What is the J1 Trainee visa, and what are the requirements to get it?
Important notice before reading this post: nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice, and all information is for educational purposes only.
This article has been reviewed by a certified immigration lawyer.
As a reminder, you must adapt your job search strategy according to the visa that suits you. Of the 15 J-1 visa exchange programs, we’re going to talk about the
Intern / Trainee program.
The J1 Trainee visa is actually the one that Max got in 2018, after the E2 visa. At the same time, I got the J2 visa, which is a spouse visa related to the J1.
In this article, I will explain:
- What the J1 Trainee visa is and who it’s for
- The criteria of eligibility for obtaining it
- The characteristics
- The 2 years Home Country Physical Presence Requirement Rule
- Where to find companies that hire people on a J1 trainee visa
What is the J1 Trainee visa, and who is it for?
The J-1 Trainee visa is specifically intended for those who wish to strengthen their skills and gain more experience in their professional field.
The use of this visa for employment purposes is strictly prohibited. So, you and your “employer/trainer” will need to provide your sponsor with a “training program” to prove that you are not applying for an employee position, but rather, a corporate training plan.
The training program should not duplicate any of your previous work experience or training. You will need to demonstrate in your training program that you will acquire or enhance the skills that you already have, as well as those you need to work on.
For you to understand better, I will share our example. Max managed to get a J1 Trainee visa last year. The training program of his visa allowed him to become a senior software engineer. So, he had to demonstrate that his J1 program would allow him to strengthen his skills.
The criteria of eligibility for obtaining a J1 Trainee visa
To be eligible for this visa, you must have:
- a degree in higher education or an equivalent certificate obtained in an institution outside of the United States
- at least one year of experience outside the U.S. territory in the sector of activity you want to pursue
(note that if you do not have any professional experience but have a degree, you may be eligible for a J-1 intern visa, limited to 12 months)
- your field listed below
- 5 years of experience (starting at the age of 18) outside the U.S. territory in the sector of activity that you wish to strengthen
- your field listed below
There is no age restriction, nor is there a number of years of experience required, for the J1 Trainee visa. However, it may be harder to qualify if you are older or have lots of senior professional experience. Max had more than seven years of experience as a software engineer when he obtained his J-1 Trainee visa.
You should always confirm the criteria of eligibility with your sponsor organization, because each organization has its own rules. I will detail the way to find a sponsor organization a little later in this article.
The eligible sectors
Warning! This J-1 Trainee visa is not suitable for unskilled positions. You will also not be able to apply for childcare, eldercare, or for care/contact with a patient. For those fields, you may be eligible for other visas or J-1 program visas, as with the J-1 Au Pair, or the J-1 Physician. In addition, you should not be hired to do more than 20 percent clerical work.
The sectors eligible for a J1 Trainee visa are:
- Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries
- Arts and Culture
- Construction and Building
- Education, Social Sciences, Librarianship, Counseling, and Social Services
- Hospitality and Tourism
- Journalism and Communication
- Management, Trade, and Finance
- Public Administration and Law
- Science, Engineering, Architecture, Mathematics, and Industry
The characteristics of the J-1 Trainee visa
The J1 Trainee visa has many advantages for the company. It is indeed fast and easy to obtain compared to other non-immigrant work visas. However, it also has some restrictions.
The time frame
The time frame to obtain a J1 Trainee visa is usually between 3 and 12 weeks, depending on the sponsor organization you will choose, whether you pay for speedy processing, and the consulate availability for an interview.
An experience with your family
You will have the opportunity to be accompanied with your spouse and/or children. Cohabitation or civil union are not recognized in the United States; therefore, you need to be legally married. Your spouse and/or children will also receive a visa, J-2 (J2), which will allow them to live with you, and your spouse will also be able to work in the USA. However, you will have to prove that his or her salary is supplementary and that you do not need it to live in the U.S.
Change of employer during your J1 program
Your J1 Trainee visa is related to your company. In other words, if your program does not go well, you will need to transfer your visa to another company if you want to continue living in the U.S., and if your sponsor organization allows you to do so.
In the case of a J-1 visa, it is not your company that will have to sponsor you, but rather, an organization. There is no quota, and your application can be sent throughout the year.
As it is not up to the company to sponsor your visa, the administrative procedures on the business side are greatly simplified. You may be able to bypass hiring a lawyer if you have a very straightforward case. You can be helped by an organization to submit your visa application. And as an applicant, you will have the possibility to take care of all the administrative procedures for your visa application with your sponsor organization, without taking the precious time of your future employer. Your employer will have to validate the documents, including the training program that you will submit.
You will find all the sponsor organizations for the J-1 Trainee visa here. You can contact them in order to get their sponsorship agreement before even having a job offer (and I strongly recommend you do so). You just need to have the agreement of one sponsor organization.
Each organization has its own rules on the criteria of eligibility and the characteristics that we are currently speaking about. So, depending on your profile and what you are looking for, the first one you contact may not be the best one. It’s important you find the right sponsor organization for you. You should keep contacting the organizations until you get the one that fits your expectations (with everything we see in this article) and will give its agreement for your J1 sponsorship.
