The J-1 is a truly versatile visa. It is used by college professors coming to teach at US universities for a few semesters, by foreign medical doctors doing their residency in the US, and by scientific researchers and Ph.D. students. It is also used by businesspeople, professionals and teachers to receive training, and by European college students to work in the US as nannies.
While most of our J-1 clients are physicians and researchers, we represent diverse businesses who hire, and many individuals who use, the J-1 visa to come to the US. One of our business clients on a J-1 was a French wine sommelier who was sponsored by a fine dining restaurant to work and learn about Napa Valley wines.
A J-1 visa may only be sponsored by a company that has been pre-screened by the USCIS. The sponsoring company must have a training plan in place and a designated supervisor responsible for training the J-1 visa holders during their work in the US. The process to become a J-1 sponsor is lengthy, with minutely detailed documentation and on-site visits from the USCIS before a company is approved as a J-1sponsor.
Once the company’s ability to sponsor J-1visas is approved, the company can then issue a Form DS-2019 (previously IAP 66) to the person they wish to sponsor. Sometimes, instead of going through the grueling process themselves, the US employer contracts to get J-1 trainees from a company that is already pre-qualified to sponsor J-1visas.
The applicant takes the Form DS-2019 issued by the sponsor to the US consulate to request a J-1 visa. Applicants already in the US can change their status to a J-1 without having to leave the US.
Some J-1 visas require that the applicant return to their home country for 2 years after they finish their J-1 period of stay in the US. This is called the “home residency” requirement.
There is a very valid reason behind the home residency requirement. A J-1 visa is issued to foster cultural and knowledge exchange between countries. The assumption is that applicants are allowed to train in the US to learn skills that are not taught in their home countries. Once applicants acquire the skills, they are expected to return to their home country to share their knowledge.
The home residency requirement usually applies to foreign physicians (called “FMGs”). It does not apply to business trainees.
J-1 visas are filed directly by the applicant at the US consulate closest to them. They must take the sponsor’s issued DS-2019 with them.
If a student on an F-1 visa wishes to change to a J-1 visa, they file for a change of status while in the US.
Getting a company designated as a J-1 sponsor is a lengthy process involving preparing a detailed training plan and preparing the company for an on-site inspection by the USCIS. When the business is looking to get a foreign business trainee, the USCIS is very careful to differentiate between whether the worker is going to “work” or be “trained”.
Training is permissible on a J-1 visa but working is not. There is a fine distinction between working in the employer’s office to learn about new ways of doing business (training), and just working to make money. USCIS considers the employer’s role in the training, how many hours they devote to in-class and on-the-job training, and mentorship before they approve a company as a J-1 sponsor.Challenges for the Worker
Similarly, the J-1 applicant has to meet a high threshold before qualifying for a J-1 visa. If the applicant is a medical doctor, getting the initial J-1 is not that hard, but being able to live permanently in the US after finishing medical residency requires that the applicant file for a waiver of the 2-year home residency requirement.
Similarly, business trainees and au pair interns often wish to extend their stay in the US.
Since the J-1 visa is a single intent visa, applicants must prove that they will return to their home country. This creates issues when the J-1 visa holder wants to live permanently in the US.
We help employers/sponsors get authorized to hire J-1 visa holders. Many employers look forward to having foreign workers who will bring their home-country’s methods of performing the job and in exchange are willing to share their own professional knowledge. In these situations, we help the employer develop a training plan and guiding them as to what time commitments will be needed.
Oftentimes our clients are research scientists whose J-1 visas are about to expire. Since it is extremely difficult to file for a green card while on J-1, we help provide alternate visas, such as the O-1, H-1 and sometimes the L-1. We also guide on how to obtain green cards for permanent stay in the US.
Foreign physicians most times seek our help in removing the 2-year home residency requirement. We help with filing for waivers and also file green card petitions for them.