If you’d like to come to the United States for a job that provides training in the type of work you do, you might qualify for a “J-1” trainee visa. The U.S. offers these visas so you can improve your knowledge of American techniques, methodologies, and technology, and then return home and share your experiences with the people in your country.
Who Can Become a J-1 Trainee?
You must have a degree or professional certificate from a post-secondary academic institution in your home country and at least one year of work experience in your occupational field. If you don’t have the required education, you can still qualify if you have five years of work experience in your occupational field. Experience from jobs you had in the U.S.doesn’t count.
If you’re a recent graduate or still a student at a college or university, you might be able to come to the U.S. as a J-1 intern. See “Recent Foreign Graduates: How to Come to the U.S. for an Internship.” If you’re still in school and are interested in a training job or internship for academic credit, see “Can a J-1 exchange student do job training for academic credit from a U.S. university?” and “Can a Foreign University Student Participate in a U.S. University’s Internship Program?”
Proving Your English Language Ability
You will need to be able to speak, read, and write English well enough to function on a day-to-day basis in your training job. What’s more, you will need to convince the U.S. government that your English is at this level before you can obtain a J-1 visa. There are three ways to prove your English skills: (1) by demonstrating them at the interview that your training program sponsor will conduct with you; (2) by passing a recognized English-language test; or (3) by showing documentation from an academic institution or English-language school.
Demonstrating Your Financial Support and Insurance
You must have sufficient finances to support yourself for your entire stay in the United States. You must show that you will be able to pay for all of your housing and living expenses. Also, you must have insurance that will pay for any sickness or accident during your time in the United States. The insurance must meet certain minimum requirements, so make sure your insurer knows what is required for J-1 visa holders.
Finding a Sponsor
The J-1 sponsor is the company or organization that is responsible for the training program, and for finding you a place to work. To help the sponsor administer the program, it may work through other another organization, which may advertise job training opportunities to you. These could be U.S. businesses offering training jobs, governmental entities, academic institutions, or other foreign or domestic agents.
The sponsor must make sure the company you work for complies with all the rules for J-1 trainees. The sponsor will interview you, either in-person, by videoconferencing, or by telephone if videoconferencing is not an option, to make sure you are a good candidate for the training job.
Creating a Training Placement Plan
You, your sponsor, and your employer must agree to a plan for the type of work you will be doing. The company can’t hire you to fill one of its ordinary positions, or use you as a way of displacing American workers. Rather, the job opportunity must exist primarily to train you and expand your existing knowledge and skills.
No more than 20% of your job can be clerical work (meaning unskilled office work such as filing or data entry). If you’re doing a training job in the hospitality or tourism industry for six months or more, you must have at least three departmental or functional rotations.
Trainees can’t do certain types of work. You can’t take a job that requires or involves child care or elder care, or patient care or patient contact. This means you can’t do any work that would require you to provide therapy, medication, or other clinical or medical care, like sports or physical therapy, psychological counseling, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, social work, speech therapy, or early childhood education.
A training job can be paid or unpaid, but in either case you must work at least 32 hours per week.
Getting a J-1 Visa
The sponsor of the trainee program will give you the training placement plan on a form called a “DS-7002.” Once you and your employer have signed that, the sponsor will issue you a form called a “DS-2019,” which certifies that you are eligible for a J-1 trainee visa.
That’s only the first part of the process, however. Unless you’re Canadian, you still need to get a visa so you can travel to the United States. To get one, you might want help from a lawyer who knows U.S. immigration law. You will go online and fill out a form called a “DS-160,” which is your application for the visa. Print out the receipt to take with you to your visa appointment.
After submitting the DS-160, you’ll have to pay a visa application fee, usually by going to a designated bank. Again, make sure you save the receipt. Then, you will set up an appointment for an interview at the U.S.consulate in your home country. At least three days before the interview, you need to pay a “SEVIS fee,” which helps fund the system that tracks J-1 visitors.
At the interview, you’ll present all the documents that support your application for a J-1 visa, including the DS-2019 form you got from the sponsor. Applicants from certain countries must pay another fee, called a “reciprocity fee,” this day. See "The Day of Your Consular Interview" for more information. A consular officer will ask you questions (in English) to make sure you’re eligible for the visa. You’ll go through some security checks, too. For one thing, the U.S. will want to make sure that you (or any other visa applicant) are not barred from entry due to health, security, or other issues, as described in "Inadmissibility: When the U.S. May Keep You Out."
The officer must be satisfied that you intend to return home after your training job is finished. If everything goes well, you get your visa and can start planning your trip to the United States.
If you’re Canadian, you don’t need to fill out the DS-160 form or go to the consulate for a visa. You can bring your DS-7002 and DS-2019 forms to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer at the airport or the border and ask to enter the U.S. in J-1 status. You’ll have the pay the SEVIS fee at this time. After a short interview, the officer should allow you into the country if you qualify for entry.
Bringing Your Family Members to the U.S. on J-2 Visas
Your spouse and unmarried, minor children (under age 21) can come with you to the United States. Your program sponsor must issue each family member a separate DS-2019 form. At the consulate they apply for a “J-2” visa.
Your children can attend school while in the U.S. without having to get a separate student visa. Your family members can apply for permission to work, but the money they earn must be used for their support only, not yours.
Length of Stay in the U.S. as a J-1 Trainee
The amount of time you can spend in a training job is determined by your program sponsor. The limit is 18 months, however. If you were originally supposed to spend fewer than 18 months at the training job but you need to stay longer, your sponsor and employer can extend your stay up to the 18-month limit.
Agricultural training programs can be 18 months only if the original training placement plan specifies that at least six months will be spent in related classroom participation and studies. Training programs in the field of hospitality and tourism are limited to 12 months.
It’s possible to do an additional training job, but only if it addresses the development of more advanced skills or a different field of expertise.