Foreign university students and recent graduates can come to the United States on a “J-1” visa for an internship in their field of academic study. This type of internship bridges the gap between formal education and practical work experience. It does not need to have any connection to a university, but the type of work you do must be related to what you have studied. The job can be paid or unpaid, so long as you work at least 32 hours per week.
There are additional J-1 visa internship programs for students participating in U.S. university-sponsored internships for academic credit from their home university (See “Can a Foreign University Student Participate in a U.S. University’s Internship Program?”) and for students doing internships for academic credit from a U.S. university (See “Can a J-1 exchange student do job training for academic credit from a U.S. university?”).
Who Can Be a J-1 Intern?
You must be either someone who recently graduated from a degree- or certificate-granting post-secondary academic institution outside the United States, or a current student enrolled full-time and pursuing studies in your chosen career field there. You won’t be eligible for this visa and form of entry to the U.S. if you graduated more than 12 months before you want to start your internship.
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 internship. There are three ways to prove your English skills: (1) by demonstrating them, at the interview that your internship 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.
Financial Support and Insurance
You must have sufficient finances to support yourself for your entire stay in the United States. You must 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 internship. The insurance must meet certain minimum requirements, so make sure your insurer knows what is required for J-1 visa holders.
Find a Sponsor
The J-1 sponsor is the company or organization that is responsible for the internship program, and for finding you a place to work. To help the sponsor administer the program, it may work through another organization, which may advertise internship opportunities to you. This could be a U.S. business offering internship jobs, a governmental entity, an academic institution, or other foreign or domestic agent.
The sponsor must make sure the company you work for complies with all the rules for J-1 interns. 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 internship.
Agree to an Internship 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 help you learn on the job.
Your job duties must require substantial academic knowledge in your field. No more than 20% of your job can be clerical work. If you’re doing a hospitality or tourism internship for six months or more, you must have at least three departmental or functional rotations.
Interns 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.
Getting a J-1 Visa
The sponsor of the internship program will give you the internship 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 internship visa.
With those two forms, you can apply for the J-1 visa at the U.S. consulate in your home country. The process for getting a J-1 visa is explained in more detail in “How to Come to the U.S. as a College or University Exchange Student.”
Bringing Family Members 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. on a J-1 Internship
The amount of time you can spend in an internship is determined by your program sponsor. The limit is 12 months, however. If you were originally supposed to spend fewer than 12 months at the internship job but you need to stay longer, your sponsor and employer can extend your stay up to the 12-month limit.
It’s possible to do an additional internship under certain conditions. The additional internship program must address the development of more advanced skills or a different field of expertise. You must either still be in school or still be within the 12-month period after you graduated.