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.