Tag Archives: professional career training

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,


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 🙂