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International Exchange Center Programs


The J-1 Visa: Changing America, Changing the World

The Role of the J-1 Trainee/Intern

Interns and Trainees

The Department of State's J-1 Visa Basics



A quick look at the news headlines of the day shout out that the time to talk about social and economic change is past, and we have entered an unprecedented call for action. Record flood stages in North Dakota, and record low levels of summer ice in the arctic speak loudly of climate change. A global economic crisis tells us how closely interrelated the world has become. $4/gallon gasoline last year pushed more Americans into poverty. American universities report declining numbers of foreign students as Canada, Australia, the UK, and even China increasingly attract the best and the brightest that formerly came to the US for education. The same universities report the lack of preparedness among US students to compete with the world in the fields of math and science. To meet the economic and social challenges of today, we need the best creative mix of talent from around the world. U.S. immigration attorneys are on the front line of making sure America has that creative mix.

Historically, we have thought about immigration as a one way ticket. The term “immigration” stirs images of Ellis Island and lines of the newly arrived with bundles containing all their worldly belongings. The term stirs images of the Latin American farm boy crawling across the southern border in hopes of a better life. High profile immigrants from our history, Albert Einstein, I.M. Pei, Madeleine Albright, Joseph Pulitzer, and the like are almost always examples of individuals who made a permanent home in the United States. Today’s interconnected world, however, requires two-way tickets. As our weather is impacted by Chinese industry, our national security by public opinion in Africa and the Middle East, our health by the tropical plants of Brazil, and our manufacturing jobs by the value of the Euro, we need to think about immigration not as the movement of people into our nation, but as the movement of people back and forth across our borders. America cannot meet the challenges of the current day if we see ourselves only as a sponge absorbing the world’s talent and resources, and not sending talent and resources out into the world.

Let’s look at one crucial sector impacting America’s security, economic productivity, and standard of health - sustainable energy. While American architecture has set the standard with the development of LEED certification for energy efficient building, we lag behind Japan in the production of viable hybrid automobiles, behind Spain in wind turbine technology, behind Germany in photovoltaics. For the United States to cut its dependency on imported oil, we need the creative mix of the best minds working on technologies from around the world to help us rebuild our economy, our infrastructure, and our social values to embrace a different energy market. This will allow us to export improved technologies to the rest of the world. We need two-way tickets across our borders.

The J-1 visa is a two-way ticket. Fundamentally, it is a visa that is issued for the J-1 participants to come to the United States, learn and share all they can, and then go home and share what they have learned in the U.S. Its use requires the immigration attorney to embrace the value of repeat business, not with the visa holder, but with the host organization. As a visa that allows a host organization to benefit from one or a number of short-term visitors, the J-1 visa becomes a powerful tool for addressing the challenges of today’s world.

Including J-1 clients into a law practice begins with identifying a “lawyer friendly” J sponsor. J sponsors are designated by the U.S. Department of State to administer Exchange Visitor Programs. In addition to the J regulations found at 22 CFR 62, each sponsor will have their own policies and procedures for the administration of their J program. Some sponsors will see the attorney as an unnecessary barrier between the sponsor’s relationship with the J-1 and their host organization. Other sponsors appreciate the professional role of the attorney in facilitating the application process and assisting the client in maintaining the J status. Developing a professional relationship with a “lawyer friendly” sponsor will go a long way toward helping you gain repeat business from your J client.

Who is the J Client? American hosts tend to fall into three categories: 1) the American company seeking to develop a pool of trained representatives overseas or hoping to expand their overseas presence; 2) the company that operates overseas and wishes to exchange key staff to improve communication and understanding; and, increasingly, 3) a principal decision maker in the company sees international training as a way to “give back.” This last group, which features a high percentage of companies started by immigrants, sees the J-1 visa as nothing less than an opportunity to change the world.

Notice that it is the American host organization that is identified as the J client. In the case of the J visa, it is the American host who has the potential to be the repeat customer, more so than the foreign national. Successful programs where the foreign national returns to the home country at the conclusion of the J-1 period, frequently result in the American host company seeking to host subsequent programs. Why? In the words of a company president, “The program was good for the intern, and good for our employees.” Companies find many tangible benefits. Here are some examples from among the most common taken from end-of-stay evaluations and conversations with company executives:

“The program improved the productivity of our American staff. In needing to explain what they do to the international trainee, the staff had to think about what they do and why. This brought about new, more efficient behaviors.”

“Being assigned to supervise an intern provided way to recognize and motivate our U.S. staff. The assignment served as a strong message that the staff’s expertise is recognized by senior management."

“We cannot solve problems if we all think alike. When we think alike, we all approach the problem in the same way. The different world view brought by our J-1s cause us to approach problem solving from different angles. As a result, we are more innovative and our solutions are more comprehensive.”

