The J-1 nonimmigrant visa is specifically designed for exchange visitors. It is for individuals invited to the United States to participate in a variety of educational or cultural exchange programs. The U.S. Department of State (USDOS) administers J-visa programs. U.S. employers can host J-visa exchange visitors as “trainees” and “interns” by offering paid employment that increases the visitors’ understanding of work and cultural environments in the United States. J-1 trainee and intern programs must enhance the skills and expertise of exchange visitors in their academic or occupational fields through participation in a structured and guided training-based program and improve the participants’ knowledge of American techniques, methodologies, and expertise.
An intern is a foreign national who either: (1) is currently enrolled in and pursuing studies at a foreign degree- or certificate-granting post-secondary academic institution outside the United States; or (2) has graduated from such an institution no more than 12 months prior to his/her exchange visitor program start date.
A trainee is a foreign national who either: (1) has a degree or professional certificate from a foreign post-secondary academic institution and at least one year of prior related work experience in his/her occupational field outside the United States; or (2) has five years of work experience outside the United States in the occupational field in which s/he is seeking training.
Another distinction between the J-1 trainee and intern programs is the duration of the visa status. A trainee position cannot last more than 18 months, with the exception of positions in hospitality and tourism or agriculture, which cannot last more than 12 months. Note that positions in agriculture can last 18 months if the original plan includes six months of related classroom participation and studies. An intern position, on the other hand, cannot last more than 12 months.
To participate in a J-1 program for trainees or interns, a foreign-national applicant must have skills and seek training in one of the following occupational categories:
- Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing;
- Arts and Culture;
- Construction and Building Trades;
- Education, Social Sciences, Library Science, Counseling, and Social Services;
- Health-related Occupations;
- Hospitality and Tourism;
- Information Media and Communications;
- Management, Business, Commerce and Finance;
- Public Administration and Law; or
- The Sciences, Engineering, Architecture, Mathematics and Industrial Occupations.
Additionally, trainees or interns must meet the following requirements:
- Possess sufficient English language proficiency to function on a day-to-day basis in their training environment (English language proficiency is tested by the consular officer during the visa interview);
- Carry medical insurance with certain minimum benefit levels (as described on the J-1 Visa Program website);
- Have sufficient funds to support themselves during their entire stay in the U.S., including housing and living expenses; and
- Intend to depart the U.S. after the program end date.
To participate as a U.S. employer of J-1 trainees or interns, a U.S. employer may not:
- Offer unskilled or casual labor positions;
- Offer positions that require or involve childcare or elderly care, or involve patient care or contact, including any work that provides therapy, medication, or other clinical or medical care (e.g., sports or physical therapy, psychological counseling, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, social work, speech therapy, and early childhood education);
- Require more than 20% clerical or office support work;
- Offer positions normally filled by full-time or part-time employees;
- Duplicate a trainee’s prior work experience or training; or
- Offer less than full-time employment (32 hours a week at a minimum).
A program sponsor is an organization designated by USDOS as meeting the requirements of the legislation applicable to the J-1 program. Fees for their services range from $1,000 to $2,500, depending upon the length of the program. To find an appropriate J-1 visa program sponsor, visit the J-1 Visa Program website. A U.S. company that wishes to participate in the J-1 program must first find a trainee or intern whom it would like to host. This can be done either internally or with the assistance of a program sponsor. An intern or trainee can also contact program sponsors directly, many of whom have established relationships with host organizations.
The host organization or company must then establish a structured training program that is suitable for the specific trainee or intern and is approved by the program sponsor. This is known as an individualized Trainee/Internship Placement Plan (T/IPP) and is set forth on USDOS Form DS-7002, which can be found by visiting the Department of State website and entering “DS-7002” in the Keyword box. This form must be signed by the trainee or intern, the host organization and the program sponsor, and consular officers request the form from the trainee or intern at his/her visa interview.
The trainee or intern then completes additional application materials provided by the program sponsor. If the program sponsor ultimately approves the T/IPP and the trainee or intern application, it will issue a Certificate of Eligibility, also known as Form DS-2019. This form can only be issued by a program sponsor. The DS-2019 is registered with USDOS’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
Once the DS-2019 is issued, the trainee or intern files Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application, pays the nonimmigrant visa fee, schedules a visa interview at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy, and attends the visa interview. If approved, the trainee or intern is issued a J-1 visa to enter the U.S. and begin the J-1 trainee or intern program.
More information on the J-1 program for trainees and interns, as well as other J-1 programs, is available at http://j1visa.state.gov/programs/.