The J-1 visa or Exchange Visitor Program (EVP), overseen by the U.S. Department of State, provides opportunities for more than 300,000 foreign exchange visitors to participate in 15 diverse program categories each year. Each of these 15 categories is specifically geared toward cultural exchange.
One of the 15 EVP categories is the intern program. This program is designed to allow foreign college and university students to come to the United States to receive training in the U.S. in their profession while being exposed to the U.S. culture and business world.
The EVP intern program can be a wonderful opportunity for both interns and companies. However, because it is a regulated exchange program, there are certain important legal requirements to fulfill. Gaining a better understanding of these requirements and how the J-1 visa process works helps ensure a more successful experience for host companies as well as their interns.
Can a Company Sponsor a J-1 Visa?
Yes. However, while companies can become sponsors for a J-1 visa, only a few international companies manage their own J-1 visa programs. Instead, most employers work with third-party sponsoring organizations to host foreign interns.
Reasons Why Most Employers Work with a Designated Sponsor Organization
There are a few main reasons companies prefer working with a third-party sponsoring organization:
1. It’s Faster and More Convenient for the Host Company
Becoming a designated sponsor can take a couple of years and requires the company to set up its own program in compliance with all the designated regulations. The company then has to maintain the program and make sure that it complies with further monitoring and reporting requirements.
2. New Sponsors for the Intern Program are Currently Not Being Approved
The State Department released a 2017 statement explaining that it was deferring decisions on applications for new sponsors for certain EVP categories, including the intern program. Since then, there has been no further statement regarding new sponsor opportunities. Consequently, if a company is not already a designated sponsor for the intern program, there is no current way to become one.
3. Third-Party Sponsors Have Better Resources and More Experience
In light of these difficulties, it’s easy to see why most companies turn to third-party sponsors. Third-party sponsoring organizations have trained staff who have a thorough understanding of the J-1 visa regulations and are accustomed to working with J-1 visa interns. They already have a system in place for monitoring all aspects of the program such as onboarding and placement. Sponsors also support the interns during their stay and assist them with any health or welfare issues. Essentially, the third-party sponsor handles the details of the program so the company can focus on its work.
What are the Requirements to Obtain a J-1 Visa?
There are a few general requirements that apply to all J-1 visa holders, regardless of which program they are pursuing.
Specifically, all J-1 visa holders must:
- Find a sponsor and secure admission to a program
- Be proficient in English
- Demonstrate non-immigrant intent
- Meet specific medical health insurance requirements
Visa applicants also have to show that they can pay any associated visa fees unless the government or their specific program will pay these costs for them.
Requirements Specific for Applicants of the J-1 Visa Intern Program
According to regulations, interns must be foreign nationals who are:
- Currently enrolled in and pursuing studies at a foreign degree- or certificate-granting post-secondary academic institution outside the United States; or
- Graduated from such an institution no more than 12 months prior to their exchange visitor program start date.
For individuals who do not meet these requirements, another EVP program such as the trainee program might be a better fit.
J-1 Visa Intern Program Requirements and Responsibilities for Host Employers
Employers who are hosting J-1 visa holders as part of an EVP intern program have a variety of responsibilities.
According to the U.S. State Department, hosts must:
- Sign a completed Form DS–7002 – Training/Internship Placement Plan (T/IPP). This document verifies that all placements are “appropriate and consistent with” the objectives set out in the program applications and placement plans for each intern. Because interns are generally looking for entry-level training, the host should take the interns’ skills and experience levels into account when determining the responsibilities of the position.
- Notify sponsors promptly of any concerns about, changes in or deviations from T/IPPs during training and internship programs. Hosts must also contact sponsors right away if any emergency involving an intern ever occurs.
- Abide by all federal, state, and local occupational health and safety laws. Keep in mind that the treatment of J-1 visa holders must be comparable to U.S. workers in respective positions and must comply with all relevant wage and labor laws as well.
- Abide by all program rules and regulations set forth by the sponsors, including the completion of all mandatory program evaluations. Programs lasting twelve months must be evaluated at the midpoint and the end of the program. Programs lasting fewer than six months must have an evaluation at the end.
- Have sufficient resources, plant, equipment, and trained personnel available.
- Provide continuous on-site supervision and mentoring by experienced and knowledgeable staff; and
- Ensure that interns obtain skills, knowledge, and competencies through structured and guided activities such as classroom training, seminars, rotation through several departments, on-the-job training, attendance at conferences, and similar learning activities, as appropriate in specific circumstances.
Important Restrictions for the Intern Program
Because one of the purposes of the intern program is to provide participants training in the U.S. in their chosen occupation, interns cannot work in unskilled or casual labor positions.