Note that each of these examples reflects core internal business needs. They are each very different from the three motivations listed above describing the initial J client. While the motivation of the initial client comes from external business factors, the motivation of the repeat client more often comes from internal business benefits.

Regardless of the motivation, the J-1 client is entering into collaboration with the U.S. Department of State, the J-1 program sponsor, and the J visa holder to spread the positive influence of the United States around the world. Indeed, the J-1 exchange occurs on many levels. From the point of view of the J-1 client, it is the sharing of differing viewpoints that comes from the interaction of the J-1 visa holder and the host organization staff. For the J-1 visa holder, the exchange experience involves both interaction with the host employer and the local U.S. community. For the Department of State, the exchange is not complete until the J-1 visa holder returns to the home country and shares impressions of America and life in the United States with family, friends, and co-workers. It is this conversation that leads to a more open atmosphere to American interests overseas. This is what foreign policy experts have come to call “Smart Power.”

Here is Former Rep. Jim Leach’s (R-IA) description of Smart Power: "Smart power, to me, means citizen power. There’s a citizen diplomacy in America that goes beyond civilian diplomacy that’s being described here as governmental. And there is no greater spokesman for the United States than the American citizen. Government is a small part of our society. And so, as a society, what we really want to have is an engaged America. And that involves the private sector, it involves American culture, it involves many, many different things."

Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 22, 2009, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton emphasizes the importance of the private sector in spreading the positive influence of the United States abroad: “We also understand that redefining diplomatic engagement is not just between governments. Policies and political leaders change over time. But ties between citizens, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, universities, NGOs, all of those endure. And these are very effective tools of diplomacy, and we’re committed to engaging these groups.”

The J-1 visa is a principle tool of Smart Power. It harnesses the ability to form ties between world citizens and international markets that cut through perceptions formed by mass media and stereotypes to create knowledge formed by face-to-face contact. The Chinese journalism trainee who has been the guest of honor at a mid-western potluck sees the United States forever differently than does the colleague whose opinion is guided by watching “Rush Hour.” The Brazilian law trainee who has attended a not-for-profit fund raiser in New York sees the United States differently than does his colleague whose opinion is guided by the last multibillion dollar merger contract. The Malawi management trainee learns not only the proprietary software of the American host, but also learns that it is possible to live in an environment where health code enforcement has eliminated malaria, cholera, and typhoid fever. The American colleague who interacts with the J-1 trainee likewise relates to the world differently. Kim Lee now represents how the American thinks about South Korean. Frederic Dupuis becomes the face of France. Sonia Murray helps us understand what it means to be Canadian. When an earthquake shakes Thailand, we worry about our summer intern’s family. Such personal knowledge is powerful. It leads to stronger business ties, stronger political ties, and fundamentally stronger human ties.

Thus, the J-1 visa is more than the three principle parties involved; the J-1 visa holder, the host employer, and the J-1 program sponsor. While each plays a defined role in the exchange, they are part of a greater purpose. Since the inception of the J visa that purpose has been constant. It is nothing less than a tool to bring international people together to change America and to change the world.



Sometimes, it is easy to become confused about the role of the trainee or intern within the host company.

Here are a few helpful clarifications and reminders. The trainee/intern’s role is to:

  • Learn about the American company;
  • Learn the specific skills and knowledge laid out in the DS-7002 training plan. The training should be under constant watch of the supervisor;
  • Gain a new understanding of American culture;
  • Share their home culture with colleagues and friends;

Just as a reminder, a J-1 intern or trainee program should never include more than 20% clerical work or be used in place of regular employment. J-1 trainees and interns are not “at will” employees.

The J-1 visa regulations are very specific as to the purpose of this visa. Here are a few samples of how the regulations describe the intent of the program.

“The primary objectives of the programs offered under these regulations are to enhance the skills and expertise of exchange visitors in their academic or occupational fields through participation in structured and guided work-based training and internship programs and to improve participants' knowledge of American techniques, methodologies, and technology.”

“Training and internship programs are also intended to increase participants' understanding of American culture and society and to enhance Americans' knowledge of foreign cultures and skills through an open interchange of ideas between participants and their American associates.”

“A key goal of the Fulbright-Hays Act, which authorizes these programs, is that participants will return to their home countries and share their experiences with their countrymen.”“Exchange Visitor Program training and internship programs must not be used as substitutes for ordinary employment or work purposes; nor may they be used under any circumstances to displace American workers.”


International Exchange Interns

Are you a University student or recent graduate interested in a J-1 intern program related to your studies?  If you have identified a host company, the International Exchange Center can assist in making your internship a reality. 

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International ExchangeTrainees

Are you a professional looking to pursue career-enhancing training at a US host company? Trainee programs can be up to 18 months in length and offer first-hand insights into American business practices, proprietary technologies and methods, and much more.

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