English Proficiency Requirements for J-1 Scholars

English Proficiency Requirements for J-1 Scholars

International scholars who are applying for J-1 Exchange Visitor visas must comply with U.S. State Department requirements to demonstrate English language proficiency that is sufficient: 1) to participate successfully in their exchange programs; and 2) to function on a day-to-day basis in the United States.

Meeting the English Language Proficiency Requirement

J-1 visa applicants have several options for documenting their English language proficiency, which are detailed below.  Penn State’s English for Professional Purposes Intercultural Center (EPPIC) works with the J-1 Scholars Advising Office to verify that scholar applicants meet the English proficiency requirement.

J-1 visa applicants may document their English language proficiency using one of the options below.  For Options 1, 2 and 3, relevant documentation may be posted directly to the iStart application.  To pursue Option 4, the Language Proficiency Interview, scholars can visit the interview information page by clicking here.

Option 1: Evidence of citizenship in a country that has English as an official language

  • Applicants must provide a passport or other official government document that attests to their citizenship in an English-speaking country

Option 2: Evidence of a degree (B.A., B.S., MA, or Ph.D) earned from an English-medium institution of higher education 

  • Applicants must provide a transcript or diploma from an internationally-recognized institution of higher education indicating that an English-medium degree program was completed.  For institutions located outside the U.S., the transcript—or an accompanying letter from the institution’s registrar—should confirm English as the primary language of instruction for the degree program completed.  Completion of degrees in which only some courses were conducted in English, or of degrees earned exclusively through on-line coursework (e.g., Open University, University of Phoenix) cannot be used as evidence of English language proficiency.

Option 3:  Evidence of minimum acceptable scores on an internationally-recognized test of English

  • Applicants must provide official results from one of the standardized tests below for verification and certification of oral proficiency in English.  Test scores must be from the past two years.
  • Test scores accepted at Penn State for the purposes of verifying appropriate language proficiency are the following:
Minimum Acceptable Score
ACTFL OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview)

(Note: OPIc results are not accepted)
Intermediate High
FCE (Cambridge English: First)

B2 First (Cambridge English Qualifications)
Level B2
CAE (Cambridge English: Advanced)

C1 Advanced (Cambridge English Qualifications)
Level B2
CPE (Cambridge English: Proficiency)

C2 Proficiency (Cambridge English Qualifications)
Level B2
IELTS (International English Language Testing System)
6.5 overall band, minimum 6 speaking
TOEFL iBT (Internet-based Test) {Note: The TOEFL IPT is not accepted, as it does not include assessment of speaking skills.)
80 cumulative, minimum 18 speaking

Option 4:  A passing proficiency rating on Penn State’s Language Proficiency Interview (LPI) 

  • J-1 Exchange scholar applicants may demonstrate English oral proficiency through a Language Proficiency Interview (LPI) conducted by EPPIC.  Scholars will receive a Language Proficiency Interview rating within five (5) business days of completing the interview (not including Saturdays & Sundays).
  • Applicants who do not receive a passing score on the LPI may register for a second Language Proficiency Interview. However, 20 business days (not including Saturdays & Sundays) must pass between the first and second interview.  Scholars may schedule a maximum of three (3) LPIs per 12 month period.