In order to complete an internship/training in the U.S., a J-1 visa is required. Various exchange programs are classified in the J-1 category, which is managed by the U.S. Department of State and is subject to its provisions. The U.S. government has initiated these programs to promote mutual understanding between the United States and other countries within the framework of this cultural and educational program.
Internships/trainings pursued for these purposes are therefore not considered pure employment. Rather, they are held in order to facilitate social and cultural exchanges as well as to share knowledge of business processes. Under no circumstances may interns/trainees apply for ordinary employment, perform any support tasks or replace a U.S. employee on either a part or full time basis with their J-1 visa. Of course, the internship/training may still be remunerated. However, this is optional and not mandatory.
J-1 visa applicants must qualify for one of the following two categories: intern or trainee. The term "intern" refers to applicants who are enrolled in a university or who have graduated from university within the last 12 months. "Trainees" are required to have completed vocational training and have 1 year of work experience or 5 years of professional experience. Degrees that have been earned at American educational institutions are not recognized by the U.S. authorities. This provision also applies to the relevant professional experience.
In addition, the future internship/training needs to demonstrate a clear reference point to any previous training or experience in order to prevent a situation where the intern pursues ordinary employment tasks or performs support work. J-1 visa applicants must furthermore have sufficient English language skills, which must be demonstrated in the course of the application process by taking a language test or participating in a telephone interview.
The host company in the United States also must meet certain requirements and compile a dossier. The U.S. site and applicants should be prepared to ask their corresponding exchange organization (J-1 visa sponsor) about additional entry requirements.
The J-1 visa is issued for a period of up to 12 months (“intern” category) or 18 months (“trainee” category), where the holder may enter the country 30 days before the work placement/start of training as well as remain in the U.S. 30 days after the end of the internship/training. It is also important that the internship/training last for at least 4 weeks.
The internship/training may only be extended if a total period of 12 or 18 months is not exceeded. As long as the applicant is enrolled in a university or is in training, the J-1 visa can be applied for as often as needed. Trainees must wait for a period of two years between reapplications. This rule also applies to all applicants who have already had a J-1 visa in the “intern” category and qualify later for the “trainee” J-1 visa.
The J-1 visa can only be applied for in cooperation with a so-called J-1 visa sponsor. These exchange organizations represent an extended arm of the U.S. Department of State and are responsible for implementing the programs in accordance with U.S. policies. The J-1 visa sponsor must first issue the DS-2019 form (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status), which in turn is essential when applying for a J-1 visa. The DS-2019 form is a numbered and limited form, which cannot be downloaded from the Internet. Therefore, you must work together with an exchange organization.
A list of designated exchange organizations for the “intern or “trainee categories can be found at the following link: http://j1visa.state.gov/participants/how-to-apply/sponsor-search
Designated exchange organizations in the “intern or “trainee” categories include, for example, InterExchange, Ayusa-Intrax, German American Chamber of Commerce New York, as well as CICD (Center for International Career Development).
The applicant as well as U.S. company must submit a variety of documents during the J-1 visa application process. The processing of these documents is a very complex and time consuming process. Overall, it takes at least 4 to 6 weeks before a J-1 visa can be issued. Therefore, the application should be submitted as soon as possible.
Applicants must appear in person for an interview at one of the authorized U.S. consulates. In addition to submitting general application documents, the applicant must provide evidence of sufficient financial resources in the form of an internship salary, bank statements or a guarantee provided by the parents, for example, that is sufficient to finance the cost of stay in the U.S. as well as evidence that the applicant intends to return to their home country.
Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age receive a derivative J-2 visa lasting the same period as the principal applicant’s J-1 visa. Once children reach the American age of majority, they must change their non-immigrant visa status or leave the country.
Both the applicant’s spouse and children can apply for their own work permit (Employment Authorization Document EAD) that is not tied to the specific location or host company of the principal applicant. The employment of the spouse or child must not demonstrably serve to cover the living costs of the main applicant.
Holders of a J-2 visa can attend public/private educational institutions.
We cooperate with the exchange organization InterExchange, and during the application process we act as a liaison between the principal applicant, the U.S. company, the U.S. authorities and the exchange organization InterExchange (J-1 visa sponsor).
The most important information about this visa category can also be found here, briefly summarized and free to download in PDF format.