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

Zia Kalong | Dec 27, 2018

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.

Work and Travel Program

Offered in 3 different batches, Summer, Spring, and Winter, the Work and Travel program allows currently enrolled college and university students to travel and explore the United States. Participants can train and work in seasonal or temporary jobs to earn and save up as they benefit from the culturally enriching J-1 program which gives them the opportunity to engage more broadly with Americans and share their own cultures with their U.S. host communities. They return home eager to stay connected, to expand their networks, and to explore future exchange opportunities as “citizen ambassadors.”

Au Pair Program

Au Pair refers to a young adult who lives with a host family in a foreign country for 12 months, fully experiencing American culture while providing child care and taking courses at an accredited U.S. post-secondary institution. The U.S. government program rules state that Au Pairs take up childcare duties up to 10 hours a day or 45 hours a week and receive a stipend of $195.75 (P10,265.13) per week. Professional Au Pairs will generally receive higher pocket money but they will need to have a high level of experience to qualify for these positions. Au Pairs can receive up to $500 toward the cost of required academic course work. There is also a possibility for extension of 6, 9 or 12 more months. As with every other program, the State Department has activated a helpline to ensure the health and safety of its exchange participants (including Au Pairs). All participants have a right to be treated fairly and to report abuse without retaliation or threat of program cancellation. Au Pairs can directly contact the State Department at any time via the hotline 1-866-283-9090 or at

For more information, you can check out this article or reach out to one of our program consultants on our Facebook page.

Teachers Program

Educators teach full time for 3 to 5 years at a U.S. accredited primary or secondary school or in an accredited pre-kindergarten program. Exchange teachers will be able to hone their professional skills, participate in cross-cultural activities in schools and communities, and share those experiences and their increased knowledge of America and the U.S. educational system once they finish the program. Qualified applicants have the opportunity not only to live and teach in the United States but bring their children or spouse as J-2 dependents if they meet the requirements.

Teachers must:

  • Meet the qualifications for teaching in primary or secondary schools in their country of nationality or last legal residence;

  • Be working as a teacher in the home country or country of legal residence at the time of application, or, if not working as a teacher, otherwise meet the eligibility qualifications and (a) have recently (within 12 months of application) completed an advanced degree and (b) have two years of full-time teaching experience within the past eight years;

  • Have a degree-equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree in either education or the academic subject field in which they intend to teach;

  • Have a minimum of two years (24 months) of teaching or related professional experience;

  • Satisfy the standards of the U.S. state in which they will teach;

  • Be of good reputation and character;

  • Be seeking to enter the United States for the purpose of full-time teaching as a teacher of record at a primary (including pre-kindergarten) or secondary accredited educational institution in the United States (pre-kindergarten teachers must teach full-time, and at the pre-kindergarten level, may teach only language immersion at an accredited host school);

  • Possess sufficient proficiency in the English language.

  • Be certified as a teacher in the U.S. and meet any language requirements of the State

Teachers and other J-1 participants can repeat their program or try a new program provided that they have resided outside the United States for two years and are able to meet the eligibility requirements. For more information, you can check out this article or reach out to one of our program consultants on our Facebook page.

Agricultural Program

The Agricultural or Farmers Program gives BS Agriculture or Biology graduates the opportunity to apply academic knowledge and polish their skills as they train in the U.S. for a stipend of $1,100 a month for a year with free lodging and meals provided for the entire year. Qualified applicants can undertake training in one of the three: swine production, farming and dairy.

At the end of the day, the Cultural Exchange Program was created to promote mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other nations such as the Philippines through enriching educational and cultural programs. The rules and regulations surrounding the Exchange Program are therefore meant to protect that very purpose and its participants who are crucial to the success of the cultural exchange. You can read some of the testimonies of our program participants here:

The Chef Marck Story: How Internship Catapulted His Career From Bartender to Businessman

Cindy Relle’s Tale at Echo Lake, New Jersey

Home Away From Home: An Au Pair Testimony

Never Stop Growing: Lessons from Our Culinary Interns in Florida

My J1 Internship: From Utah to California

Lemuel’s Travels: J-1 Internship Goals

My Travel Testimony: Why You Should Do An International OJT

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Zia Kalong

Zia is a Communication Arts alumna of the University of Santo Tomas. She joined Vision International Philippines with the sole purpose of helping the VIP team realize #OneVision: showcase the Filipino talent all over the world. As Content Strategist, she hopes to embolden promising Filipinos and empower them to thrive in life.

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