Interns are also not permitted to work in roles that:
- Require childcare or elder care
- Involve medical patient care or contact
- Require more than 20% clerical or office support work
These restrictions for the intern program exist in part because other EVP categories are more appropriate. For example, a J-1 visa for a pharmacist uses the alien physician designation instead of the intern designation because that job requires medical patient care.
Another justification for these restrictions is that J-1 internship programs are not intended to be used in place of ordinary employment or work purposes, or to “displace American workers.” Keep in mind that the treatment of J-1 visa holders must be comparable to U.S. workers in respective positions and must comply with all federal and state wage and labor laws as well.
Finally, companies need to make sure that their internship programs can be completed within the maximum allowed amount of time. There is a lot of variation in how long various EVP programs can last, with some lasting only a few months and others lasting several years. Participants in the intern program can hold J-1 status for a maximum of 12 months with a U.S. employer following the completion of their studies. Extensions beyond 12 months are usually not possible, so keep this in mind when designing your training program.
What are the Differences Between a J-1 Visa and an F-1 Visa?
Many different nonimmigrant visas permit foreign visitors to travel to the United States. Sometimes people confuse the J-1 and F-1 visa categories because they can both be used by nonimmigrant international students. However, F-1 and J-1 visas are used for different travel purposes.
Who Can Apply for an F-1 Visa?
The F-1 visa is for international students who are currently enrolled in a full-time degree or academic program at a school, college, or university in the U.S. The F-1 visa is good for as long as it takes for the international student to finish their academic program. F-1 visa holders can work on campus and sometimes even take off-campus jobs.
Who Can Apply for a J-1 Visa?
The J-1 visa, on the other hand, is specifically designed to be a cultural exchange program. J-1 visa holders do not attend full-time academic programs at a U.S. school, college, or university. Instead, the J-1 visa holder is in the U.S. to receive career-related training as an intern. The J-1 visa for interns only lasts up to 12 months. Additionally, J-1 visa holders are only authorized to engage in work-based learning based on the terms of their program.
There are several important steps and documents involved in applying for a J-1 visa. The sponsoring organization provides the applicant with the Form DS-2019, the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status. Once the applicant has this form, they will need to apply for a J-1 visa at a US Embassy in their country of residence (with the exception of Canadian citizens who will use the Form DS-2019 for entry into the US). Other supporting documents and a visa application fee will be required. The next step for most applicants is an interview. If the visa is granted, then the sponsor can help the applicant arrange further details like travel plans, accommodations, and obtaining health insurance.
In general, a J-1 visa may be easier than getting some other types of visas because the application process is considered to be less intensive and is open to individuals in many different fields and educational areas. Also, there is no statutory cap on the number of J-1 visas issued each year, though the State Department does only distribute a set number of Form DS-2019 to program sponsors.
What are the Benefits of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program for Employers?
According to the statute, the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program was designed to be a diplomatic effort to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries using educational and cultural exchange. However, employers often find that they are also able to gain many business-focused advantages through utilizing the program too.
1. Create a Hiring Pipeline for Your Company
Companies with international offices can use the J-1 program as a way to identify new sources of talent for their businesses abroad. During the program, companies can teach foreign interns new skills, which they can then utilize in offices in their home countries after they return. These programs also permit face-to-face meetings with U.S. coworkers, encouraging better communication and fostering collaboration that stretches across international borders and strengthens relationships for future work projects.
2. Gain Better Understanding of Your Client Base Abroad
Even if a company does not have international offices, they may have overseas clients or work with companies in related industries who are based abroad. Hosting interns from these areas can help a company better understand the relevant client base in a particular area or gain information about how they can better collaborate with other industries in its field. Interns are often “young leaders” who are very motivated to develop their skills and expand their business networks, providing excellent work for the company during the duration of the internship experience.
3. Create Future Connections and Build Your Brand
Companies who are trying to develop their brand abroad or gain more influence in a particular area can also benefit from the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program. For example, when a company is trying to expand into a new market, an intern from that company can provide valuable business connections or cultural insights to help make a product launch or marketing campaign more successful.
Next Steps for Starting Your Internship Program
Now that you’ve learned more about how your company can successfully participate in the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program for interns, let us help you get started. As a designated J-1 sponsor advising host companies regarding the J-1 visa program since 2003, Intrax Global Internships connects qualified candidates from around the world with short- and long-term internships in the U.S. and summer internships in major economic centers worldwide.
Intrax Global Internships provides the software and support potential interns need to navigate the complex visa application process. During the program, we provide ongoing support and help companies comply with government requirements. Keeping track of these requirements will help ensure a successful experience for all parties.
Working with Intrax can help your company achieve its J-1 visa program goals without having to jump through the hoops of establishing your own program or worrying about the status of your sponsor application.
Please get in touch with us to help you design an internship program that will provide benefits for both your company and the J-1 visitors eager to work for you.