J1 Visa – Work & Travel Program Background

The J1 visa, officially known as a “cultural exchange” visa is used for many purposes including;

– High School Exchange Programs
– Work and Travel Programs (WAT) for College Students (this is a strict requirement)
– Au Pair
– Camp USA Programs
Internship or Trainee Programs
– Some Government and Academic Programs

In other words it is a very versatile visa designed for many practical purposes as far as the US is concerned.

Today I will focus of the Work and Travel aspect of the visa as while I don’t have the data is probably by far the most popular use of this program. To note there is a spousal J2 visa associated with the J1, but generally that will only be awarded in the cases of the longer in period Internship, Government and Academic programs.

The Work and Travel program is designed for current University/College students in their respective long holidays (so usually their Summer) to visit and be able to work in the US for up to 4 months. The period of the visa is usually determined by a combination of how long their work period is, how long their college break is and how long the local US Consulate/Embassy is willing to give them which is based on the two earlier factors as well as what region of the world they come from.

Obviously depending on which part of the world you come from this means you may be in the US in Winter (South America and Africa), Spring (SE Asia) and Summer (Europe, China, India, Middle East) depending on when your long holidays are at your University or College.
Australia and NZ citizens recently have access to a 1 Year Work and Travel program which functionally works the same except they have a longer period.

Now I don’t want to be too controversial in this post about the J1 WAT program but there are definitely some practical differences in the way it is administered depending on what country you are from, even if that is not a stated official policy.

So what I mean by that is that, officially the Work and Travel program requires you to have organized a job with a US employer which has then been approved by a State Department approved sponsor organization. So unlike the regular working visas like H1B, E3, etc., where your employer directly sponsors your visa, here it these designated organizations that are your sponsor and responsible for ensuring you meet requirements on the State Department’s behalf.

Additionally in 2011, students are required by the U.S. State Department requires candidates to obtain a job offer with an employer prior to their visa interview. Furthermore residents of Eastern European nations; Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova must have that said job confirmed by their Sponsoring Organization with the employer as valid for the J-1 visa program.

For J1 WAT there are currently 71 approved sponsors listed on the State Department’s website including CIEE, Intrax and InterExchage among others.

Back to the controversial aspect of it all, as I mentioned you need to have organized a job prior to coming to the US. However this requirement is loosely administered for some nations and vigorously for others under the general unofficial guise of students of certain countries being a greater risk to stay longer than their visa allows.

I will discuss this point more in detail in another post as well as more a step by step guide process to getting employment and this visa.

So some students look at this program as mainly just an extended holiday with the ability to work. Where as others work a lot, travel very little, in the hope when then transfer money back home they will gain a lot from a strong US Dollar. As I said the earlier option is officially disallowed and can have your sponsor organization cancel your visa making you illegal in the country, but it administered loosely depending on where you are from.

I hope this helps provide a nice background context to better understand the J1 visa and what its benefits are. Like I said I will go into further details about many of the points raised here in future posts.


9 thoughts on “J1 Visa – Work & Travel Program Background

  1. the French Consulate General in London

    As from June the 1st 2009, nationals from Mauritius, Seychelles, Barbados, Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Christopher and Nevis are exempted from visa for stays up to 90 days in the Schengen States and the european territories of France. Visas are no more issued except if the destination of the travel is situated in a oversea territory of France or if the purpose of the travel in France is to have a paid activity.

  2. Hi CJ,

    Do you have links to the future posts you did which goes through the J1 process in more detail as well as the posts about finding a job on this visa?


  3. Hi Mitchell,
    Finding a Internship/Job on the J1 visa in many ways is similar to the full work visa like the H1B visa or E3 visa. With the J1 visa you have a couple of extra resources with places like CIEE.org (and their affiliates in different countries), Intrax, Inter Exchange but otherwise this post lists the places to find work in the US (https://visacoach.org/2009/01/19/which-are-the-best-places-to-find-a-job/). These sites also go through the process of getting the J1 visa too better than anything I have at the moment. Also if you haven’t already read the J1 visa Internship post (https://visacoach.org/2009/03/14/j-1-visa-internship-int-professional-career-training-pct-programs/)
    Good Luck,

  4. Hi Cj
    I came across this post while looking for information on the e3 visa. I am currently an Australian in the US on the J1 visa program, and have managed to find an employer willing to sponsor me on an E3. I have to return home to the Australian consulate to have another interview, and I just want to know what your thoughts are on my chance of being accepted for an e3. Seeing as it may have been against my initial intentions for ‘temporarily’ visiting the US – do you think the officers will bring that up?
    Thanks in advance for your help!

  5. Hi Kls,
    I assume you were here on the J1 visa Work and Travel program. Look if the job offer is legitimate and meets the criteria of an E3 visa specialty occupation and the bachelors degree condition, etc. there is no reason you shouldn’t be accepted. The fact you returned or are returning home following your J1 visa suffices the condition that you intended to return home. They may ask you about your previous visa time but you should be fine as it is common stepping stone visa that people use so certainly not a unique situation.
    Good Luck,

  6. thanks so much for your help CJ, this website certainly offers much more useful information about US visas than any other websites I have found so far. Thanks again!

  7. Hi CJ,
    Im in the US at the moment looking for work. I want to find sponsorship on an E3 visa. I have just graduated from university and am eligible for the J1 visa. Am I able to apply for the J1 visa in the US so I can do any job in the US instead of having to find a job that meets the requirements needed to get an E3?
    Thanks for your help

  8. Hi Natham,
    The J1 visa Work and Travel is really designed for current students not graduates so you may have an issue getting approved for it given your intention.

  9. Hello!
    I am a vet from Brazil, and I have found a vet clinic in teh US, that can help me to get some pratican training, but they are not a j1 host company…so I can not aplly for a J1 visa…what should I do? aplly for a b1/b2?
    thank you in advance

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