Many host businesses work through third-party internship sponsors. Although these third-party sponsors are convenient, these businesses may wonder whether and how they can become a J-1 visa internship sponsor. The regulations implementing the U.S. exchange visitor program allow “reputable organizations” to apply to become a sponsor. However, this is just the threshold requirement for eligibility to sponsor an internship program. The regulations also impose additional requirements for eligibility in, and compliance with, the exchange visitor program.
The Role and Responsibilities of the J-1 Visa Internship Sponsor
The responsibilities of the sponsor are distinct from the responsibilities of the host. The third-party sponsor you may have used in the past was more than a middleman that connected foreign students with you, the host employer. In fact, the sponsor plays an essential role in America’s exchange visitor program by verifying both the intern and host comply with the intent, requirements, and objectives of the program.
Working with Candidates
The sponsor works directly with candidates for paid internships in the U.S. for international students. The sponsor verifies that the student or recent graduate meets the requirements for internship in U.S. organizations, assists the student to apply for a visitor visa, and helps the student understand the U.S. internship’s visa cost.
For private companies, the U.S. Department of State charges the student an application fee when the student files a J-1 visa application at their local U.S. embassy or consulate. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security charges the sponsor a fee (which may be passed on to students) to register the student in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) used to track visiting students in the U.S.
The steps to sponsor foreign interns for a U.S. visa are:
- Select and screen applicants: The sponsor is responsible for determining the applicants’ eligibility for both the internship program and a J-1 visa. This includes verifying the applicants’ English language proficiency, status as a student or recent graduate, and financial state. The sponsor must also verify that the applicants’ field of study matches the occupational designation for the internship program.
- Issue paperwork to applicants for J-1 Visa: Only a sponsor can issue a Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status, Form DS-2019, to applicants accepted to an exchange program. The prospective interns use this form to apply for the J-1 intern visa at the local U.S. embassy or consulate in their countries of residence. The sponsor must also provide the prospective interns with a Training/Internship Placement Plan, Form DS-7002. This form describes how the work program operates and the role the student will have in the program.
Monitoring Host Programs
In addition to assisting interns to find J-1 visa sponsorship in U.S. organizations, sponsors also monitor hosts and internship programs:
- Assess program compliance: Sponsors must ensure the host’s internship program is compliant with U.S. laws and regulations. If the program is non-compliant, your company cannot sponsor foreign interns for its program. This responsibility exists even if the sponsor and host are the same entity.
- Support interns: Once the applicants arrive in the U.S., the sponsor is responsible for making sure the intern is onboarded, trained, supervised, and evaluated by the host employer. The sponsor must also remain available to address any problems or provide any information about the program required by interns.
The U.S. Department of State takes these responsibilities very seriously. A sponsor that is found deficient in carrying out its duties can be sanctioned by suspending, or even terminating, its sponsorship designation.
Thus, the first step to becoming a J-1 visa internship sponsor is to make sure your company is prepared to shoulder these responsibilities and have a plan in place to screen applicants and monitor host activities for compliance.
The U.S. State Department expects sponsors to begin administering a sponsorship program immediately upon being approved. In other words, you should not apply for designation as a sponsor just in case you decide to sponsor your company’s interns. The State Department considers your sponsor application a commitment to begin sponsoring your company’s interns when the sponsor designation is granted.
Eligibility to Become a J-1 Visa Internship Sponsor
As a company representative, you will need to demonstrate the following for approval as a sponsor:
- Compliance: Sponsors must demonstrate an ability to comply and remain in compliance with the Exchange Visitor Program regulations. This is usually demonstrated by submitting copies of all applications, documents, and agreements that will be supplied to the prospective foreign interns. Additionally, you must explain how your business intends to screen applicants for eligibility and ensure they meet financial and insurance requirements for participation.
- Financial state: A sponsor must be able to meet all financial obligations as a sponsor. This is demonstrated by attaching an audit report by an independent CPA firm or, for newly formed businesses, a balance sheet prepared by an independent CPA firm. These financial reports must show that your business is sufficiently capitalized so that it can meet its day-to-day operating expenses as well as the expenses of running the internship program.
- Experience: The responsible officer must have at least three years of experience in international exchange programs and must pass a criminal background check.
Differences Between a Host and a Sponsor
Businesses that cannot meet the threshold eligibility requirements cannot be approved as sponsors for internship programs. However, they can still host a program by working with an approved third-party sponsor.
