Resources for J-1 Exchange Visitors

At Cultural Vistas, we are committed to providing rewarding and enriching exchange experiences for all of our J-1 interns, trainees, and teachers. Below is a compilation of helpful resources for current and approved participants.The resources are intended for individuals who have already accepted an offer from a U.S. host company or school, paid your fees, and received your J-1 Visa from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Entering the United States

You may enter the United States up to 30 days before the start date listed on your Form DS-2019. During your travel to the United States, you will receive Form I-94 (only if crossing via land) and Form 6059B. Be sure that you receive a white Form I-94, which is designated for J-1 Visa holders. For travel by aircraft, you can retrieve your I-94 record online here.

At your port of entry, you will need to present the following documents to a U.S. inspection agent:

  • Passport with J-1 Visa
  • Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility)
  • Training/Internship Placement Plan (Form DS-7002)
  • Form I-901 (Confirmation of Payment) – this is the receipt from your SEVIS payment
  • Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) – If you travel via land, you will receive this during your travel to the United States
  • Form 6059B (Customs Declaration Form) – you will receive this during your travel to the United States

Canadian citizens only: You will receive your J-1 Visa status at your port of entry.

These documents should remain in your possession throughout your travel to the United States—do not pack them in your checked luggage. If you are unable to present them to the inspection agent, you will have significant problems entering the country. We recommend that you photocopy these and all other important documents before you leave home. Having copies will make it much easier to replace any documents that are stolen or lost.

The inspection agent will ask you a series of questions about the purpose and duration of your stay. You will be required to provide the U.S. address where you will be staying. If you don’t yet have an address, you may give the address of the hotel where you are staying. You must also submit to a digital finger or retinal scan for documentation purposes.

After this is completed, be sure that your passport is stamped by the agent and if you received a Form I-94, it is returned to you. Form I-94 should remain in your passport for the duration of your time in the United States; you will return it to an inspection agent when you leave the country.

Finally, expect to have your baggage inspected by U.S. Customs officials. This is to ensure that you have not brought any illegal or undeclared items into the United States.

Confirming Your Arrival and Validating your J-1 Visa

Within 5 days of entering the United States, you must confirm your arrival by submitting your information for visa validation via our website:

  • U.S. home address
  • U.S. home/mobile phone number
  • Phone number used at your workplace
  • Preferred email address

As your sponsor, Cultural Vistas is required to submit this information to SEVIS, a U.S. government database, to validate your visa status. Please be aware that if you do not provide this information promptly to Cultural Vistas, you run the risk of your visa being automatically terminated. You will receive an automatic reply once you successfully submit your contact information to validate your visa.

If you are staying in temporary accommodations, please provide us with this temporary address. It is necessary to provide a non-work address in order to confirm your arrival. Once you have moved into long-term housing, notify us of your new address and we will update this information in SEVIS.

If your home address or email address change at any time during your program, you must notify Cultural Vistas within one week of the change.

Obtaining a Social Security Number

A Social Security Number is a unique identification number issued by the U.S. government. It is required for tax purposes and is valid for life.

Your host company will need your Social Security Number in order to add you to payroll; you may also need it to open a bank account, rent an apartment, or apply for a driver’s license. It is therefore important that you apply for a Social Security Number as soon as possible. If you already have one from a previous stay in the United States, you should not apply for another one.

How to Apply

To ensure your application for a Social Security Number is processed correctly, you actually must wait a few days after arrival to apply. This is to allow all U.S. government databases time to communicate with each other and to recognize that you have arrived in the United States. You should wait at least three days after you have confirmed your arrival with your Cultural Vistas representative and 10 days after your arrival in the U.S. before submitting a Social Security Number application.

Apply for your Social Security Number by visiting the Social Security Administration Office nearest to you. You will need to present the following original documents (not photocopies) during the application:

  • a completed Form SS-5
  • a letter of employment from your U.S. host company
  • passport including your J-1 Visa and Form I-94
  • Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility)
  • Training/Internship Placement Plan (Form DS-7002)

Your Social Security Number card will be mailed to you, so it is very important that you include an up-to-date address on Form SS-5 when applying. If you are staying in temporary housing during the application process, you may want to enter your host company’s address.

Be sure to get a receipt or confirmation of your application while you are at the Social Security Administration Office. It usually takes three to six weeks for you to receive your Social Security Number; however, this receipt can be used immediately by your host company to enter you in payroll.

Once you receive your number, be sure that the Social Security Card reads “Valid for Work with DHS (or INS) Authorization”. If this phrase does not appear on your card, return to the Social Security Office immediately and request a new card.

You should memorize your Social Security Number and keep your card at home in a safe place (not in your wallet). Never give your Social Security Number to an unreliable source and never email it, not even to Cultural Vistas. If you are asked to provide the number online, make sure that the connection is secure.

If you have difficulty obtaining a Social Security Number, notify your Cultural Vistas representative immediately.

