U.S. Employers: How to Hire Students From Abroad for Seasonal Work on a J-1 Visa

Sponsor foreign college and university students for participation in work/travel programs.

By , J.D.

If your business requires more workers at a particular time of year to handle a seasonal demand, one way to meet your staffing needs is to hire students attending foreign colleges or universities who are on their break (summer or otherwise) between academic years. The U.S. State Department has made this possible by authorizing organizations to sponsor foreign college and university students for participation in work/travel programs.

The students, who are given a short-term J-1 visa, get the opportunity to interact with U.S. citizens, experience U.S. culture while sharing their own cultures with Americans they meet, travel in the U.S., and work in jobs that require minimal training and are seasonal or temporary. Such jobs let them earn funds with which to help defray a portion of their expenses. You, as the employer, benefit from access to a pool of talented, educated young workers available when you need them most.

Types of Employers That Can't Use J-1 Seasonal Employees

The J-1 seasonal work program is not available to you if you're looking to fill certain types of positions. These include:

  • positions in the adult entertainment industry
  • sales positions where the students would have to purchase inventory that they must sell in order to support themselves
  • domestic help positions in private homes (such as child care, elder care, gardeners, and chauffeurs)
  • pedicab or rolling chair drivers
  • taxi drivers or other jobs conveying passengers, or jobs for which a commercial driver's license is required, or
  • positions related to clinical care that involves patient contact.

Working With a Sponsor

To hire J-1 students for your seasonal needs, you will work with one of the many companies and organizations that act as J-1 seasonal employee sponsors. For a fee, they can serve as your staffing agency, determining your hiring needs and advertising your job openings abroad.

The sponsor, often through its agents in foreign countries, can help identify and recruit foreign students, and arrange interviews to take place either in the U.S. or abroad. Sponsors will ensure that the students are able to speak English and are aware of any contractual obligations related to their acceptance of paid employment with you.

Sponsors will arrange to put you in touch with a student workforce no matter the season during which you experience a demand for extra labor. Although the J-1 seasonal work program is often referred to as "summer work/travel," it doesn't necessarily mean the U.S. summer. Rather, the program is for students on their break between academic years. Across the globe, it's always summer for students somewhere!

Paying Your J-1 Seasonal Employees

You must pay your J-1 seasonal workers the prevailing local wage, which is either the applicable state or the federal minimum wage, whichever is higher.

If your J-1 employees work overtime, you must pay them for it in accordance with your state's employment laws. Also, you must provide students the number of hours of paid employment per week that you promised in the job offer.

Other Obligations to J-1 Seasonal Employees

In recent years there has been concern about employers misusing the J-1 seasonal worker program and exploiting the foreign student workforce. You should keep in mind that the program is fundamentally one for cultural exchange, and the sponsor will be monitoring the employment situation for compliance with program requirements.

Under the regulations, you have to notify sponsors promptly when students arrive at your work site; when you need to reassign students to a different type of work; when students are not meeting the requirements of their jobs; and when a student quits the job early for any reason. You must contact sponsors immediately in the event of any emergency involving students or any situation that impacts their welfare.

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