The J-1 Visa Program
The J-1 Visa Program is administered by the Department of State. Its purpose is to provide participants with an opportunity to receive training and skills for their future careers while experiencing American culture and improving English language ability. There are 15 different kinds of J programs, for example – au pairs, camp counselors, short term scholars, professors, summer work and study – each with different eligibility requirements, duration, and repeat participation prohibitions.
The J-1 visa may be a viable option for people seeking training with a US employer.
Highlights of the J-1 Visa Program
- Employee qualifications: Foreign employees may qualify for a J-1 visa as an employee-trainee with a minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree and 1 year of experience or 5 years of experience relevant to the field of employment. Both the academic degree and the qualifying degree must be from abroad.
- Field of training: The proposed training can be in any of the enumerated fields:
- Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing;
- Arts and Culture;
- Construction and Building Trades;
- Education, Social Sciences, Library Science, Counseling and Social Services;
- Health Related Occupations;
- Hospitality and Tourism;
- Information Media and Communications;
- Management, Business, Commerce and Finance;
- Public Administration and Law; and
- The Sciences, Engineering, Architecture, Mathematics
- Nonimmigrant intent: In order to qualify for the J-1 program, applicants must demonstrate that they have no intent to immigrate and will retain their foreign residence. Applicants must convince the consular officer that they have strong family, economic and social ties to their own country and that they will depart the United States when the training program is completed. As a practical matter, nonimmigrant intent can generally be demonstrated by an offer of future employment from a company in the alien’s home country starting after the completion of training.
- Streamlined application process: There are special rules about what companies or organizations may serves as sponsors (as discussed further below), the J-1 Visa Program generally operates under a streamlined process and can result in a J-1 visa being granted in a matter of months.
- Limited Visa Duration: J-1 visas are limited in duration to 18 months compared to other employment based nonimmigrant visa categories.
- Company sponsorship: In order to obtain a J-1 visa for an employee, a company must either be designated by the U.S. Department of State as a J-1 visa program sponsor or can apply through an approved third-party training sponsor organization.
Becoming a J-1 Program sponsor is time-consuming and only make sense for large, multinational companies that anticipate frequent application for visas under the J-1 Program. As an alternative to qualifying in their own right, many companies prefer to apply for J-1 trainee visas through an existing sponsor organization.
The Department of State has designated numerous organizations to act as a third-party sponsor. Each of these organizations has its own unique requirements, fees and guidelines, but in general, the process is usually quite similar, starting with the submission of a detailed training program description, which spells out in detail the type and chronology of training the employee will receive.
Third party sponsors can take as little as 2 weeks to review and approve J-1 applications and training programs. After the application is approved, the third-party sponsor will send Form DS-2019 (Certificate of program eligibility) to the employee abroad. Form DS-2019 is a required document for a successful visa application. Processing times vary, depending on the U.S. Consular post where the visa application is pending.
Additional J-1 Program benefits
The spouse and single children (under 21) of a J-1 applicant are also able to come to the United States on J-2 visas for the duration of the J-1 training program. An additional benefit of the J-1 visa is that the spouse may obtain Employment Authorization through the USCIS by submitting Form I-765. While the employment of the J-1 principal is limited to the sponsoring employer, the J-2 permits employment in the open market can work without restrictions. The only condition is that the income earned by the J-2 spouse cannot be used to support the principal J-1.
Potential 2 year restriction after J-1 Program participation
There is a potential 2-year home residency requirement that may be applicable for certain J-1 Program participants after the completion of their J-1 visa training program. Specifically, J-1 applicants from certain countries who obtain training in fields or occupations designated on the Department of State’s “skills list” are not allowed to change to any other nonimmigrant status in the U.S. or immigrate to the United States until they have remained in their home country for two years. The skills list is organized by country and contains several skills groups. While it is possible to obtain a waiver of the 2 year foreign residence requirement, it is important for applicants to check the skills list before applying for the Certificate of Eligibility. Most European and Asian countries do not fall under the skills list.
Additionally, the J-1 trainee will be subject to the 2-year foreign residence requirement if the training program was funded by the U.S. or foreign government. International Medical Graduates completing their medical training in the U.S. are also subject to that requirement.
An exchange visitor subject to the 2 year foreign residence requirement cannot change his or her status in the U.S. to H or L visa, or obtain legal permanent resident status until the home residence requirement is fulfilled or waived.
Contact Pollack, Pollack, Isaac & DeCicco today
Our experienced attorneys can help evaluate your current immigration status, explain your options and assist you in applying for the appropriate benefit. To make an appointment with a U.S. immigration attorney at Pollack, Pollack, Isaac & DeCicco, LLP, call 212-203-4795.