Health Insurance and Tax Information

Health and Accident Insurance

Per the U.S. Department of State J-1 Visa regulations, all exchange visitors are required to have health insurance for the duration of their training program. In order to ensure compliance with these regulations, Cultural Vistas includes health insurance coverage in our program package.

Participants should always carry the Cultural Vistas-issued health insurance card with them. If participants are in an accident or need medical attention unexpectedly, they will need to show proof of coverage under a health insurance policy. Except in the event of potentially life threatening medical emergencies, clinics, doctors, and hospitals will ask to see the health insurance card before treatment is administered. Procedures for payment of medical treatment vary, but participants should expect to have at least some out-of-pocket costs for each medical treatment they receive.

Costs

The fee is $70 per month and provides coverage from program start date to end date. Please note that if you extend your training program, you must purchase additional months of health insurance. Payment in full for insurance is due with the application.

Taxes

Participants who earn income from a U.S. source must pay federal, state, and local income taxes. State income tax rates vary (and some states do not have an income tax), but the federal income tax is indexed by the level of the wage. Participants should expect to pay about 25 percent of their gross salary in federal income taxes. The organization will automatically deduct federal and state income taxes from the paycheck. Participants do not pay Social Security and Medicare taxes (FICA) or Federal Unemployment tax (FUTA) because they are not eligible for these benefits.

Generally, all J-1 Visa holders are considered non-residents. Participants must file both a federal income tax return and a state income tax return (if there is a state income tax). These returns must be filed by April 15 for each year they earn income in the United States.

Participants will use either the form 1040NR-EZ or form 1040NR to file their federal tax return. These forms and the 8843 (required of J-1 exchange visitors) are available after January 1 at Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offices, at local public libraries, or from the IRS website . Information about forms used to file tax returns for state income taxes can be found after January 1 at local public libraries or from the state’s tax website.

Please note that Cultural Vistas’ staff members are not tax experts and that tax advice will not be given to exchange visitors or host employers.

As a J-1 Visa holder, you should pay the following taxes:

  • Federal Income Tax
  • State Income Tax (if applicable)
  • Local Income Tax (if applicable)

You should not pay the following taxes:

  • Social Security and Medicare Tax (FICA)
  • Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)

It is your responsibility to inform your host company of the taxes you do not have to pay. When you receive your first paycheck, review it and discuss anything you do not understand with your supervisor or human resources representative.

Housing Information

You are responsible for finding your own housing in the United States. Asking your host company for suggestions is a good way to begin your search.

You may choose to find housing before or after your arrival in the United States. If you secure accommodations before you arrive, be sure not to make any payments until you have visited the space and signed the necessary documents. If you plan on finding housing after you have arrived, you should coordinate short-term housing before leaving your home country. If your host company is unable to assist you, the search for long-term housing may take up to a month, so it is essential that you arrange a temporary place to live during your search.

Sign the Documents

It is best to sign a lease in order to secure your place to live. A lease is a contract between you, any roommates, and your landlord that outlines the terms of your living arrangement. It should include the amount of your rent, the duration of your stay at the property, the utilities that will be paid (if any), and the responsibilities of you and your landlord. Be sure to always get your lease in writing and read through your lease carefully and ask questions about anything you don’t understand.

Many landlords require a security deposit before you are allowed to move in. A security deposit is money given to a landlord as protection for damages that may occur during your time living there. It is typically equivalent to one month’s rent and will be returned to you at the end of your lease, assuming there are no damages and all other bills are paid. It is illegal for your landlord to keep this money without notifying you. Make sure your landlord has your contact information in your home country so he or she can return this payment to you after you move out.

Notify Cultural Vistas of Your New Address

You must notify Cultural Vistas of your new address within 10 days of any change in living situation. We will then update your contact information in both the Cultural Vistas and government databases. It is important that you do this each time you move.

Travel Outside the United States

As a designated Exchange Visitor Visa Program sponsor, we are required to document the international travel of our participants. Please remember to send us the dates of your intended travel and emergency contact information prior to departure. In return, we will provide you with additional information on how to obtain a travel validation and answer any questions you may have about the instructions below.

Resources for Current J-1 Participants

Participants on J-1 Visas are able to travel outside of the United States for up to 30 consecutive days during their training program. Before traveling internationally, participants must obtain a travel signature on their DS-2019 form by a Responsible Officer at Cultural Vistas. By validating the DS-2019 form for travel, Cultural Vistas confirms that the participant will continue to be sponsored while abroad and may reenter the United States upon return. Please note that this signature is valid for up to one year and is not necessary for travel to Mexico, Canada, and adjacent islands.

Before departure, participants should also ensure that they have a valid multiple entry visa in their passport.  Cultural Vistas must be notified immediately if their visa indicates single entry or if their visa has expired.

