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J1 Visa & How to Find a US Internship

The J1 visa as we have mentioned before is probably the most diverse US visa in terms of the range of types of roles it applies too. It is often, along with the F1 visa for students, the avenue for hundred of thousands of foreigners each year to come to the US for the very first time.

Now many foreigners who ultimately want to work in the US on a full time bases and possibly ultimately live here permanently use the J1 visa as their initial stepping stone to find a more permanent role and later on green card sponsorship.

The reason why so many people choose this route is that in many ways it is a far easier US visa to obtain as there is no quote limits each year compare to the other visas. Then additionally to find a Internship role under this visa is also slightly easier because employers are willing to state they want to hire a foreigner for the Internship. This is because for them, unlike full work visas like the H1B visa, they don’t actually do the visa sponsorship of the candidate themselves and there is no application costs or really legal costs for them to incur.

Types of J1 Visa roles:

The J1 Visa Internship or Trainee program is broadly split into 2 types called Internship or Professional Career Training (PCT). The link in this paragraph goes into more detail about each role type. However in a broad sense the difference between the two is that the Internship stream is for current tertiary level students or very recent graduates. A recent change to this stream states that you can only apply for this while still a student, however you can start your role within 6 months of graduation.

Where as the Professional Career Training stream is for those who have a tertiary qualifications but have graduated longer than a year ago. It also can apply to those who may not have that level of academic qualifications but have at least 5 years of relevant work experience to the Internship role to which they are applying.

The one important thing to note about the PCT stream since July 2007. Anyone from any country now has a 2 year bearer rule apply to them (also known as a 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 that can be applied for but you should know it is not a quick process. This had made this stream slightly less desirable as a stepping stone visa to a full work visa as there is an additional hurdle to overcome.

So you can transfer from the J1 visas to other visas like the H1B visa but if you have that 2 year rule apply to you then that must be dealt with first before you can transfer to another visa.

How to find a position:

Assuming you are a foreigner with few contacts in the US to utilize to help you find a role, there are ways that most people achieve this. The first being utilizing the various sponsor organizations who will actually sponsor your J1 visa like Intrax, InterExchange, CIEE, etc. If you click on each of the links below you will be taken to their Internship Job Search Engine where you can see some of the roles on offer via these organizations

  1. Intrax Internship Job Search
  2. InterExchange Internship Job Search
  3. CIEE Internship Job Search

You should bear in mind that if you utilize there job search utility that your first point of screening will tend to be someone at one of these sponsor organizations before they pass the most suitable and best candidates on to the employer (or officially known as your host company) themselves. Additionally there is always additional fees paid on top of the regular J1 visa program fees if you are using these organizations as opposed to finding an Internship yourself and then just using these organizations as sponsors.

All of these organizations will sponsor your J1 visa, regardless if you actually via the Internship role via them. The difference being that if you do it on your own that once you have found a role, you and your host company need to fill out application forms on their websites (and in your case pay the program fees) and then they will contact you both about processing the application.

If you are planning to search for a role on your own then there are many avenue where you can find internship roles that are similar to where you would search for full working positions. In addition to sites like Craigslist which are listed there, other sites to look at for both all types and specific types of Internship roles include;

Unlike with the full work visas, there are companies willing to hire foreigners without face to face interviews. Often they will be willing to hire you based on phone interviews and even video chats like Skype. These companies that are willing to do this often have hired foreigners before as Interns.

Finally you should read the Internship job description wherever you find them as many will state they are either unpaid or have a very minimal pay or basic stipend. Now if you are happy with that there is additional condition you also have to meet when applying for your J1 visa stating that you will be able to support yourself financially.

Well paid Internship positions are harder to find mainly because those same roles are highly demanded by US citizens and also in general these employers like getting cheaper labor given they are hiring people for more entry level roles for the most part. However you can negotiate your terms with your employer and don’t be afraid to ask for some or more money. One benefit you could say to them is to pay you as a contractor meaning they don’t have to withhold taxes from your pay and thus avoid US legal payroll obligations and costs. However you should note that if they pay you like this it means you will have to pay taxes to the IRS when you file your tax return.

The IRS is not an organization to try and avoid in anyway because if you eventually in your US Immigration get to point of applying for a green card and permanent residency in the US, one of things they will look at during your interview process is all your Tax Returns.

So as you can see there are many avenues to finding a role in the US as an Intern. You should generally plan for the application process to take 1-2 months on average with your sponsor organization. Some organizations like CIEE work via partner organizations in most countries around the world where as others deal directly to the US office for the application process. Once they have confirmed everything you can then go for your US Consulate or Embassy interview to actually get the J1 visa in your passport.

Good Luck,