Tag Archives: j1 work and travel

How To Work In The US (Part 1): J1 Visa & Early Days

(this is a series and a real life experience from one of our readers who wanted to share his journey to work in the US in the hope it would educate and inspire others)
Part 2 – Living & Finding Work in the US
Part 3 – Job Application & Visa Process

I was 21 when I came to the US for the first time. I had family living in New York and spent nearly three months hanging out in New York City. Within a week of being here I knew I was going to move here some day, so I set my sights on finishing my university degree and getting a visa to move to the US from Melbourne, my home town.

I finished university in November of 2008 and spent the next 10 months working and saving money to move here. I knew I would be eligible for the J1 12-month work and travel visa within 12 months of graduating. I spent a few months doing research on the program and trying to find the best sponsor to come over to the US.

All in all, the J1 process is very straightforward. The main thing you need is a visa sponsor, and there are quite a few of them out there. They make it possible for you to come here and live and work for 12 months. To be perfectly honest, it absolutely does not matter who you get to sponsor you.

Finding a sponsor with built in travel insurance (a requirement of the visa) will probably cut your costs a little (as opposed to paying for sponsorship and insurance seperately.) Do a search for companies that sponsor you – GrowUSA, CIEE and the YMCA are three big organisations that sponsor the J1 visa.

The organisation I went with (not one of the above) were helpful before I got my visa, but once I got into the country they didn’t really care what I did. They didn’t check in to see how I was doing and I was the one who called them to notify them of my arrival. I was unemployed for a decent chunk of my first few months here and no one called to see how I was doing or if I needed any help. Which is fine – it’s not something I was promised – but for the $1600 I paid to be sponsored, I would’ve preferred to go with a company who at least wanted to know I was still alive.

Once the company receives your sponsorship paperwork, they send you the DS-2019 and you take that and your supporting
documentation to the consulate for your interview. The interview is really straightforward – they’re just going to want to
know that you’ve got ties back home and that you’re bringing enough money to support yourself for the first few months. I
think the minimum you need to show evidence for is $1500, but I stupidly wrote $US8000 on my form, not realising that;

a) that was $11000 AUD at the time and
b) that I had to show evidence that I had that money at the time of my appointment, which I did not.

So my visa was denied initially until I sent them evidence that I had parental support and a credit card.
Moral of the story – just put whatever you have. As long as it’s over $1500, you’ll be fine.

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.