The latest information on U.S. J-1 visas (internship program)
Numerous internship programs permit visitors to live and work lawfully in the United States. One of these is the J-1 visa internship program, which is used widely, chiefly by young people. While screening for U.S. employment visas tends to grow increasingly strict from year to year, it is relatively easier to secure a J-1 visa, intended mainly for internships. For this reason, increasingly those who satisfy the conditions for a J-1 visa choose to apply for one instead of an employment visa. The working holiday program is similar to the J-1 visa program. How does a working holiday differ from a J-1 visa? This page describes details of the J-1 visa and how to obtain one, for those who desire to live and work, or intern, in the United States.
About working holidays
As its name implies, the working holiday program permits visitors to work to earn their cost of living while enjoying a holiday in the United States. The working holiday program can be described as having been created not merely to encourage work but to deepen international understanding through learning about different cultures by staying in the U.S. for a lengthy period. The conditions of a working holiday are described as follows: A working holiday visa is one type of visa, and a working holiday is described as a holiday on which a young visitor is authorized to enter the country on holiday and to work to earn the costs of living during his or her stay based on arrangements between countries or regions.
About the J-1 visa
A J-1 visa is a visa for visitors to the U.S. traveling as part of exchange programs. An H visa, which permits lawful employment, is required for employment at a company in the U.S., whether through permanent employment or other programs such as internships. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain an employment (H-1) visa from year to year, and in some cases even those who have passed the interview, lottery process and obtained the visa are encouraged to work in occupations other than their intended ones. While finding employment may go smoothly for those who already have connections to companies in the U.S., for others the proactive support of a U.S. corporation and decision-making on one’s own job-seeking activities are essential. J-1 visas are attracting those seeking to work overseas, particularly young people, at present due to the difficulty of obtaining H visas and the facts that a J-1 visa can be obtained more easily and in a shorter period of time. Like a working holiday, a J-1 visa permits the visitor to stay in the U.S. in good health while earning a salary from a paid internship in the United States. A visa is needed for an internship in the U.S., whether paid or unpaid. While the systems for working holidays and J-1 visas are similar, they can be said to differ in that the focus of the former is on the “holiday,” while the latter is intended mainly for internship and working purposes. A J-1 visa is well suited to those who desire to improve their business skills through an internship or work while experiencing life in the U.S., like a working holiday.
Eligibility to apply for a J-1 visa, and target ages
The J-1 visa is intended mainly for those participating in exchange programs. It is subdivided into 14 types. Of these, many Japanese visitors apply for the trainee and intern visas, both of which are intended for those participating in training for business and other purposes in the United States. J-1 visas are supervised by a separate agency than employment (H) visas, with the former under the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce and the latter under the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s jurisdiction. In addition, many sponsors for J-1 visas are not the companies where the internships take place but nonprofit organizations authorized by the Department of Commerce. Visitors with J-1 visas are permitted to participate in training and internships at companies to which they are dispatched by authorized nonprofits. Those eligible to apply as trainees are with at least one year’s professional experience outside of the U.S. if graduates of junior colleges or four-year colleges or universities and those with at least five years’ professional experience outside of the U.S. if graduates of high school but not college. While there are no age restrictions on J-1 visas, in light of their nature as chiefly training visas they are used mainly by those in their 20s up to the age of 40 years or so. In general, the period of validity of a J-1 visa is 18 months, although it is only 12 months if the field in which the training takes place is related to tourism, restaurants/bars, or hotels. Those eligible to apply for internships are aged 30 or younger who either currently are students at junior colleges, four-year colleges, universities or those in their first year after graduation from junior colleges, four-year colleges or universities who have not professional experience. For an internship, the period of validity of the J-1 visa is 12 months regardless of the type of business.
How long one may stay under a J-1 visa
Those with J-1 visas are permitted to stay in the U.S. from 30 days prior to the staring date of the exchange program as indicated by the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status (DS-2019) issued by its organizer to 30 days after the program’s ending date as shown on the DS-2019.
Main conditions of the J-1 visa program
The U.S. Embassy website defines a J-1 visa as follows. The exchange visitor program’s J visa is designed to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills in the fields of education, arts, and sciences. The primary focus of the program must be training and skill development. The trainee may not replace or augment the regular staff by filling a position that would otherwise be held by a regular employee. Providing a detailed training plan is helpful to determine eligibility.
