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Q-1 Visas for International Cultural Exchange Visitors

by Gregory Siskind

What is a Q-1 Visa?

The Q-1 nonimmigrant visa is designed for foreign nationals who are coming to the US to participate in an international cultural exchange program.  The Q-1 visa was created in 1990, mainly because of lobbying efforts by the Walt Disney Company and similar businesses.  They feared that the J programs they were using would be revoked because their foreign employees were working in generally unskilled positions, even though they were participating in cultural exchanges.  Under the Q-1 visa, the foreign national can engage in practical training and employment so long as they are also sharing the history, culture and traditions of their home country. 

What are the requirements of a Q-1 visa?

The first requirement in obtaining a Q-1 visa is for the employer to obtain approval of their international cultural exchange program from the Attorney General.  To obtain approval, the program must meet the following requirements:   It must take place in a school, museum, business, or similar location where the public, or at least the interested public, can be exposed to aspects of a foreign culture as part of a structured program; The program must include a cultural component as an essential and integral part of the cultural visitorís employment or training; and The program cannot provide for employment or training independent of the cultural component.  Program approval is sought by filing Form I-129 with the Q Supplement.  The application must be accompanied by documentation of the program.  There must also be evidence that the employer has designated a management level employee to administer the program and act as a liaison to the USCIS.  The application can be filed with either the USCIS Service Center with jurisdiction over the petitionerís headquarters, or the Service Center with jurisdiction over where the employee will be located.

The employer must also meet a number of other requirements.  It must be engaged in the active conduct of business in the US.  It must also attest that it will pay the foreign national the same wages it would pay a US worker in the area, as well as demonstrate that it has the financial ability to pay the offered wage, and that it will provide the same working conditions US workers in the area would have.  However, there is no need to file the attestation with the Department of Labor. 

How do I apply for a Q-1 Visa?

The application for Q-1 visa classification is made at the same time as the request for program designation.  After the program is approved, however, subsequent applications can be made with only the copy of the original program approval.  More that one person can be included on the same petition.  Also, substitutions can be made during the program, but the new personís period of stay is limited to the terms of the originally approved petition.  A substitution does not need to be filed with the USCIS, but can be done by a letter to the consular office where the replacement will apply for a visa.  The letter must provide all of the information on the foreign national listed below, and must include a copy of the original approval notice.

The person who will receive Q-1 status must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old;
  • Be qualified to perform the service of receive the type of training listed in the application; and
  • Be able to communicate with the US public about the cultural aspects of their home country. 
Also, applicants who have previously been granted Q-1 status must remain outside the US for one year before again being granted Q-1 status.

The petition must include the following information about each person to be given Q-1 status:  
  • Date of birth;
  • Country of nationality;
  • Educational level;
  • The position, title and job description they will occupy; and
  • The wages offered. 
If the cultural program involves multiple locations, a complete itinerary must be provided.  The Q-1 program designation is approved either for the length of the program, or 15 months, whichever is shorter.  The person is also given 30 days after the expiration of the visa in which to make travel plans for their departure from the US.

People in Q-1 status are allowed to apply for a change of status within the US.  They can also, while remaining in Q-1 status, switch employers.  However, the total stay in the US is still limited to 15 months.

Finally, while there is no derivative status for dependents of people in Q-1 status, the State Department Foreign Affairs Manual states that dependents should be granted B-2 visas for the duration of the Q-1 visa holderís stay in the US, up to 12 months at one time. 

About The Author

Gregory Siskind is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.