview.
First, prepare answers to the commonly asked visa interview questions listed above and set up a mock visa interview with a friend or family member. If practicing by yourself, you can write down the questions in flashcards and use your mobile phone to audio record yourself asking and answering the questions. Then, play it back and listen to know which answers can be improved. Avoid memorizing your answers as it’s best to speak naturally during the actual interview.
Some of the question topics are rather personal, which can make interviewees feel self-conscious. Preparing your answers in advance will help you feel more relaxed and will prevent you from stumbling over your answers during the interview.
2. Improve Your English
Your interview will be conducted in English, so when you practice, make sure you do so in that language. Go over your English answers with an English-speaking friend or family member to check the pronunciation of any tricky words.
To improve your English listening comprehension skills, listen to music or watch television shows or movies in English. You can also look for podcasts and videos for learning English online.
Sufficient English language ability is also a requirement for participation in the J-1 Intern and Trainee programs.
3. Make a Good Impression
While you cannot control every part of the application process, you can control some of the things that can help create a good impression on the interviewer. Remember to be on time for your appointment, have all the proper documents, and dress properly. During the interview, remain calm, display a positive attitude, and make sure to give all your attention to the interview.
4. Be Organized
Organize the required and suggested supporting documents you need to bring in a folder or binder. Using expanding file folders with pockets and tiered tabs is highly recommended if you want to keep those files sorted and labeled, so you can find the requested document quickly and easily instead of getting flustered.
5. Be Familiar with Your Program
During your interview, it’s likely that you will be asked about the program you plan to complete. It’s important for you to be able to explain the goals of participating in the program, what you plan to learn, and how it will help you in your future career in your home country.
6. Indicate Reasons You Will Return Home
Because the J-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa, your interviewer will need to make sure you plan to return home after your program. Be prepared to talk about a few things that demonstrate your intention to return like future educational or career opportunities.
7. Keep Answers to the Point
In an interview setting, there’s no need to give long-winded answers. The officer interviewing you is probably trying to make the process quick and efficient. Answer questions directly, but don’t feel the need to provide extra information unless you are asked.
8. Be Ready to Discuss Family
If you have a spouse or dependents, be prepared to discuss whether they will be going to the U.S. also with J-2 visas or staying in your home country. If they are not going with you, make sure you can answer how they will be financially supported while you are gone.
9. Attend the Interview Alone
You should not plan to bring friends or family members with you into the interview room. You need to be prepared to speak on your own behalf and having others in the room would be a distraction. If you are a minor and need parents or other family members present in case financial questions come up, they should stay in the waiting area unless they are needed.
10. Be Honest
Above all, make sure you are honest during your interview. Stretching the truth to try to give an answer you think the interviewer wants can backfire.
Do You Need Help with the J-1 Visa Application Process?
Are you feeling overwhelmed by too much information about J-1 visa programs and the application process? Intrax Global Internships connects qualified candidates from around the world with short- and long-term internships in the United States. We have experience providing the software and support to guide exchange visitors through the complex visa application process and generate the documents you need to apply for a visa. During the program, we provide on-going support to ensure your well-being and to help comply with government requirements.
If you’re ready to get help to pursue your exchange program goals, contact us today.