The following conditions must be satisfied to apply for a J-1 visa:
- The exchange program by the organizer or educational institution must be an authorized one
- The J-1 visa applicant must be approved by the organizer as an exchange program participant
- The organizer or educational institution must have issued the documents necessary for applying for a J-1 visa
- The exchange program must be intended to promote exchange of human resources, knowledge, and/or technology
- The exchange program must be involved in the fields of education, science or the arts
- The participant in the exchange program must be in one of the following positions: student, trainee, teacher, professor, researcher, professional trainee in the medical and allied fields, or international visitor coming for the purpose of meetings or observation, sharing or demonstrating specialized skills, or participating in interpersonal exchange programs
The following conditions are necessary to obtain a J-1 visa for an internship in the U.S.:
- The applicant must be at least 18 years old
- The applicant must have adequate English-language abilities for participation in the internship
- The company accepting the intern must have been decided already
- The applicant must have the funds (assets) necessary to cover his or her costs of staying in the U.S.
Overview of the J-1 visa and conditions for its issue
|Costs of obtaining a J-1 visa(estimate):||USD 4,000～5,000 (for an intern)
USD 4,500～6,000 (for a trainee)
|How long it takes to obtain the visa：||2～3 months|
|Period of validity：||12 months (for an intern)
18 months (for a trainee)
|Permission for spouse to work：||Not permitted (a spouse must have a J-2 visa)|
Screening for a J-1 visa
Simply finding an employer in the U.S. and having it issue a DS-2019 (IAP-66) form does not mean that a J-1 visa necessarily will be issued. United States embassies and consulates screen applications for J-1 visas based on consideration for matters such as the relationship between the applicant and the employer, the applicant’s specialized skills and English abilities, and plans for matters such as his or her activities while in the United States. Matters such as the J-1 visa applicant’s family situation and funding (assets) necessary to cover the costs of his or her stay in the U.S. also are subject to screening. Be sure to prepare adequately when applying for a visa.
The family J visa (J-2 visa)
Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age accompanying a J-1 visa holder may apply for a family J visa (J-2 visa). Check the applicable conditions below.
- Basically, a spouse or child in the U.S. on a family J visa may not work in the United States. A spouse or child desiring to work in the U.S. must submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to obtain permission to work after arrival to the U.S.
- Family visas (J-2 visas) are not intended for spouses and children spending holidays with a J-1 visa holder in the U.S. but living with him or her. Those intending to stay in the U.S. for a lengthy period should consider applying for a B-2 visa.
Documents required when applying for a J visa
When applying for a J-1 visa, the following documents must be submitted to the embassy or consulate. English translations must be attached to all documents prepared, since they will be screened in the United States. Submittal of documents other than the following may be demanded depending on the status of screening and the applicant.
Basic documents required when applying for a J visa
- Online application form (DS-160)
- Documentation of interview appointment with embassy or consulate
- Passport valid for at least six months beyond the planned period of stay in the U.S.
- Expired passports issued within the past 10 years
- Identification photo taken within the past six months (one photo, 5 cm × 5 cm in size)
Note: This must be a color photo taken against a white backdrop, with no eyeglasses worn
- DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor [J-1] Status)
Note: You may be interviewed without the DS-2019 if it is not received at least one month prior to the start of the program.
In such a case, mail the DS-2019 to the U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as it arrives.
- Certification of enough savings to cover costs of stay in the U.S.
Note: Prepare an original bank balance certificate or passbook, and prepare documents certifying the relationship to the applicant and the supporter’s funds if supported by a parent or guardian or another supporter.
- For interns and trainees, copy of form DS-7002 (prepared by the accepting institution)
- For applicants other than those participating in exchange programs supported by the U.S. federal government, certification of payment of SEVIS costs (copy of receipt)
|Those with serious criminal records||The following documents must be submitted in addition to the basic documents:
Those eligible for waiver of J visa application fees
Applicants planning to participate in exchange programs organized by the U.S. federal government, USAID, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), or similar sponsors may be eligible for waiver of J visa application fees. Programs eligible for waiver of the J-1 visa application fees are ones with program numbers that begin with G-1, G-2, G-3, or G-7. Check the program number shown on the DS-2019. Qualified applicants are eligible for waiver of the costs of J visa application and SEVIS costs, and they also are eligible for different interviews than ordinary J-1 visa applicants. Check with a U.S. embassy or consulate for details. (Those eligible for this waiver may not make appointments online.)
J-1 visas and ESTA
While a J visa is similar in nature to an H visa, known generally as an employment visa, its main purpose can be described as international cultural exchange, not employment or working. For this reason, many of its applicants are relatively young, and it involves a wide range of active social contributions and exchange. There are various types of visas, and increasing numbers of Japanese nationals are applying for not only J visas but also B-2 visas, for long-term stays for sightseeing purposes, and B-1 visas for business purposes. General travel to the U.S. such as travel on organized tours requires application for ESTA, not for a visa. Even those passing through the U.S. in transit, regardless of age, must obtain ESTA. Those planning to stay in the U.S. for 1～90 days should complete application for ESTA at least three days prior to traveling to the United States.