Tag Archives: CIEE

An Immigrant’s Actual J-1 Visa Work & Travel Experience

So many young people from around the world come to the US every year as part of Work & Travel program. Most of them have never been to America and find themselves very excited from the first minute they arrive into the country. So what is so special and unique about Work & Travel program?

First of all, it is the opportunity to see one of the greatest countries in the history of the humanity. I remember how thrilled I was when the plane landed in Washington DC. And even though I still had to switch to another plane (my original destination was Seattle, WA) I could not believe that I officially was in the country of freedom, a country, which was established on the principal of equal opportunities, a country, which produced so many greatest minds.

I read tons of books about America. And here I was in the middle of Washington Dulles airport all overwhelmed with my thoughts and not believing my own eyes. I know for sure that most of Work & Travel students experience the same type of emotions as I did on that day: excited and proud to be in the United States of America.

A week had not passed by since the moment of my arrival as the reality already hit me pretty harshly. Accommodation, which was provided by my employer, was an old piece of junk. For a person, who had traveled around and seen world and stayed at tens of students’ hostels this “apartment” looked like hell: I did not unpack my luggage – I was scared to touch anything in that place.

My job is even worse: a dirty pub, which not only made no money but also had a reputation of one of the most dangerous places in the city. And once again I could not believe my eyes: however, this time questioning myself: “What the hell am I doing here?”

The solution came to me very soon after meeting a couple of other Work & Travel students with similar problems. All of us ended up having the worst jobs, which Americans would never do and all of us wanted a change. Therefore, we moved to NYC. I remember standing in the middle of Times Square at around 10pm on a weekend night all surrounded by hurrying New-Yorkers, thousands of tourists with their huge cameras, busy taxi drivers, tasty Kebob’s smells, dusty air, and of course bright gigantic advertising boards.

That night changed my understanding about America all at once. The next day I found a job very easily and even though I changed my jobs about 5 others times I was the happiest Work & Travel student in the world as I found NYC and MYSELF – ALL AT ONCE AND FOREVER.

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.