However, these organizations will not be able to sponsor you for the J-1 visa before getting a job offer. Once you find a company that offers you a job, you can apply for a visa.
J-1 Trainee cost
The price to obtain a J1 Trainee visa depends on its duration. For a maximum duration, it will cost between $2,000 and $3,500.
Regarding the payment of your visa, everything depends on how you will negotiate with your company. It will either be you or your company that will pay the fees, or it could be a government agency if you participate in a special program. But beware of the two year rule that will apply for the latter (I will give you more info on that matter a little further down in this article).
As the demand is stronger than the offer, you are most likely to have to pay for your visa fee, so plan it in your budget.
Compensation and health coverage
There is simply no restriction, minimum or maximum, on income for this visa. You may not be paid at all, you might not be paid as much as other employees of the company, or you might be paid more. But always keep in mind that the J1 Trainee visa allows you to acquire new skills and improve your expertise. In our example, Max was paid at the same level of the employees working in the same sector of his company.
In terms of health coverage, you will be covered by the health insurance of your sponsor, included in the fees. This is a huge advantage, since medical costs in the United States are very expensive.
It’s going to save you between $500 (if you are single) and $1,000 (if you have a family) per month for you and your employer.
In addition to having no lawyer fees at the beginning and no monthly healthcare coverage fees, your employer and yourself have tax benefits with a J-1 visa. This visa is actually exempt of:
- Social Security tax
- Medicare tax
- Federal and State Unemployment taxes, since it is an exchange program visa and not a visa to immigrate to the United States. (So, you will never be technically unemployed in the USA.)
This will save your company about 7.79% and save you 7.11% on your own taxes. Here is a tab resuming J1 Trainee tax benefits:
|Social charges paid by the employer||FICA||FUTA
Federal unemployment tax
State unemployment tax
|U.S. workers||6.2%||1.45%||0.8%||Varies by State and employer|
|J1 workers||Exempt||Exempt||Also exempt|
Depending on the training program, the sector, and the sponsor organization, the duration of the visa can vary from 3 weeks to 18 months, and it can be up to 12 months for the hospitality industry.
The J1 Trainee visa is an exchange visitor program. Your intention here is to enhance your skills and expertise in the United States only during the time of your J-1 visa. This will allow you to put it to good use in the rest of your professional career outside the U.S., especially in your home country.
You can participate in as many J1 Trainee programs in the United States as you want as long as you are still eligible, and this lasts throughout your life. However, you will be able to get a new J1 Trainee visa only if you live outside the United States, and usually this is only if 24 months have passed since your previous J-1 Trainee program. Again, all of these factors depend on your sponsor organization and what they agree upon.
2 years Home Country Physical Presence Requirement
As we will see later in this article, not all J-1 visa holders are subject to a “2 years Home Country Physical Presence Requirement“, but some are.
This rule states that you must return to your home country for a minimum of two cumulative years after your J-1 exchange visitor program. In other words, during these two years, you will not be able to obtain H, L, or K visas; permanent resident status; or an immigrant visa.
How do I know if l’m eligible for this 2-year rule?
If you are already in the United States on a J-1 visa, you will simply have to check on your visa. If you see the inscription: “Bearer is not subject to section 212 (e) 2-year rule does not apply.” This inscription means that you are not subject to this rule.
In which case does the rule apply?
If you are not yet on a J-1 trainee visa, you will be subject to this rule if:
- your exchange visitor program is funded by a government agency
- your country and your field of activity are in the list concerned by this rule
In any of these cases, see if your country is listed here. If this is not the case, you do not need to proceed. In the case that you do not have your program funded by a government agency, you will not be subject to the 2-year rule.
If you are, then you must continue your research and check here if your field is listed, depending on your country. If so, then you will be subject to this rule. If this is not the case, and you do not get your program funded by a government agency, you will not be subject to this rule.
For more information, you will find instructions to use this “Skills List By Country” here.
The 2-year rule waiver
If you are eligible for the “2-year rule,” there is a possibility to waive it. However, this is only possible if you meet very specific criteria. You will find more information here.
Where can I find companies that hire people on a J1 trainee visa ?
To find your employer and get a J1 Trainee visa, you have several options. You can indeed turn to:
- USponsor Me job ads at companies that can hire you under a J-1 Trainee visa (by filtering your search with the J-1 visa)
- Companies’ lists that show who can hire you under a J-1 visa that you can find here (by filtering your search with the J-1 visa)
- Or, if you are not afraid of being paid little or not at all by your company during your J-1, you can go through an employment agency that will find you an internship. In this case, plan a budget to be able to live in the USA, as well as an additional $4,000 to cover the agency fees.
To go further, find interviews and testimonials from people who have obtained a J-1 visa.
Interested in the J1 Trainee visa? Or, have you ever benefited from this visa? Share your experience in the comments below! 🙂