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Eligibility Requirements for Foreign Exchange Students

written by: ciel s cantoria•edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 12/2/2013

This article will acquaint you with the basic foreign exchange student eligibility requirements under the Exchange Visitor Program promoted by the U.S. Dept. of State. In addition, know the requirements of the J-1 Visa to complete the foreign exchange student’s entry to the U.S.

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    Overview of the Exchange Visitor Program


    The Exchange Visitor Program was promulgated under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 placed under the administration of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Act was conceptualized in order to promote mutual understanding between U.S. citizens and all other citizens coming from different parts of the world by way of cultural and educational exchanges. There are quite a number of sub-programs under different private sectors.

    The College/University Student Private Sector Exchange is only one among the many Exchange Visitor Programs. Through this sub-program, a foreign student will be given the opportunity to pursue a full-time course of study at any degree-granting, post secondary educational institution, colleges or universities accredited by the US educational system. The interested foreign student can opt to participate in a degree or non-degree academic program for as long as he or she can maintain a satisfactory performance toward its completion.

    Upon completion of their respective programs whether for cultural or educational purposes, the exchange visitors will be required to return to their native homelands in order to disseminate and share what they have learned during their exchange visits.

    The U.S. State Department designates sponsors coming from different federal government entities and from academic and private sectors. These designated sponsors will in turn be responsible in selecting and screening all interested foreign applicants regarding the Exchange Visitor Program they are designated to handle. They are also tasked to explain the related program’s objectives, mechanics and requirements, to whoever they select as exchange visitor.

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    How to Apply as Foreign Exchange Student under the Exchange Visitor Program

    Female students of Afghanistan in 2005 

    (1) The foreign-based applicant’s initial step is to locate and get in touch with a designated sponsor. Students are able to search either by sponsor, by city or state. The student will then fill-up and submit Form DS -3036 or the Exchange Visitor Program Application.

    (2) As part of their responsibilities, the designated sponsors will screen, review and select the student’s preliminary qualifications based on their submitted applications. The applicant will coordinate with his designated sponsor the submission of all requirements necessary, to facilitate the processing of his application. This includes the submission of academic credentials to manifest that the applicant has been accepted for admission by the college or university he or she intends to attend.

    (3) For this purpose, the students should process his or her application at the university or college of his choice to determine his admission. The designated sponsor will not issue Form DS-2019 or the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor unless the student submits the required academic credentials.

    (4) Once the designated sponsor is satisfied that all eligibility requirements to become a foreign exchange student have been met, the Form DS-2019 or the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor will be issued in favor of the student.

    (5) The designated sponsor will enter the approved Form DS-2019 including that of the accompanying spouse and children if any, in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Hence, part of the fees to be paid by the candidate is a one-time SEVIS fee of $100. The foreign exchange student applicant will then receive an electronically generated Form DS-2019 which he will submit to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate to apply for a J-I Visa.

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    Basic Eligibility Requirements for Foreign Exchange Students

    A foreign individual who is interested to participate as a US foreign exchange student will be assessed by a designated sponsor based on the following foreign exchange student eligibility requirements:

    (1) Funding Requirements: The first area of concern that foreign students will have to satisfy are the funding aspects of their participation. They will be considered as eligible only under any of the following conditions:

    • If they will receive substantial funding from sources other than their personal or family funds; wherein said funding may include those that will come from their native government, from the U.S. government or from duly recognized international organizations like the United Nations and the likes.
    • If they will be participating as foreign exchange student in accordance with an agreement between the U.S. government and a foreign government. This may come by way of an agreement entered into by an American educational institution and the foreign government or the U.S. government and a foreign educational institution. In some cases, it can be an agreement between a U.S. state or U.S. local government with a foreign government.
    • If they will be entering the US to study in a post-secondary educational institution by way of Form DS-2019 or the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor with an approved J-1 Status. The foreign student may seek a direct interview with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate Office in his or her native country as a way of acquiring a J-Visa status to enter the United States in order to qualify as an exchange visitor. However, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate Office will require the submission of a DS-2019 or the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor issued by the designated sponsor.

    (2) English Language Proficiency: The interested foreign exchange participants should manifest and demonstrate proficiency of the English language to ensure that they will be able to participate effectively in the education exchange program. For this purpose the program sponsor of the foreign exchange students should see to it that the latter will have sufficient mastery of the English language before they are recommended as participants to any of the Exchange Visitor programs.

    (3) Minimum Medical Insurance: The participants will be required to carry the minimum medical insurance coverage stated in the exchange program’s regulations. Insurance requirements will include the spouse and children below 21 years old who will accompany the foreign exchange student. The exchange visitor’s sponsor shall likewise be tasked to ensure that said insurance requirements will be met before endorsing the individual’s participation.

    (3) Orientation about Pre-Arrival Information: The participant must have received prior and sufficient briefing about his role as a foreign exchange student; the requirements regarding, entry, travel and physical presence in his or her home country is required; the fees to be paid to the designated sponsor; health care and insurance requirements and other costs that the will incur while residing in the U.S., an example would be the cost living expenses.

    (4) Orientation about Arrival Information: A student including the dependents who will accompany him are required to receive orientation regarding information about life and customs in the U.S.; knowledge about available community resources like medical centers, schools, public transportation, banks, libraries and recreation centers; rules and regulations about the exchange program; knowledge about the exact name, address and phone number of the sponsor’s officer responsible for his participation.

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    Foreign Exchange Students Eligibility Requirements to Qualify for J-1 Visa Status


    The issuance of the J-Visa to enter the U.S. as foreign exchange student – non-immigrant will be decided on by the Consular Officers of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, assigned to review and evaluate the foreign student’s application for J-1 Visa Status. If the Consular Officers of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate will approve the candidates J-1 Visa, the latter’s Form DS-2019 will then be classified as DS-2019 J-1 Status or Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor J-1 Status.

    • Form DS 2019 electronically generated by SEVIS.
    • Valid Passport for travel to the U.S. whose date should go beyond the applicant’s planned stay in the U.S. as indicated in his or her Form DS 2019.
    • A 2x2 photograph according to the format required by the Embassy or Consulate for non-immigrant applicants.
    • Other requirements that the U.S. Embassy or Consulate office may ask the applicant to submit as part of the foreign exchange students eligibility requirements.

    For US students who wish to participate as foreign exchange students to another country, they may checkout the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs website and from there they will find information about available exchange programs and other initiatives.The latter refers to the foreign exchange student programs sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, like FLEX and Fulbright Program.

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    Reference Material and Images Credit Section

    Reference Materials:


    Images Credit:

    • Wikimedia Commons
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