J-1 Visa – Internship (INT) & Professional Career Training (PCT) Programs

We have covered in a previous post the J-1 Visa Work & Travel Program (WAT) and today we will look at probably a lesser known part of the very flexible J-1 visa known as the Internship (INT) and Professional Career Training (PCT) programs. These programs can be for a maximum of 18 months.

The INT and PCT programs are part of a broad group of programs called Trainee programs. Also under this umbrella include;
– medical trainees
– veterinary trainees
– pharmaceutical trainees
– aviation trainees
– academic/research trainees

With many of the above programs, you are generally sponsored directly by the institution hosting you like a University or Aviation Training facility and not by a 3rd party organization. This is different to most of the J-1 visa program as a 3rd party organization generally has to sponsor your visa.

I will say for your information that many people use these J-1 visa programs a prelude to life in the US before moving on to a full working visa sponsorship like the H-1B visa or E-3 Visa. The J-1 visa also has a J-2 dependent visa for generally spouses of trainees to present in the US as well. The J-2 dependent visa has the added bonus allowing spouses to work as well, which makes it more flexible in some ways than the H-4 visa which is the partner visa of the H-1B visa.

I will focus on the INT and PCT programs as that covers most people who want to work in the US who may be have qualifications in business, arts, design, fashion, media, engineering, IT, science, law, etc. So you can see there is a broad range and can cover most people.

Internship (INT) Program:

  • The student must be enrolled on a full-time basis at a nationally accredited tertiary institution like a college or university but they can start their role up to 6 months from their graduation.
  • The person must be at least 18 years old.
  • The person must have sufficient English language ability to function normally in a business setting.
  • The student must be at least one year into their chosen field of study and the end result of their study must result in a degree, certificate, qualification, etc. like a Bachelors Degree
  • The trainee program should have correlation with the student’s course of study (this is loosely applied given that most roles have such vague job descriptions)
  • You can go on the INT program multiple times, however it has to be shown that the new program is not a duplicate of a previous program

Professional Career Training (PCT) Program:

  • The trainee has to be graduates of a tertiary institutions with at least 1 years non-US work experience related to their qualification OR have at least 5 years work experience
  • The trainee must be a high school graduate
  • The trainee should be between 20 and 40 years of age.
  • Like the INT program, the person must have sufficient English language ability to function normally in a business setting.
  • Also similar to the INT program, if this is a subsequent PCT program it has to be shown it is not duplicative of previous training or work experience
  • Since 2007, a 2 year Bearer Rule applies to all countries. (aka 2 year residency rule or 2 year home residency rule) This basically means after a PCT program you have to remain outside the US for at least 2 years before being allowed to apply for any other US visa (not including visa waiver program).
  • There is a 2 year residency rule waiver option in certain circumstances

It is up to the Sponsor Organization like CIEE, Inter Exchange, Intrax, etc. to confirm that the company hosting you is legitimate, as is your role and your background information. To verify your job details some sponsor organizations only have locations within the US and do it all from there where as others have offices or partner organizations all over the world who do a lot of the verification of identity and qualifications work locally.

That organization also has to validate your Insurance poilicy which is mandatory for the J-1 (and J-2) visa holders. The type of health insurance only has to be a travel type policy but must cover your entire time in the US. Some companies like CIEE actually administer their own policy which is mandatory for you to take up should they be your sponsor.

We also have more information on How to Apply for your Social Security Number as well as general Health Insurance Information in the US.

There are a number of costs associated with being able to get the J-1 visa and these include;

Program Fees to your Sponsor Organization and/or Local Affiliate (generally this is calculated by how many months your program is can be up to $1,500 for a full 18 month program last time I looked). Often this may include your Insurance as well
Insurance coverage if not included above. (your sponsor organization will often give you a list of approved providers if they don’t include themselves)
SEVIS Fee (I-901 form) which stands for Student Exchange Visitor Information System (currently $200 for most people but is occasionally free for some government sponsored cultural positions)
US Consulate/Embassy Application costs (or if within US, USCIS transfer visa fees)

Some Important Definitions and Information for this Trainee category of J-1 Visas:

