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The Ultimate J-1 Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Cultural Exchange and International Internship

Zia Kalong | Apr 30, 2019

If you are looking for ways to fast track your career or want to enhance your talents and skills in a fresh new environment, we're here to offer you an option you may have not considered or even heard of before! Vision International Philippines is one of the country's most trusted providers of the U.S. Cultural Exchange Program under the J-1 Visa. The multifaceted international program offers Filipino students and professionals a unique and enriching experience that is tailored to enhance one's general understanding of the world and at the same time expand his or her professional portfolio. Many students who have participated in the program used this opportunity to gain a competitive advantage over other future candidates in their chosen professional field by adding international exposure under their belt. But there are also many others who look at the Cultural Exchange Program as a great opportunity to travel, gain life experience and broaden their horizons.

What is a J-1 Cultural Exchange Program?

The 60-year-old Cultural Exchange Program under the J-1 Visa is also called the "Exchange Visitor Program" and its participants are called "Exchange Visitors" or more simply J-1 participants. According to the U.S. Department of State, more than 300,000 participants from 200 countries come to the United States on J-1 visas each year to experience U.S. society, culture and engage with Americans. "86% are 30 years of age or younger, and 55% are women or girls." But what exactly is a J-1 visa?

"The Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa category is for individuals approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs."

Basically, a J-1 visa is granted to those who want to travel to and stay for an allotted time in the United States to partake in one of the programs offered by the Cultural Exchange Program. Although the official J-1 website mentions the term "work", a J-1 participant is only allowed to perform the activity listed on his/her agreement or contract (called Form DS-2019 which will be discussed later on) and "as stated in the regulations for that category of exchange." This means that the J-1 visa must not be seen as a work visa because work is not its primary purpose.  Its primary purpose is to educate people and foster a global understanding through cultural exchange.

The basic document you will be needing to apply for the J-1 visa is called Form DS-2019 or "Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status." This form permits you to book an interview at a U.S. Embassy in order to obtain a J-1 visa. The DS-2019 identifies the applicant and your designated program sponsor (further discussed below) and provides a brief description of the program you will undertake including start and end date, category and estimated cost of the program.

The DS-2019 is issued by U.S. State Department-designated program sponsors who are responsible for screening and selecting eligible foreign nationals for participation in their program, as well as supporting and monitoring Exchange Visitors throughout their stay in the U.S. Program extensions are also handled by your program sponsor.

So what happens after the program is completed and the J-1 visa has expired? Participants have a 30-day travel period commonly referred to as the "Travel Grace Period." During this 30-day grace period, participants are no longer in a J-visa status, and are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services who grants this period to allow participants to settle their affairs and to prepare to return to their home countries. During this time, the participants may no longer continue and/or complete exchange activities, nor may they work. Although they may travel in the United States, they must not travel beyond its borders as they may not be permitted reentry.

The duration of a participant's stay in the U.S. under J-1 visa will depend on the program he or she is undertaking. Since there are several types of programs, there are also different lengths of permitted stay. There are 15 different categories of participants under the J-1 visa program, allowing them to engage with Americans, share their culture, improve their English-speaking skills, learn and build skills that will help them in their future careers. Exchange visitors may study, teach, do research, share their specialized skills, or receive on-the-job training for periods ranging from a few weeks to several years. Who exactly can become an Exchange Visitor or J-1 participant? Eligibility, requirements and duration will depend on the specific program. We have provided a program overview below so you can decide which Cultural Exchange Program is the best one for you:

Internship Program

College and university students or recent graduates gain exposure to U.S. culture as they adapt U.S. business practices in their chosen occupational field. Internship programs are designed to allow foreign college and university students or recent graduates to come to the United States to gain exposure to U.S. culture and to receive hands-on experience in U.S. business practices in their chosen occupational field.

Traineeship Program

Professionals with a degree, professional certificate, or relevant work experience gain exposure to U.S. culture and receive training in U.S. business practices through a structured and guided work-based program. Training programs are designed to allow foreign professionals to come to the United States to gain exposure to U.S. culture and to receive training in U.S. business practices in their chosen occupational field.