Specialist Program J-1 Visa

The Specialist Program J-1 Visa bears a close resemblance to the Short-Term Scholar Program and was designed to provide opportunities for non-US experts in a field of specialized knowledge, or skills to visit the United States to increase the exchange of ideas with American counterparts by observing, consulting or demonstrating their expertise.

Specialist Program J-1 Visa

The Story about how Akiro Sunsen got his Specialist Program J-1 Visa

Welcome to the USA and thanks for the sushi.


They said he was probably the world’s best sushi maker. Akiro Sunsen came from a long-standing Osaka family with a culinary heritage, and he had learned at a young age how to select fish, store them, cut and slice them, and roll them into perfect sashimi, sushi and other Japanese favorites.

It was assumed that he didn’t need to go to college and would just continue the family tradition at their sushi restaurant, Eiko. But Akiro insisted on studying culinary science. He joined the Tokyo Sushi Academy — and no one was really surprised when he topped his batch. Within three years, Eiko had won two Michelin stars.

Like many of his generation, Akiro wanted to take his expertise global and find a way to make Eiko the world’s best known sushi restaurant franchise. But where to start? And how?

Opportunity came in the form of an invitation from an ex-Michelin star examiner who was now a professor at Cornell School of Hotel Management and wanted to branch out into the restaurant business. One day Akiro received an invitation asking if he would be interested in visiting the United States and conducting a special 8-month course on Japanese cuisine with a focus on sushi. Cornell would sponsor his trip.

Of course, Akiro’s answer was an immediate yes. He learned that his best bet would be to apply for a visa under the United States Exchange Visitor Program (EVP).

Akiro went online to research US Immigration advice and learned that the EVP had been designed to give non-US students, academics and professionals numerous pathways to enter the United States on a so-called Specialist Program J-1 Visa and experience its life and culture while meeting their study or professional goals.

The EVP’s Specialist Program was designed precisely for people like him, people with globally recognized expertise in a specific area, to enable them to visit the US and share their expertise while also experiencing the richness of American life and culture. It was ideal for an expert like Akiro, since it encouraged specialists — excluding professors, short-term research scholars and graduates in medical school — living outside the US to participate in academic and professional activities such as lectures, participation in conferences, workshops, or consultations, and so on in libraries, museums, government agencies, scientific institutions, corporations and similar types of institutions. Giving a course in sushi-making at Cornell was a perfect fit.

Under the Specialist Program, one of 15 categories under the EVP, Akiro could enter the United States and teach Japanese cooking at Cornel for up to one year. Once his program ended, he would be expected to return to Japan.

An applicant’s first — and usually most arduous — step would be to find a sponsor institution. He would have had to work through an online list of over 440 institutions that had been approved by the Department of State, and find one that would like to sponsor him. But since he already had an invitation from Cornell, he was taken straight into the application process, and in a matter of weeks, he had received his Specialist Program J-1 Visa. He felt ready for his first trip outside Japan — and the greatest adventure of his life.

You can get more information on how to apply for the Specialist Program J-1 Visa, including how to find the best sponsors, from the detailed, user-friendly visa guides you get when you buy one of our Visa Plans

If you have questions or would like clarifications, please send us an email and we’ll do our best to get back to you within 24 hours with an answer.