DS-2019 Form – This is the form provided to you by your sponsor organization after they have approved your position that you have to take to the consulate for your visa application and that you show when you enter the United States. The number on that form is an important identifying number.
Letter of Good Standing – If you decide to travel outside the US during your J-1 visa program, you need to get a letter from your sponsor organization that you may need to show US Customs when you re-enter the US that your visa is fine as far as your sponsor is concerned (more often than not you won’t be asked for this but is important to have)
Sponsor Organization – As mentioned for INT and PCT, you will be sponsored by a 3rd party organization who is registered with the US State Department. They will report your progress and other details periodically
Host Company – If you are on the INT or PCT program, the company that hires you is not called your employer but your Host company
SEVIS – As mentioned aboved this system fee is something you have to pay, It came in after September 11, 2001, to keep track of high school, work and travel, trainee and other student/cultural visa holders.
2 Year Bearer Rule – As I also said above with the PCT (and also programs like high school exchange particularly if US Government funded) you will have the 2 year residency rule applied to be outside US once your program completes. The link I attached is how you can potentially get this waived but it can be a very long process and not always successful. Before mid 2007, uS consulates abroad would arbitrarily apply this rule to visa (usually always to non Western countries citizens) but now it is mandatory for all countries
Taxes – The good news on the J-1 visa if you are earning an income is that you DO NOT have to pay either Social Security (aka FICA or payroll tax) or Medicare taxes. This is a great saving as Social Security taxes are a lot and given the people on work visas like H1B, E3 and L1 have to pay these taxes with no access to the benefits, it certainly is fair for the J-1 visa holders.

In terms of finding a postion. For the most part part it is best to use the services of your Sponsor Organization or Local Affiliate as they have a list of companies willing to hire foreigners. Often the fact you are using their list while probably making it easier to land a role mean that the Program Fees you pay will be on the higher side of the numbers described above.
Many people avoid paying the higher program fees by searching on their own which can be difficult from abroad but certainly not impossible and thousands do it each year. For the best resources as to where to find a trainee or internship position, use this link.

Finally in terms of salary. You should note many, if not most roles are unpaid or often paid with a basic stipend or living expense but certainly not enough to live AND entertain yourself on. Particularly in the current economic climate, many companies are often looking for cheap labor. However there are many fully paid positions as well, you just have to fight harder 🙂
I will cover this is an upcoming post but negotiation of salary is a big part of US culture, so if you play your cards correctly you can often get more than what is advertised and certainly more that what may be initially offered.

See you soon in the USA 🙂

CJ

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47 thoughts on “J-1 Visa – Internship (INT) & Professional Career Training (PCT) Programs

  1. Hi dear ,

    can i change status to h1b or e-3 visa from to
    Student Work and Travel Pilot Program

    Regards

    Sukh

  2. Hi Sukh,
    You can change from J-1 to E-3 or H-1B, but you must do it within the period of your J-1 visa.
    CJ

  3. Thanks for replying again,

    I am studying right now . I want to go on Student Work and Travel Pilot Program (j1 visa) exclusive for aus and nz students.
    i got an employer in usa ready to sponsor me for h1-b or E-3 visa.

    The ques is

    Do i need any kind of visa waiver for transferring my status to H1-b or E-3.
    And is there any 2-year home resideny requirement on this visa.

    Please answer me

    Sukh

  4. The 2 Year Residency Rule applies usually for J-1 program for Professional Career Training and also High School exchange programs. It is NOT something they usually put on any type of J-1 Work and Travel visa.
    It will say on your J-1 visa if you have a 2 year rule apply to you anyway. (if you had it, then you would need to get that 2 year rule waived)

  5. what do u think about my case for Student Work and Travel Pilot Program
    because i am not looking for any training and i am not going for any exchange program.

    how can i be sure for this thing.

    Sukh

  6. As I said any Work and Travel Program is not subject to the 2-Year rule. The Professional Career Training and High School Exchange programs are specific types of J-1 programs, you will know you are on them as it will say it repeatedly in any documentation you receive to do your application. Work and Travel is not Professional Career Training….PCT is part of the J-1 Trainee program not Work and Travel.
    Also as I said your J-1 visa in your passport states whether the 2 year rule applies.

  7. hi admin,

    do i need visa waiver if i am on Work and Travel Program , before converting it to e-3 or h1b visa.

  8. I mean changing of visa status. Is it as simple as going to consulate in canada
    and get E-3 and they will cancel my j-1 status and issue me a new visa.

