J-1 FAQ

What is the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program?

The J-1 program is a temporary visa program, intended as a cultural exchange, that authorizes visa holders to work during their time in the United States. J-1 visa holders come to the U.S. under a range of visa subcategories, each with its own regulations. Under this visa, workers may travel to the U.S. to work in childcare, restaurants, hotels, summer camps, and many other industries.

What are the subcategories of the J-1 visa?

The J-1 visa subcategories are: au pairs, camp counselors, college/university students, government visitors, interns, international visitors, physicians, professor/research scholars, short-term scholars, secondary school students, specialists, summer work travellers, teachers, or trainees.

What is the purpose of the J-1 Program?

According to the program regulations, the purpose of the program is to “provide foreign nationals with opportunities to participate in educational and cultural programs in the United States and return home to share their experiences, and to encourage Americans to participate in educational and cultural programs in other countries.”

How do I get a J-1 visa?

The U.S. State Department designates sponsors that, independently or through third parties, recruit applicants for the J-1 visa. The State Department maintains a list of designated sponsors here.

What is the role of my sponsor in the J-1 program?

The role of sponsor includes recruiting J-1 program participants, overseeing the visa application process, providing pre-arrival information, providing orientation, and monitoring of placement hosts (i.e., individual families, employers, and educational institutions) to ensure consistency with program objectives. Sponsors must also respond to State Department inquiries and investigations related to participation in the program, and comply with reporting requirements. Sponsors’ reporting obligations include a requirement that a sponsor notify the State Department within one business day of any investigations of an exchange visitor’s site of activity or any “serious problem or controversy.”

Before I decide to go to the United States, enter into agreements, and/or pay non-refundable fees, what information should be provided to me?

Your recruitment agency, recruiter, or sponsor should provide you with:

  • An explanation of program activities and terms and conditions of the program, including job duties, number of work hours, wages and compensation, and deductions for housing and transportation;
  • An itemized list of all fees that you will have to pay, such as sponsor, recruiter, and employer fees; required insurance costs; and any other costs, conditions, or restrictions; and
  • An explanation of the type, duration, nature, and importance of the cultural components of the program.

Will my employment as a J-1 worker cover the costs of participating in the program?

Not necessarily. Program recruitment information and materials must make clear to J-1 workers that their stipend or wages might not cover all of their expenses and that they should bring additional personal funds to cover expenses not covered by those wages.

What additional questions should I ask about the program before deciding to go?

Ask your recruiter who your designated sponsor is and verify that the sponsor is currently listed on the State Department website. Once you find the sponsor’s name and contact information on the State Department list, contact the sponsor to confirm the opportunity, terms, and all associated fees and costs.

Before I depart my home country, what information must be provided to me?

Your sponsor should provide you with clear information and materials on:

  • COSTS:
    • Housing costs and specific information on what housing is provided by the program or otherwise available and what you will be charged for it;
    • An itemized list of all fees you will have to pay;
    • A description and estimated amount of other costs that you will likely incur, such as insurance, living expenses, and transportation expenses, while in the United States; and
    • A health care and insurance description, and overview of costs and requirements for you and any accompanying spouse and dependents

 

  • CULTURAL EXCHANGE:
    • A description of program activities;
    • An overview of the cultural goals and components of the program; and
    • An overview of the purpose of the Exchange Visitor Program.

 

  • WORK:
    • Detailed employment information and terms and conditions of employment;
    • This should include: employer name and address, position duration, job duties, number of work hours, wages, other compensation and benefits, and deductions from wages, including those deducted for housing and transportation.

 

  • VISA and TRAVEL:
    • A detailed explanation of travel to and entry into the United States, such as procedures to obtain visas for entry to the United States and what to expect at the port of entry;
    • Procedures to locate and report to your sponsor and location;
    • How to remain in lawful status; and
    • Information on the two-year home-country physical presence requirement. This rule, which applies to some exchange visitors, requires them return to their home country for two years before they can change status, adjust status, or receive an immigrant visa or certain non-immigrant visas. Additional information about the two-year home-country physical presence can be found here.

 

  • OTHER:
    • A description of any other conditions and restrictions on you; and
    • Other information that will assist you in preparing for your stay in the United States, such as information on workers’ rights and laws, including workers’ compensation; how and when to apply for a social security number, if applicable; how to apply for a driver's license; and how to open a bank account.

What if my sponsor agency doesn’t provide the required information?

