Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”
I am a software engineer and have been looking at job postings in the U.S. I’ve heard from my friends about J-1 Visa Training or J-1 Research.
What is a J-1 status? What are the requirements to qualify? Do I need to find a U.S. employer willing to sponsor me before I apply for one? Can I get a visa? How long could I stay?
—Determined in Delhi
Thank you for your questions! Companies can work with external sponsors to host and employ some types of J-1 visitors. The J-1 visa is an attractive option for both participants and employers since there is no cap or lottery. There is no country of origin limit on the number of J-1 visas that are issued each year. J-1s are issued year-round. The application process is more straightforward than an H-1B. Relatively straightforward. J-1 visas are open to a wide range of occupations and talent, as well as education and experience levels.
Many high-tech and biotech employers use the J-1 research, trainee and intern program categories. The J-1 visa aims to foster knowledge and cultural exchange between the U.S. and other countries by enabling individuals to come to the U.S. for work, training and learning. For more information on the J-1 visa, check out my podcast on the topic. You may also want to take a look at my podcast page, which features other podcasts on a host of other visas and immigration strategies.
Many employers can use the J-1 program to:
- Train individuals to open new offices for the company abroad.
- Onboard new employees from offices abroad.
- Train employees from offices abroad on new technology or products.
- Develop leadership among employees at offices abroad.
- Establish relationships with foreign universities for research and internship opportunities.
The U.S. Department of State designates for-profit, nonprofit, academic and government entities as sponsors. These designated sponsors oversee the J-1 program by screening and selecting eligible participants for the J-1 program and connecting employers with participants if participants haven’t already done so.
The nonimmigrant (temporary) J-1 visa offers different program categories for various fields and positions, such as research, trainee, intern, physician and teacher. Each J-1 program category has slightly different eligibility requirements and maximum stay.
A big benefit for J-1 participants is their spouse and dependent children (under 21 years and unmarried) are eligible to accompany the J-1 visa holder to the U.S. on a J-2 visa. What’s more, J-2 spouses are eligible to apply for work authorization (an “EAD” or work permit) when in the U.S. Also, J-1 participants can also transfer to a different employer as long as they remain in the same program.
To participate in the J-1 visa program, you must:
- Find a J-1 program sponsor.
- Maintain a foreign residence.
- Be able to finance the entire trip, including supporting any J-2 dependents.
- Must have sufficient medical insurance coverage for yourself and family.
- Have a strong command of English.
Under the program, employers must offer J-1 visa holders at least 32 hours of work per week, as well as activities outside the office that expose the J-1 visa holder to U.S. culture. Most research, trainee and intern jobs are paid.
For the J-1 research program, participants must have at least a bachelor’s degree in the field of the research position. A J-1 researcher cannot be a candidate for a tenure track position. A J-1 researcher can remain in the U.S. for a maximum of five years.
For the J-1 trainee program, participants must have either:
- A degree or professional certificate and at least one year of related work experience outside the U.S. or
- At least five years of work experience in the field outside of the U.S.
J-1 trainees can work in most fields, including sciences, engineering, mathematics, business, information media and health. However, J-1 trainees cannot work in an unskilled position or one that requires 20% or more of clerical or office support work. A J-1 trainee will be able to stay in the U.S. for a maximum of 18 months.
For the J-1 intern program, participants must be enrolled at a college or university outside the U.S. or must have graduated from an academic institution within the past 12 months. The maximum stay for J-1 interns is one year.
At the end of the program, you may be able to participate in another J-1 program or apply for a different visa if you are not subject to the two-year home-country residency requirement at the end of your J-1 visa; speak to an attorney about this. Most J-1 visa holders must return to their home country to live for at least two years when their visa expires if they are subject to the 212(e) two-year foreign residence requirement. Those who do not wish to return for two years may file for a waiver from the Department of Homeland Security before the J-1 visa expires or before applying for another visa to travel to the U.S. Stay tuned for an upcoming “Dear Sophie” with more details on this.
As for getting a visa, for now, most embassies and consulates remain closed to routine visa and green card processing. Sponsors may be accepting and processing applications, but your ability to come to the U.S. will depend on when embassies and consulates reopen and travel restrictions are lifted, so definitely speak to a qualified attorney before you start this. If you’re currently in the U.S., you may be able to seek a change of status to J-1; this also requires the guidance of an attorney.
Wishing you all the best!
Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.