  9. I am a small art gallery and I would like to sponsor a Canadian to come an intern at the gallery – i am unclear on what the process is and the fees involved in doing so

    thanks

  10. Hi Laura,
    From the employer perspective it is essentially free. If contact a US Government authorized sponsor organization like CIEE (ciee.org), they will be able to explain the process and setup the actual sponsorship documents for you. In short they are the ones who are actually sponsoring the person as far as the US Government is concerned and you are what’s known as a host company. If you are a small company they may ask you to provide some additional documentation to ensure you are a legitimate company and providing a real internship.
    Good Luck,
    CJ

  11. Hi There,

    I was wondering if you think a previous denial of a E-3 visa application based on having insufficient years of professional experience for bachelor equivalency would have an effect on application for J-1?

    I have 8.5 years at this time and it was not deemed enough for E-3 by the interviewer. The company is offering to put together an 18 month internship/training program for me with the help of immigration lawyers.

    My denial of E-3 was just the other day and we are hoping for J-1 application interview sometime in next 6 weeks.

  12. Hi Lachlan,
    In strictly leagal terms it should not as the criteria for the J1 visa and the E3 visa are separate and different. However on the forms as you know, if you have been denied for a US visa you will have to note it down. They will likely ask you about this in your interview and so you may be asked to answer what is sifferent about what you are going to do at the company now vs. the original plan via the E3 visa. Hopefully they will be good and you get your J1 visa and pass the lesser equivalency criteria as you seem to fit it fine.
    Good Luck,
    CJ

  13. Hi, I need desperate help for advice.

    I am here on an H4 status and getting an PCT/Paid internship offer from a university in Boston. But, due to the 2 year home residence thing I am not able to take that position. Also the AIPT organisation is a little bit dicey in sponsoring my visa. Pl advice me, will it be very difficult for my case to find a sponsor due to my H4 visa status and also will it be dificult to get a waiver?

  14. Hi RV,
    You can read our post on the J1 Visa 2 year waiver here. It is fairly difficult and time consuming to get it approved and many are not successful but you can always try.
    As an H4 visa holder you have many more advantages over most people who want to work in the US that are not even here to search or who may be here but can’t support themselves as well as you probably do with an H1B visa holding spouse.
    Personally given you are looking for work anyway, would focus solely on the H1B visa employer opportunities given you don’t want to be stuck with conditions like a 2 year home residency rule.
    Good Luck,
    CJ

  15. Hi, I was told by CDS international that if I take a internship( not a trainee) I will only be subject to the 2 year rule if I receive government funding to train in the U.S. Also, as long as they are aware of the program date changes prior to issuing my visa paperwork, this will not be an issue.

    I am a Canadian planning to do a six week internship which I must have to get my diploma.

  16. Hi Majorie,
    Yes that would seem correct. There is a couple of types of J1 streams that apply to the Internship area. One is know as the Internship INT) stream and this is for a mazimum of 12 months. The 2 year rule does NOT apply for this stream. Then there is the Professional Career Training (PCT) stream and this is for people who have already graduated from university and/or have sufficient experience. This does have the 2 year rule apply to it. Yes US Government funded programs also tend to have the 2 year rule apply to it as well. So I think in your case you are fine as well.
    CJ

  17. Hello, would hugely appreciate some advice. I’m an Australian who has received an offer to do a 3 month paid internship in the US. I don’t qualify for the J-1 “intern” visa as I’ve not recently been a student. I believe I could technically apply for the J-1 trainee visa (as I have 5 years non-US work experience), but then fall under the 2 year home residency requirement (a problem because I’m hoping my internship leads to a permanent job in the US). My question – is it possible to do a 3 month internship on the E-3 visa? And then if my employer gives me a permanent position, just keep going on same visa?

  18. Hi Alan,
    Yes you would fall under the J1 Visa PCT program and thus the 2 year home residency rule given your description of the offer and your background. You would be eligible for the 2 year rule waiver, however this is neither a guaranteed nor a quick process. Your best option would either be to extend your Internship if possible, hopefully to the maximum 18 months, thus allowing you more time to get the waiver. Alternatively, if you could get your employer to hire you on an E3 visa instead of the J1 visa, then you will not be as limited, even if it is just for the 3 months. You should note there are minimum wage criteria per role and per location with the E3 visa. The E3 visa also is not for Internship so that would not be mentioned anywhere in your application as it would need to be a specialty occupation. This is a broad term but it needs to be met along with the Bachelors Degree condition.
    An E3 visa extension can be done within the US (just ensure you apply well in advance) or a renewal can be done outisde the US in closer places like Canada or Mexico.
    Good Luck,
    CJ

  19. Hi there, few questions…can one transfer from the J1 WAT program to the J1 PCT? Also if you’re on the J1 PCT, and you end it before the maximum length of the program, would you still be subject to the 2 year rule?