If a sponsor agency fails to meet any of the requirements, such as providing you with the required information, it may face sanctions from the State Department. The sanction depends on the violation and can range from a written warning to suspension or revocation of a sponsor’s designation. To report a violation of J-1 program rules by your sponsor agency, you can contact the State Department J-1 hotline at 1-866-283-9090 or email jvisas@state.gov. You can also contact one of these hotlines:

  • Secondary School Student and Summer Work Travel Helpline: 1-866-283-9090
  • National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 1-888-373-7888
  • Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force: 1-888-428-7581

Can I stay in the United States once my program ends?

Once your program ends you will have a 30-day grace period before being required to leave the country. During this time, your J-1 visa is no longer valid and you are no longer allowed to continue exchange activities or work. Rather, this is a time period that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) allows to participants so that they can settle their affairs and prepare to return to their home countries. In certain circumstances, participants can extend their stays. For information on extensions of stay, click here.

Does the State Department provide information about the J-1 Program and my rights?

Yes, the State Department provides basic informationand answers to common questions. At your consular interview, the Consular Officer should also provide you with a pamphletcontaining information about your rights.

What are my workplace rights?

In general, you have the right to:

  • Be paid at least at the federal minimum wage rate (currently $7.25 USD per hour) for all the hours you work. Depending on the state, you may be entitled to earn a rate higher than the federal minimum wage. A map with all state minimum wages is available here.
  • Receive overtime pay at “time and a half”, or 150% of your regular rate, when you work more than 40 hours in a week. In some states, you are entitled to overtime wages when you work more than 8 hours in a day. Keep in mind that some types of work are exempt from overtime requirements.
  • Employment and recruitment free from discrimination based on your age over 40, sex, race, national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, disability, or pregnancy;
  • Work without being subjected to sexual harassment;
  • Safe and healthy working conditions, including: employer-paid medical treatment for work-related injuries and illnesses; appropriate protective equipment and proper training about dangerous conditions in the workplace; and
  • Employment free from retaliation, which means that you can report abuses by your employer without having adverse actions taken against you.

Although most of these rights are guaranteed by federal law, some may vary by state or may not apply to all J-1 workers. It is important to have your particular situation assessed.  

What should I do if my workplace rights are violated?

If you think your rights have been violated, you can contact:

  • The State Department J-1 hotline at 1-866-283-9090 or email jvisas@state.gov(for issues with your sponsor agency);
  • The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, at 1-866-487-9243 (for complaints related to unpaid wages or retaliation);
  • The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC), at 1-800-669-4000 or on the EEOC’s website (for complaints related to discrimination);
  • The National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 1-888-373-7888;
  • The Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force: 1-888-428-7581; or
  • Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, CDM: in the U.S. at 1-855-234-9699, in Mexico at 01-800-590-1773 or via email (contratados@cdmigrante.org).

What should I do if a crime is committed against me in the U.S.?

Contact U.S. law enforcement immediately by dialing 911 from any telephone. Depending on the nature of the crime, you may be eligible for immigration relief. More information about “U” visas, available for victims of certain qualifying crimes, can be found herein English and herein Spanish. Information about “T” visas, for victims of human trafficking, can be found herein English and herein Spanish. If you believe you have been a victim of a workplace crime, you can also contact CDM at in the U.S. at 1-855-234-9699, in Mexico at 01-800-590-1773 or via email (contratados@cdmigrante.org).

If I don’t like my job, can I change employers or sponsors?

Maybe. Under J-1 program rules, some categories of participants can transfer to a new sponsor agency. However, these transfers are permitted only at the discretion of the “responsible officer” (J-1 program administrator) of the sponsor agency. Transfers are not allowed in all J-1 categories, and a transfer does not extend the maximum duration of the program.

If you want to change to a different employer, you should first contact your sponsor agency for assistance. If your sponsor agency is unwilling to assist you, try contacting the State Department J-1 hotline at 1-866-283-9090, or email jvisas@state.gov.

Can my employer or sponsor send me home if I complain about my working conditions? Under federal law, employers cannot retaliate against their employees for complaining that their workplace rights are being or have been violated. If you think that your sponsor or employer has retaliated against you, contact the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division at 1-866-487-9243 or the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante in the U.S. at 1-855-234-9699, in Mexico at 01-800-590-1773, or via email (contratados@cdmigrante.org).

How do I let other J-1 visa holders know about my experience?

A range of forums is available for J-1 visa holders to communicate with other current, past, and future J-1 visa holders, including groups on Facebook. You can also write a review of your experience with a sponsor, recruiter, or employer at www.contratados.org.

DISCLAIMER:

This FAQ is intended to provide general information regarding J-1 workers’ rights. It is not intended to be legal advice. Do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney or the appropriate agency about your rights in your particular situation.