If you are thinking about coming to the USA on a J-1 visa and you don’t want to leave your family behind, don’t worry, you can take them with you to America! All they have to do is apply for the J-2 visa when you are applying for your J-1 visa. The process is exactly the same as the J-1 visa process and therefore the organization that is sponsoring your J-1 visa must also issue DS-2019 for each J-2 visa application. Keep in mind there are certain limitations for J-2 visa eligibility. It is only intended to be used for the J-1 visa holder’s family; not domestic partners or boyfriend/girlfriends. If the J-2 is for a partner in the relationship, the partner must be legally married and you must be able to provide evidence of marriage such as a marriage certificate. If the J-2 is for your child, you must provide evidence such as birth certificate or adoption decrees.
Because the J-2 visa is strictly for J-1 visa holder’s family, it is really intended for exchange visitors such as post-doctoral researchers, government visitors, physicians, professors, or specialists. Those who are getting a J-1 visa for camp counselor, au pair, summer work travel and secondary school students are NOT allowed to bring their family through a J-2 visa. It makes sense because in those categories, which are typically young people, they really should not have a family already. The J-1 visa program in the “young” category is designed for short term experiences in America. It is meant for young people to travel to America, experience the culture and also earn a living through typical American summer jobs. The only possible exception is a camp counselor but unfortunately it is simply not allowed.
The J-2 visa holder does not necessarily have to apply at the same time as the J-1 visa holder. The J-1 visa holder can go to America first, and after a while if the spouse/dependents want to also go to America, the J-1 visa holder would simply ask the program sponsor to issue DS-2019s for each person that want to get a J-2 visa. After getting the DS-2019, the spouse/dependents would apply for a J-2 visa in the same exact procedure as the J-1 visa. Keep in mind that the J-1 visa holder MUST go to America first; the Department of State does not allow the J-2 visa holder to go to America before the J-1 primary visa applicant. Everyone can go at the same time, but if everyone is going at different times, the J-1 visa holder is the primary applicant and he/she must go to America first.
The J-2, unlike F-2 or H-4 dependent visas, actually allows the visa holder to work legally in any field and also go to school freely. It is actually one of the least restrictive dependent visas. The J-2 visa holder simply needs to apply for employment authorization through USCIS using I-765 and can receive an employment authorization card (EAD) which would permit the visa holder to work unrestricted in America. The J-2 visa holder can also study without having to apply for F-1 visas. There are no restrictions on what study program the J-2 visa holder would like to pursue and no extra forms or USCIS applications to fill out. The J-2 visa holder can simply apply, if admitted, register for classes! Keep in mind though, the J-2 visa is a dependent visa. If the J-1 primary visa applicant has to depart the country because the program ended or for whatever reason, the J-2 visa holder must also leave. Therefore, if the J-2 visa holder signs up for a 4 year undergraduate degree and the J-1 visa holder has to leave the country after 2 years, the J-2 visa holder, if they wish to continue studying in America, must change status to F-1. The J-2 visa also has no travel restrictions and allows the holder to travel in and out of the country freely without worrying about having a job to return to or school to continue studies. As long as the J-1 primary visa applicant is still in America, the J-2 visa holder has the same privileges to travel internationally as a permanent resident or citizen of USA.
In conclusion, don’t be put off by leaving your family behind in your home country while you are in America on a J-1 visa; just get them a J-2 visa! It is really one of the best dependent visas and truly lets your spouse and dependents to experience America in a way that is almost the same as a green card holder. The J-2 visa holders are free to work or study as a green card holder, without much restrictions and USCIS applications.