    Thanks

  20. Hi Jrpabs,
    You can transfer from the J1 WAT to the J1 PCT in theory, although it is rarely done because the J1 WAT is usually so short to allow time to do it. People generally leave the country and come back. If you are subject to the 2 year rule, it doesn’t matter if you leave the US early, it still applies.
    Cj

  21. Hi E3visa, sorry, i may be double posting,but you mentioned PCT has a 2 year home residency requirement. I think that may not be correct (perhaps?) as I have not found any such information on the travel.state.gov website regarding this.

    What is does say is that once you complete a PCT program you are unable to undetake “another PCT” unless you return home and stay for 2 years. It does not say that you cannot convert to any other visa or return back on any other visa (other than the J1 trainee visa).

    Could you clarify this for me please?

    thanks

  22. Hi Mist3rh,
    If the 2 year home residency rule is applied to your J1 visa that prevents you being under any type of visa in the US for 2 years unless you get it waived.
    Cj

  23. Hello!
    I’m currently a student but hoping to find work in film (my degree is in arts/English) if I can find a job within the film field I will do so on the J1 WAT visa. How easy is it to transfer to either the E3 or H1B visa WITHOUT completing my degree? I have 7.5 years experience in my current customer service job, but obviously none of these attributes really apply to the role I would have in the film industry. Would I be better off applying for an E3/H1B instead? Keeping in mind I have no certified qualifications for the job I am applying for, and no degree.
    Sorry for the somewhat convoluted question! Thanks if you can help me even a little.

  24. Hi Sarah,
    You will find it very difficult to get either the H1B or E3 visa with no completed degree and around 7 years of experience, especially as it not even fully applicable to the role. Your best option is to complete your degree and then follow your plan.
    Cj

  25. Hi there, I’m going to the US for 4 months with an additional 30 days to travel so a total of 5 months via the J1 Work And Travel.. I’m a student studying IT in a certificate qualification, I was wondering is it possible to change my visa to H1B when I get to the US? I’m just so uncertain about it.. Thanks oh and how long does it take?

  26. Hi there,

    I am wondering if you are on a J-1 Professional Career Training visa and your host company closes or goes bankrupt, whether you can change jobs within your field for the duration of your visa?

    Any advice would be most appreciated.

  27. Hi,

    Great Website btw. I just wanted to know if I’m on my J1 and have 6 months to go and my employer is willing to sponsor me for my E3 visa. If I apply now and for some reason get denied, am I still able to enter the US on my J1? or will I not be able to come back for some reason?

  28. Hi MoMo,
    If you try and transfer to an E3 visa from J1 visa and it is denied within US, your J1 visa will still be valid until its existing expiry date and function as normal. If you go outside the US and do the E3 visa application there and it is denied, your J1 visa will probably be cancelled as well.
    Cj

  29. Trainees are eligible for
    additional training programs after a
    period of at least two years residency
    outside the United States following their
    initial training program.

    Additional training and internship program participation
    When the State Department revised the J-1 Visa Regulations in June 2007, they formalized rules for repeat participation. The Regulations state that “Interns may apply for additional internship programs if they (1) Are currently enrolled full-time and pursuing studies at degree- or certificate-granting post-secondary academic institutions outside the United States; or (2) Have graduated from such institutions no more than 12 months prior to the start of their proposed exchange visitor program. … Trainees are eligible for additional training programs after a period of at least two years residency outside the United States following completion of their training program. … For both trainees and interns, additional training and internship programs must address the development of more advanced skills or a different field of expertise”.

    You see how the 2 Two Year Rules address different issues? Section 212(e) addresses potential change of status to H, L, K or LPR. When interested in participating in another J-1 program, we have to look at the Additional Program Participation article of the J-1 Visa regulations. And according to those regulations – unless the foreign national qualifies as Intern – they must wait 2 years in order to qualify for repeat participation.

  30. Hi there,

    I see that people seem to be knowledgeable here, you might be able to help me out:
    I arrived in the U.S under a j1, performing a 3 months internship. I then transferred my credits from my french school (that I am STILL enrolled in) to a U.S university, I was then on a F1. That was right after my J1. Then I started my OPT, found a job, but didnt get sponsored.

