Which J-1 program is right for me?

One of the most common questions we receive as a sponsor for BridgeUSA professional exchange programs is: “which J-1 program is right for me?" It is a completely understandable question, as the J-1 Exchange Visitor categories designed for professionals have a good deal of overlapping elements and nuance between them. Even if you were to take the time to read the J-1 regulations for each category, you can still walk away feeling a bit confused as to the best fit for you or your client.

The good news is we are here to help! CIEE has a longstanding and close relationship with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), the branch of the State Department that manages J-1 programs. Over the years, our close relationship with the ECA has given us the opportunity to create a dialogue, ask questions, and receive additional guidance from them; ensuring our J-1 programs remain in line with the ECA’s intentions and the regulations. With this guidance and experience, our J-1 team can confidently confirm which program is the best fit for any situation!

To determine which J-1 professional exchange program is the best fit for your situation, we ask three questions:

  1. Participant eligibility: Is this international professional eligible for this program?
  2. Host Organization: Which organizations can host this J-1 participant?
  3. Participant role: Does the participant’s role and responsibilities fit a J-1 program?

Below is an overview of what we are looking for when answering these questions for a specific J-1 category.

Research Scholar and Professor

  • Participant eligibility: The participant must have at least a bachelor’s degree from a foreign academic institution in their field of research/teaching, and experience as a researcher/professor in their field. Usually, those best suited for this category are Professors, Researchers, Doctors, Attorneys, Post-docs, Pre-docs, and Graduate Students.
  • Host Organization: Needs to be an organization with a clear focus on research. For example: Research institutions, corporations with an R&D department, hospitals, museums, libraries, and post-secondary accredited academic institutions.
  • Participant role: For research scholars, the primary role is to conduct research and for professors, the primary role is to teach/lecture. However, researchers can teach, and professors can conduct research. We determine if someone is a better fit for the Research Scholar or Professor depending on their primary purpose for coming to the U.S.

Short-Term Scholar

  • Participant eligibility: Same eligibility requirements as Research Scholar and Professor!
  • Host Organizations: Also, the same as Research Scholar and Professor!
  • Participant role: Similar to Research Scholar and Professor, except their research role/project or lecturing period is specific to a window of 6 months or less. If the research objective or project can be completed within 6 months, then Short-term scholar is the right fit! If it will take longer than 6 months to complete, then Research Scholar or Professor might be the better option.


  • Participant eligibility: The participant needs to be an expert in their field, with specialized knowledge to share with other experts in their field.
  • Host Organizations: While there are no specific requirements for who can host a specialist, the host organization needs to have experts in the same or similar field to the J-1 Specialist’s field of expertise.
  • Participant role: Rather than to perform specific responsibilities for a company, the purpose of the Specialist more focused on information sharing and education. The specialist shares their knowledge/expertise with other experts, and likewise receives knowledge from the host organization experts.


  • Participant eligibility: A student currently enrolled in an international post-secondary academic institution degree program, or graduated within 12 months of the J-1 program start date.
  • Host Organizations: Host can span across basically all industries. However, many industries have specific requirements (which you can read about here!)
  • Participant role: To complete an educational internship role in the intern’s field of study.


  • Participant eligibility: A graduate of an international post-secondary academic institution degree with 1 year of international professional experience in their field of study, or a professional with 5 years of international professional experience.
  • Host Organizations: Same as Intern!
  • Participant role: To complete an educational training role in the trainee’s field of study/professional background. Very similar to an intern except that with trainees already having some professional experience, their trainings are generally more advanced than the average internship.

I hope this information has been helpful in determining which J-1 professional program is the right fit for you or your client. If you still have questions or are ready to proceed with an application, please complete the contact us form and one of our J-1 visa experts will be in touch. We look forward to hearing from you!

Daniel Katyl - Account Manager, CIEE Professional Exchange Programs

CIEE is a nonprofit study abroad and intercultural exchange organization that transforms lives and builds bridges between individuals and nations by sponsoring a wide variety of opportunities for the exchange of ideas and experiences. CIEE is a sponsor of the U.S. Department of State’s BridgeUSA program including the following J-1 visa designations: Professor, Research Scholar, Short-Term Scholar, Trainee, Intern, Secondary School Student, Specialist, Camp Counselor, and Summer Work Travel.