The J-1 visa program is an employment-based non-immigrant visa operated through the Department of State who intend to participate in an approved work-and-study exchange program. While the J-1 visa can be used for many different types of exchange programs, this article will focus on two specific J-1 programs: the J-1 Trainee and the J-1 Internship program.
J-1 Visa Basics
While each J-1 program has different requirements, there are certain requirements that are applicable to all J-1 visas. First, all J-1 visa applicants have to be fluent in English. This can be done through a recognized English language test, documentation from an academic institution, our through an interview conducted by the J-1 sponsor. Further, the J-1 applicant has to maintain sufficient medical insurance for any accident or illness they or their family may incur. J-1 visa applicants also must have the intent to depart at the conclusion of their J-1 program and must maintain a residence abroad.
J-1 Trainee and Intern Program Fields
The Department of State has created a list of occupational categories that qualify for the J-1 Trainee or J-1 Intern program. This is an exhaustive list, and you cannot have a J-1 Trainee or Intern program for a field outside of the following:
- 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; and
- The sciences, engineering, caricature, mathematics, and industrial occupations.
Please note, there may be some old J-1 information that includes aviation as a field that is applicable. However, aviation was removed in June 2010 as an individual seeking flight training can pursue an M visa.
What is the J-1 Visa Two-Year Residency Requirement?
If an individual enters the US on, or changes status to, a J-1 visa, that individual may be subject to a two-year home-country physical presence requirement if:
- The program is financed in whole or in part by a U.S. Government Agency;
- The program is financed in whole or in part, by the government of the country of the individual’s nationality or last legal residence;
- The individual is a national or legal permanent residence of a country designated as requiring the services of persons engaged in the field of special knowledge or skills on various DOS exchange visitor skills list; or
- The individual entered the US to received graduate medical education or training.
A determination if the individual is subject to the two-year residency requirement will be made at the time of the visa issuance. It is important to note that INA 212(e) prohibits J visa holders from applying for an immigrant visa, adjustment of status to a green card, or to seek a change of status to or receiving a visa for an H-1B, K, or L-1 visa until the visa holder has established that they have resided and been physical present in their home country for at least two years following the end of their J-1 program. There are a couple of ways to waive the residency requirement, and that information can be found here and here.
What is the J-1 Intern Program?
The goal of the J-1 internship program is “to strengthen U.S. public diplomacy by expanding opportunities for substantive programming for foreign students and professionals; to enhance the skills and expertise of exchange visitors in their academic or occupational fields; to improve participants’ knowledge of American techniques, methodologies, and technologies; and to increase participants’ understanding of American society and culture.” 9 FAM 402.5-6(E)(5)(a)(1). The J-1 intern category is available for foreign nationals who are enrolled in studies at a degree or certificate granting institution outside of the United States or graduated from such a program within the 12 months prior to the start date of the exchange program. The J-1 program must be in the trainee’s field of study. This generally means they must have sufficient academic preparation before engaging in the program.
There are certain restrictions on the J-1 internship program. As for the length of the program, the J-1 internship program length must not exceed 12 months. However, a foreign national can seek an additional program to develop more advanced skills or skills in a different field if they maintain student status or begin a new internship within 12 months of graduation from an academic institution outside of the United States.
More importantly, there are restrictions on what sponsors can do. Sponsors must not:
- Place interns in unskilled or casual labor positions, positions that require or involve child or elder car, or in clinical or any work that involves patient care or contact
- Place interns in the field of aviation
- Place interns in positions, occupations, or businesses that could bring the J-1 program or Department of State notoriety
- Engage in or otherwise cooperate or contract with an employment agency or staffing agency in the US to recruit, screen, orient, place, evaluate, or train interns, or in any way involve such agencies.
When preparing a J-1 intern program, companies will work with the intern to complete a Trainee/Internship Placement Plan (T/IPP Form DS 7002). Companies must ensure that the work involved for the trainee does not include more than 20% clerical work, and that the work assigned to the intern is necessary for completion of the internship program.
Procedurally, it is worth noting that the sponsor cannot issue a Form DS-2019 to the potential intern until:
- The sponsor secures placements for the intern;
- The sponsor completes the DS-7002 form;
- The sponsor ensures the intern has sufficient finances to support themselves, including housing and living expenses; and
- The program does not duplicate prior work experience but exposes the intern to new techniques mythologies and/or technologies.
What is the J-1 Trainee Program?
The J-1 Trainee program is similar to the J-1 intern program, but has some key differences. The goal of the J-1 trainee program is “to strengthen U.S. public diplomacy by expanding opportunities for substantive programming for foreign students and professionals; to enhance the skills and expertise of exchange visitors in their academic or occupational fields; to improve participants’ knowledge of U.S. techniques, methodologies, and technologies; and to increase participants’ understanding of U.S. society and culture.” 9 FAM 402.5-6(E)(14)(a). It is worth noting that the J-1 Trainee regulations are established to designate from bona fide training, which is what the program is designed to allow, and simply gaining work experience, which is not allowed.
The J-1 Trainee program is designed for individuals that are more experienced than the J-1 Intern program. The J-1 Trainee program is available for foreign nationals that have a degree or professional certificate from outside of the United States and at least one year of prior work experience in their occupational field outside of the United States. Alternatively, they can qualify with five years of experience in their occupation.
Like the J-1 Intern program, the J-1Trainee program has the same restrictions on clerical work, unskilled work, and other restrictions that the J-1 Intern Program has. However, if the training is a “Hospitality and Tourism” training program, the sponsor must ensure that any of these that are six months or longer contains at least three departmental or functional rotations.
The J-1 Internship program duration will depend on the field of the program. While it is generally an 18 month internship, agriculture and hotel and tourism internships are typically limited to 12 months with limited exceptions. If the internship is in the field of agriculture, it can be up to 18 months if there is a showing that it requires 6 month of classroom participation. J-1 Interns cannot start another pogrom without being out of the US for 2 years before starting the new program.
In conclusion, the J-1 Trainee and Internship programs are valuable opportunities for foreign nationals to gain experience, knowledge, and skills while immersing themselves in American culture. However, the J-1 visa requirements and restrictions can be complex and confusing, and it is important to consult a qualified immigration attorney for more information. The attorney can provide guidance on the eligibility requirements, the application process, and the two-year residency requirement. Furthermore, they can ensure that the J-1 program and Trainee/Internship Placement Plan comply with the Department of State regulations. By seeking the advice of an immigration attorney, individuals and companies can avoid costly mistakes and delays in the J-1 visa process, and ensure a successful and beneficial J-1 program experience.
Reddy & Neumann, P.C., located in Houston, Texas, has been serving the business community for over 25 years and is Houston’s largest immigration law firm focused solely on U.S. Employment-based immigration. We work with both employers and their employees, helping them navigate the immigration process quickly and cost-effectively.
By: Steven Brown
Steven Brown is a Partner at Reddy & Neumann, P.C. where he works in the Non-immigrant visa department and leads the Litigation Team. His practice covers all phases of the non-immigration visa process including filing H-1B, L-1, E-3, H-4, and H-4 EAD petitions. In the last two years, Steven has successfully handled over 1,000 non-immigrant visa petitions including filing petitions, responding to any necessary Requests for Evidence, and drafting motions and appeals. He has also become a key resource for F-1 students that seek guidance on properly complying with the F-1 visa regulations and any OPT or CPT issues they may have. Additionally, Steven holds a weekly conference call for companies that are part of one of the largest organizations for IT Services companies in America.