What is a J-1 visa and why is it NOT a work permit

The J-1 visa, also called Exchange Visitor Visa Program, is a non-immigrant visa issued to candidates all over the world in order to create connections with the American culture and enhance their abilities in their field of studies and professional careers. Based on the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act (1961), J-1 programs are expected to be a way to provide foreign individuals with a good sense of American business, culture and lifestyle and to make an educational program accessible to them. In the case of the Internships and Training programs (which we more specifically refer to in this article), are a way to further develop the abilities of students and young professionals around the world and boost their careers while living a new cultural experience.

Who can apply for a J-1 visa?

There are many different categories for J-1 visas, and each of them have different characteristics. The categories used for the training programs are two: Intern and Trainee. In order to apply for a J-1 visa you must comply with the requirements of the U.S. Department of State, which are:

Intern: is a foreign national who either:

  1. Is currently enrolled in and pursuing studies at a recognized degree- or certificate-granting accredited post-secondary academic institution outside the United States , or
  2. Has graduated from such an institution no more than 12 months prior to his/her exchange visitor program begin date.

Trainee: is a foreign national who has either:

  1. A degree or professional certificate from a recognized foreign post-secondary accredited academic institution and at least one year of prior related work experience in his/her occupational field acquired outside the United States, or
  2. Five years of work experience outside the United States in his/her occupational field.

Sometimes the definition of accredited post-secondary studies is not very clear, because each country has their own educational system. The final decision on whether or not a Diploma or Certificate will be considered valid belongs to the sponsor who processes that candidacy.

Although there is no limitation of age established by law, these programs are for students and young professionals to enhance their skills. In the case of candidates over 40 years old, there is a higher possibility of not being issued a J-1 visa, since it is considered by many sponsors that they already have enough professional experience in their field and therefore are not learning more, but applying their already acquired skills.

Finally all J-1 exchange visitors must be proficient enough in English to participate successfully in their exchange program and to function on a day-to-day basis in the U.S.

How long is a J-1 program?

This will depend on many factors, including the profile of the candidate and the profile of the host company.

Minimum: the minimum amount of time you can do a J-1 program is one month, however it’s very unlikely you will find a company that wants to offer a position for less than 3 months. The minimum Chef Training U.S. recommends is 6 months, since our experience says that less than that time would make it difficult to internalize the recently acquired skills, and to enjoy the cultural part of the program.

Maximum: for interns the maximum period allowed is 12 months. For trainees the maximum period allowed is 18 months, except for agriculture and hospitality programs. Both will depend as well on the host company, since some companies have limitations on their programs (i.e. you might be a trainee but your company wants to host your training for only 12 months).

Do I get paid during my J-1 program?

It depends on the host company. The internships and training programs under J-1 visas are not much different than other internships and training programs in the U.S. and around the world. Some of them are not paid at all, some provide a little stipend for transportation or meals, and some provide a stipend by performance or per hour/month.

In Chef Training U.S. we guarantee that all our positions are PAID positions, and in most cases the salary allows the candidate to support him/herself during the training period (rent, meals, transportation and some leisure).

So, if I’m working and getting paid, it’s like a work permit?

  1. This is very often a confusing question we encounter. The J-1 visa is NOT a working visa and is NOT a work permit. Although the candidate will need a Social Security number and a bank account to receive the stipend, and although he/she is paid for what they are contributing to the host company, the candidate is never a worker or employee of the company. They have different regulations for the J-1 participants, including that the J-1 candidate is ONLY allowed to perform the training with his/her host company, and not allowed to work for any company or particular. Also, the agreement with the host company is not considered a labor contract, but just an agreement of the responsibilities each part takes during the period of training.

Can I stay longer in the US after finishing my J-1 visa?

After the date of expiration of your visa program the Department of State allows a grace period of 30 days to leave the U.S. In this period you can gather all your things, travel around the United States (not abroad!) or enjoy the last few days in your host city. However, once you leave the country you will not be allowed in any more. Be careful with traveling abroad, even to countries like Canada or Mexico. If it’s not the USA, it’s abroad, and you will not be able to return.

Be aware that many times you will need to purchase some extra health insurance coverage for this grace period, since your health insurance will be terminated the day your visa expires.

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa Program provides the opportunity to participate in an educational and cultural program in the USA, with the intention of returning to the home country and sharing those experiences. Candidates CANNOT search for a job position after completion of their program (also NOT for your grace period) and CANNOT overstay the time of their visa + grace period. The consequences of doing so and “breaking status” are very serious, including the possibility of being deported, banned from the U.S. for 3 to 10 years and having problems for applying for other types of visas in the future.

Now that you know everything about the J-1 visas, you are ready to apply for one!

Visit our Training Opportunities section and start applying for your next great experience in the USA!

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