J-1 English Proficiency Requirement

All J-1 exchange visitors must be proficient enough in English to participate successfully in their exchange program and to function on a day-to-day basis in the United States. This requirement is important to ensuring that scholars are able to live productively and successfully in the US during their exchange program. While sponsors are given some leeway in determining how proficient scholars must be, they must document proficiency through one or more of the following objective measurements.

All J-1 exchange visitors are subject to this requirement, including those who are native speakers of English. These documents should be retained in the unit’s files in the event of an audit. ISO requires units to select one of these measures when completing a J-1 Visa Request, so units should obtain this documentation prior to submitting the visa request to ISO.

Results of a recognized English language test

For this measure, units should retain a copy of test results with the exchange visitor’s name on them. On a pass/fail test like a Cambridge English exam, the exchange visitor must have at least passed. On a scored test like the TOEFL, the unit can determine how many points it will require, as long as it requires some level of spoken proficiency. Online or informal tests are not an acceptable way of meeting this requirement. Units may find it helpful to refer to the UW Admissions requirements for English proficiency.

Signed documentation from an academic institution or English language school

For this measure, units should retain a copy of a signed document on institutional letterhead. The document should give the scholar’s name and assess his or her proficiency; if the document is not from an English language school (that is, a school that teaches the English language), it should give some basis for the assessment, for example coursework in English or a substantial period of time spent living in an English-speaking country.

A documented interview conducted by the sponsor

For this measure, units should retain a memo or other document describing the interview and giving an assessment of the scholar’s proficiency. This interview must be performed in person or by video conference. If neither of those options are possible, a phone interview may be used. The interview should be conducted by the faculty sponsor or another employee within the department who is proficient in spoken English. The documentation should include the following information:

  • The names of the participants,
  • The date, time, and method of the interview, and
  • How English proficiency was assessed.

ISO does not have a template for this document, but will provide review and guidance upon request. If you have questions about this requirement, please contact ISO.