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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 🙂