    I just got back to france, after spending almost three years in the U.S

    Now I found another company willing to hire me as an intern (J1). They want to pay me too. That would be my second J1 in the U.S, on my last visa (the F1), it’s written “two years rule does not apply”. It’s on the F1 though, not on the J1 I first got.

    Do you know if it’ll go through ?

  31. Guillaume it sounds you will be fine to be eligible for a J-1 visa based on your information and timings.
    Cj

  32. Dear CJ,

    Your website is a font of both hope and, in turn, frustration because it lays out the nitty-gritty of US Visa programs so clearly.

    I graduated from University of Melbourne in March 2011 so am 14 months out and by the looks of it no longer eligible for the J1 internship visa. I may be lining up an internship with S & P in NYC and am currently a graduate student at the London School of Economics are their any paths for somebody who is a grad student to get into the US on something like the J1 and avoid the 2-year residency requirement?

    I hope to make my career in the US and the 2 year rule is pretty crushing.

    Cheers,

    Rupert

  33. Hi, First of all. Thankyou for such a great website!!!

    I am currently on the J-1 (2 yr exempt) working as a trainer. I have a Bsc in Sport Science from Australia. The company I’m working for is willing to sponsor me for the E-3.

    Do i have to leave the states for and intrviw or something? Or can I just do a chang of status without leaving the US?

    Thanks for your help!

  34. Hi Rodrigo,
    You can change status without leaving, it will take abt 3 months to come through so plan early. However the advantage of leaving is you get an entire new visa in your passport. The difference of the two approaches is doing it within the country means you don’t have to leave, however if you decide to travel outside the US while working on your E-3 visa you still have to get a new visa and do interview to reenter the US.
    Cj

  35. Thanx so much! I have a very complicated question that I hope can be answered…
    I am wanting open a LLC with some US friends. A personal training business. Would I be able to sponsor myself with this LLC company fill out the LCA form and also the I-129?

    Once i have this approved it basically means I have legal status in the US right and my current social security number will just roll over from my current J-1 status right?

    So technically having legal status and having a valid SS number. I could work part time for a couple of different jobs whilst originally being sponosred by my own LLc company?

    Is this right? I am assuming once you have legal status and a valid SS number. That you legally work for a number of jobs with you SS number right? not solely the one that originally petitioned for you I-129…

    I also cant find anything on working only one job.. I currently have multiple part time jobs that’s why I am asking. Hope you can help.

    Thankx!

  36. Hi Rodrigo,
    You are entering a grey area with starting a company with US friends and having that company sponsor you. It is not technically against the rules however you should note the Department of Labor could not issue you an LCA b/c the companies history and tax ID are required on that form along with wage you will be paid being at least equal to the prevailing wage. Then even if you get issued that, your petition to the USCIS via the I-129 form could also be declined for similar reasons. Companies with no history will always get scrutinized more.
    As for the second part, it is NOT legal to work for additional employers under your E-3 visa unless you have an approved LCA for each employer and that has been approved by the USCIS. The Social Security Number and E-3 Visa only entitles you to work for the employer nominated on your visa stamp. That is not too say many people can and do get away with working for other employers without all this but both they and you are both at risk of financial penalties, deportation and barring re-entry to the US.
    Cj

  37. in 2011 and 2012 I obtained short term J1 visa’s to teach on a 3 week summer course on molecular biology.

    I’m currently going through the K1 fiancé visa process and have my interview soon.

    My visa has no stamp regarding if 212(e) applies (which is I must reside in my home country for 2 years afterwards).. I’ve lived in Germany, not the UK for the last year.

    If the J1 visa states nothing regarding section 212(e), does it normally therefore not apply?

    I’m trying to obtain the DS2019, but it was privately funded, not an exchange skill area, and I’m not a medic so I hope to god I’m not.

    Will thee rule 212(e) apply to me?

  38. Hi there,

    I see that I do not need to wait 2 years between internships under the J1 visa .. but how long do I have to wait? or can I go pretty much straight from one internship into another with a different company under a new J1 internship visa?

  39. Hi there,

    I am an Australian who is about to complete their Master of Social Work and would like to work in New York within the social work field on the J-1. Are there limitations working within Social Work on this visa?

    I am also researching the option of heading over to New York on the J1 and looking a job while I am there, and then applying for the E-3 if I receive a job offer.

    If you could give me any advice on pursuing social work in the US that would be greatly appreciated, as it seems quite difficult to pursue this area of work.

    Regards,
    Carla

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