As a host, a company must:
- Develop a plan: The program offered by the host must provide entry-level training and experience for applicants.
- Notify sponsors: Sponsors must be notified by the host of any changes in the program or emergencies involving participants.
- Abide by laws: Hosts must follow all laws that cover occupational health and safety.
- Follow the sponsor’s rules: The host must work with sponsors to complete all mandatory intern evaluations and abide by any other sponsor rules set out to maintain program compliance.
Most importantly, hosts do not need to be approved by the U.S. State Department. Instead, they are vetted by sponsors. This allows newer or less experienced businesses to host a program even if they might not be qualified to sponsor the interns participating in the program.
Applying to Become a J-1 Visa Internship Sponsor
The application for J-1 visa sponsors is prepared and filed electronically using SEVIS. The electronic application includes three parts:
- Information: The application includes fields to fill in information about the company, officer responsible for the program, and the program.
- Certifications: Prospective sponsors must provide signed certifications attesting that the company meets the requirements to act as a sponsor and will act in accordance with laws and regulations governing sponsorship.
- Attachments: Applicants include copies of program materials, entity incorporation or formation documents, certificates from the state showing the business is in good standing, business and professional licenses, program organization charts, and audit reports and financial statements.
The J-1 visa sponsorship cost includes an application filing fee. This fee may vary from year-to-year, but in 2020, the non-refundable application fee is $3,982.
Maintaining Sponsorship Designation
Once your company is approved for designation as a sponsor, your company will be listed on the U.S. State Department’s website. Although the listing includes each sponsor’s location, sponsors are permitted to place applicants with hosts anywhere in the U.S. If your business has multiple offices, it will only need sponsorship approval for one location to place interns in any location with a compliant host program. For example, even if your company is listed among J-1 visa sponsors in Los Angeles, you will be able to place interns in offices elsewhere in California or any other state.
Your company will maintain its designation as an approved sponsor as long as it remains in compliance with the laws and regulations governing the exchange visitor program and actively operates its internship plan with at least five participants annually.
Alternatives to Becoming a J-1 Visa Internship Sponsor
If your company is either ineligible to become a sponsor or does not wish to shoulder the burden of applying for, and running, a sponsorship program, your company has many alternatives:
- Third-party sponsors: Third-party sponsors have the experience and infrastructure dealing with international students and the U.S. State Department. Outsourcing sponsorship responsibilities to the third-party sponsor will free you up to focus on developing an internship program that benefits both you and your interns.
- Temporary training: In certain circumstances, a J-1 intern visa is not required. For example, a B-1/B-2 visa unpaid internship is allowed temporary training of less than six months in duration. However, be aware that the B-1 visa has many restrictions that might not allow you to conduct the same type of program you might be allowed to conduct under a J-1 visa. Most notably, B-1 visa holders cannot hold paid employment while visiting the U.S.
- Student training: International students in the U.S. on a student visa (F-1), can hold paid jobs related to their field of study. F-1 visa internship rules allow these students to apply for temporary paid employment after obtaining an employment authorization document from the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service.
When to Use a Third-Party J-1 Visa Internship Sponsor
Based on the U.S. State Department’s regulations and rules, these host companies benefit from using a third-party sponsor rather than becoming a sponsor:
- Businesses with small programs: Since sponsors must place at least five interns per year, any business with a program of fewer than five participants would be better served by using a third-party sponsor. Similarly, businesses that want the flexibility of hiring fewer than five interns in certain years will need to use a third-party sponsor.
- Businesses without a dedicated internship staff: The U.S. State Department requires that the sponsor have the resources and staff to screen interns before they are approved and provide support after they arrive. Businesses that cannot spare the staff and resources to support a sponsorship program should use a third-party sponsor.
- Businesses that need a large pool of applicants: Third-party sponsors often promote programs from multiple hosts. While this increases your competition for applicants, it also gives you access to a large applicant pool.
Let a Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor Help You Today
If your business has employed foreign interns, you know all the benefits that come from hosting international students. In a rapidly globalizing world and competitive labor market, having access to top job candidates, regardless of their country of origin, has become critically important to many industries. Moreover, the value of multilingual and multicultural workers cannot be overstated as you expand both your supply chain and markets into untapped regions of the world.
Contact us to discuss how Intrax Global Internships, a J-1 visa internship sponsor, can help your business find, screen, and sponsor international students for your internship program.