Millions of people enter and leave the United States every year. Being the third largest country with a population of over 300 Million, the country has a lot to offer. Whether you just want to explore the land, do business or plan to move there forever, you will need a visa.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the main immigration authority for US Visas. They process and handle all the applications as well as keep a detailed record about all immigrants. In the year of 2018, the United States issued 9,028,026 nonimmigrant and 533,557 immigrant visas (CNN, 2017).
What is a visa?
A visa is basically a stamp that you will get in your passport. That stamp will make you eligible to enter the United States.
There are about 185 different types of US visas, grouped into two main categories:
- Non-immigrant Visas
- Immigrant Visas
If you are a student like me, you are looking for a non-immigrant visa, more specifically a J-1 Visa. Non-immigrant visas have one important aspect in common: They are temporary. Depending on the purpose of your visit, the duration ranges from a few weeks to several years!
The J-1 Visa, also referred to as Exchange Visitor Program is designed to allow international candidates to travel and gain experience in the United States, typically through work- and study-based programs.
Step 1: Choosing an Exchange Visitor Program
The first step of how to apply for a J1 visa is choosing the right program for you! Depending on your background and your interests and skills, you may only be eligible for certain programs. Here are a few of the most common exchange visitor programs:
- Au Pair
- College/University/Secondary School Student
- Work & Travel
Step 2: Finding a Sponsor
The next step is to find a sponsor. There are over 3,500 sponsors spread throughout the country that can place you anywhere in the United States. Depending on the type of program you are pursuing, your sponsor can be a University, an AuPair Organization, Q International School and many more! Keep in mind that all those organizations screen all of their applicants in order to find the candidates with the sufficient English skills. Once you found a sponsor, they will most likely also help you with the rest of the visa application.
I was interested in an internship in the US, so I contacted the foreign exchange student organization Stage USA. They helped me throughout the whole visa process. The Dutch company is working with a sponsor in California called Cultural Homestay International that issues J-1 Visas.
Step 3: Collecting Your Documents
This step is very important because missing a certain document could result in delay or even denial of your visa! Being prepared and organized is key to making the whole process as smooth as possible. Since every visa application is different based on your circumstances, make sure you have the specific documents your sponsor requires. This typically includes:
– Recent Passport (Make sure the expiry date covers the duration of your time abroad)
– US Visa Photo (Requirements can be found here)
– Proof of your English skills (typically a TOEFL/IELTS test)
– Proof of enrollment from your school/university
While working with Stage-USA, they provided me with a detailed list of all necessary documents and forms required to successfully apply to the J-1 Sponsor (CHI). In my case, I also needed two letters of recommendations from my professors. This part took me the longest amount of time so make sure you contact your professors early.
Step 4: Apply for the DS-2019
Once approved by your designated sponsor organization, you need to submit a DS-2019 Form. It is also known under “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status”. This form is very important throughout your whole application process and your time abroad. You will need it for your interview as well as during airport customs control. If you are planning to bring a spouse or child, they will receive a separate DS-2019. Depending on your sponsor, the application process takes about 4-6 weeks. During this time your sponsor will review all your application documents and will ship your DS-2019 from the US to your house. The application link can be found here.
Common Misconception: J-1 Visa vs DS-2019
The J-1 visa in your passport is an entry document needed to re-enter to the United States after international travel. Though you typically need a valid J-1 visa to enter the country you do not need a valid visa to remain in the country. The visa can expire while you are inside the United States but your Form DS-2019 and I-94 must remain valid.
This DS-2019 application is very thorough, so take your time and read everything very carefully. It is also helpful to write down your application number in case you want to take a break and come back later.
Step 5: Pay Application Fees
There are three kinds of J1 visa application fees:
1. Program Fees: Your sponsor generally charges you a fee for your chosen program if you don’t have a scholarship. The fee is higher when your program is longer. Be sure to check with your sponsor about all the fees and get a breakdown of all costs.
2. SEVIS Fee: As part of your J-1 Visa application, you will be required to pay a SEVIS I-901 fee to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Check with your sponsoring organization if this fee is already covered as part of your program fees in order to avoid paying twice! If the sponsor does in fact pay the fee on your behalf, make sure to get a copy of the receipt confirming payment. You will need to bring the receipt to your interview appointment later!
3. VISA Fee: The US State Department charges a processing fee of $160 to every applicant arranging an interview with a U.S. Embassy or Consulate
While working with Stage-USA, they gave me a very clear and detailed overview of their program and visa prices. More Information about Stage-USA J-1 Visa Costs can be found here.
Step 6: Interview with a U.S. Embassy or Consulate
This is the final step of your VISA Application! Why an Interview? Every applicant from age 14 through 79 require an interview, as its an important part of the process. During this step, you will receive your actual visa in your passport! First, locate the closest U.S Embassy or Consulate near your home. Depending on your home country and the embassy itself, waiting times for an appointment can vary from a week or two up to two months! So start early!
You actually check the current wait times for your preferred city on the Visa Wait Times Website.
When preparing for your interview, make sure you bring the following documents:
- Form DS-2019
- Training Plan/Form DS-7002
- Valid Passport
- One 2×2 Photo (Requirements)
- Proof of ties to home country
During the interview, the U.S. Authorities will usually take a digital fingerprint scan from you. After that, you will talk to a consular office for about 5-10 minutes who will determine your qualifications for the exchange visa. Don’t panic! The officer will ask you simple questions about what you will be doing in the US, where exactly you are planning to go and how long you are planning to stay! He can also request additional documentation such as:
- The purpose of your travel
- Your intent to depart the US after the program is over
- Financial ability to pay travel costs and sustain yourself
There are only two possible outcomes:
1. The Consular Officer will issue your visa. You will leave your passport and some documents with the corresponding officer. After 2-10 working days, your visa will be ready and can be picked up or shipped to your home address. You did it! After receiving your visa, you can now proceed and book your flights!!
2. The Consular Office will refuse your applicant and will require additional documentation from you. He will let you know at the end of the interview, what the next steps will be.
In order to not get nervous before the visa interview, I prepared as much as possible and gathered every document that might be helpful for my application. When I arrived at the embassy in Berlin, the officials were very friendly to me and it turned out, I didn’t even need a lot of the documents I brought!
My internship in the USA led me to Q International School, an innovative English school in San Diego, California! They provide high-quality classes for anyone around the world who wants to improve their English skills. Being fully immersed through talking to international students and staying in an American host family, you can pick up English faster than ever. Since the world is getting more global and English being required as an essential skill, I can personally recommend the Business English Program @ Q International School. Learning how to speak English on a professional level is key to success in today’s business environment! You can find more information on their beautifully-designed website: qschool.edu/business-english.
Thanks to help of Stage-USA, my VISA process was fast and smooth. They guided me
through every step of the way, and it felt like they had my back! I would recommend their services to anyone who is interested in going to the U.S. for an internship or an Au-Pair program! The company is based in Amsterdam, Netherlands and offers a variety of different programs not only in the US, but in Australia and Europe too! More information about all programs and how to get in touch can easily be found on their website: stage-usa.net
- Born in Hanover, Germany
- Studied at 2 Universities (Germany and US)
- Sports: Running, Biking, Rowing, Soccer
- International Business Student (Senior)
- Professional Focus: International Marketing