Congratulations! You have been offered an internship or training program in the United States. Now what?
You might be asking yourself, “Do I need a visa?” or, “What type of visa do I need, and how do I get it?” “Do I really need a visa sponsor? Why?”
The answer to the first question is yes. You need a J-1 Visa in order to legally participate in an internship/training program in the U.S.
Before you can apply for a J-1 Visa, though, you first need to apply for J-1 Visa sponsorship with a U.S. Department of State-designated J-1 Visa sponsor organization, such as InterExchange.
And Why Do I Need a J-1 Visa Sponsor?
Per the official J-1 Visa website, “foreign nationals must be sponsored by one of the State Department-designated sponsors.” You cannot apply directly for the J-1 Visa without first applying with a program sponsor. Program sponsors, like InterExchange, are responsible for selecting participants for the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, as well as supporting them during their entire program stay.
Once you apply for and are approved for J-1 Visa sponsorship, InterExchange will issue you the required documentation needed to apply for your J-1 Visa. This documentation is the DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility and the DS-7002 Training/Internship Placement Plan, which indicate where and when you can intern/train in the U.S. and outline the program your host employer has agreed to offer you.
After you have received your documents, you can apply for the J-1 Visa in person at the Embassy and Consulate. Without these sponsor-provided documents, you will not be granted a visa. Even if you are doing an unpaid internship, you still need a J-1 Visa, as ESTA is not a legal option for pursuing an unpaid internship.