When traveling outside of the United States, participants will be asked for their I-94 card so their exit can be documented. Upon returning to the United States, visitors will either receive a hard copy of their I-94 or an admission stamp in their passport, and immediate access to an electronic record that will be generated upon reentry into the U.S.  If participants are not provided a paper I-94 card upon returning, they must immediately log in online, download, save and print their electronic I-94.  This can be accessed here.   Please print a copy of your electronic I-94 record as soon as you reenter the United States.

Note that the J-1 Visa is only valid for the United States therefore it is important for participants to make sure they can enter Canada or Mexico without a visa. While U.S. citizens do not need a visa to visit Canada or Mexico, the participant’s home country may have separate visa requirements for travel into these two countries.

J-2 Dependent Travel

Dependents who have received J-2 Visas may travel in and out of the United States during the training program. Each dependent will have to have his/her DS-2019 form signed by a Cultural Vistas Responsible Officer and must follow the procedures as provided for J-1 participants.

U.S. Work Culture

Your workplace in the United States may be very different from what you are used to. Office culture varies greatly between companies; however, there are some general guidelines you should follow during your internship.

Responsibilities and the Training/Internship Placement Plan

It is important that you become familiar with the Training/Internship Placement Plan (Form DS-7002) that you and your supervisor signed during the visa application process. This document should serve as a general outline of your responsibilities and tasks.

You should expect to take on additional tasks not listed on your training plan, as flexibility is highly valued in the American workforce. If you feel that your employer is not following the training plan, ask to speak with your supervisor and find out how you both can best benefit from a renewed plan of action.

The Training/Internship Placement Plan should be seen as a contract between you and your employer; therefore, under most circumstances, you are not allowed to change host companies as a J-1 Visa holder. In extreme cases, you may petition Cultural Vistas for a host company change. Speak with your Cultural Vistas representative for more information.

Discrimination and Harassment

In the U.S., workplace discrimination and harassment based on race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age, or disability are illegal and should not be tolerated. You should not make jokes related to these attributes. These norms reflect many Americans’ desire to be sensitive to individuals coming from very different backgrounds.

Similarly, if your colleagues make comments or engage in behavior that makes you feel uncomfortable, you should inform your supervisor or human resources representative. If your host company does not promptly take action to resolve the problem, please notify your Cultural Vistas representative. Learn more about U.S. laws concerning discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

Workplace Safety

All employees and interns are entitled to a safe work environment. If you notice conditions that could lead to serious injury or death, contact your supervisor or human resources representative immediately. If your host company asks you to complete tasks you deem unsafe, notify your Cultural Vistas representative.

Drug Testing

Your host company has the right to test you for any illegal drug use. Every organization operates differently, but you should be prepared to submit to a drug test before your internship begins and at random times throughout your program. A positive result will most likely lead to your dismissal from the company and termination of your visa status.

Upon Completion of Your Training/Internship Program

Remaining in the United States

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) allows individuals to legally remain in the United States for 30 days after the training program end date as indicated on their DS-2019 form (Certificate of Eligibility).

Participants may use the additional 30 days to travel within the United States and to prepare to exit the country. Participants are not permitted to continue to train, nor can they continue to receive wages from their U.S. host employer.

If a participant plans to remain in the United States for the additional 30 days, they should contact Cultural Vistas to secure an additional month of health insurance. The health insurance that is included with the program fee does NOT cover the participant for the additional 30 days.

It is very important to comply with these regulations. If a participant’s training program ends before the end date indicated on the DS-2019, he/she should contact Cultural Vistas. Anyone who remains in the United States beyond their legal status, even for one day, is subject to stiff penalties if the individual ever wants to return to the United States.

Changing Status

The J-1 Visa is a non-immigrant visa which means that participants are supposed to leave the United States at the end of the program. As part of Cultural Vistas’ sponsorship, the participant and host employer sign the obligations and responsibilities form confirming that the participant intends to enter the United States for practical training and does not intend to abandon his or her non-immigrant status.

Repeating a Training Program

Exchange visitors who have completed a J-1 training program may be eligible to participate in a second program under certain conditions. For both trainees and interns, additional training and internship programs must address the development of more advanced skills or a different field of expertise.

Interns may participate in additional internship programs as long as they maintain student status or begin a new internship program within 12 months of graduation.

Trainees are eligible for additional training programs after a period of at least two years residency outside the United States following their initial training program.

Participants who have successfully completed an internship program and no longer meet the eligibility requirements for an internship program must reside outside of the United States for at least two years before they can apply for a training program.

Extending a Program

The maximum length of time allowed for the trainee category of the J-1 Visa is 18 months. The maximum length of time allowed for the intern category of the J-1 Visa is 12 months. All hospitality, tourism, and agricultural programs are limited to 12 months.

If a program is less than the maximum length of time permitted and both the exchange visitor and host company feel that more time would be beneficial, it may be possible to extend to the maximum length of time.

Cultural Vistas charges a fee to extend a program and requires submission of a training plan for the extension period of the program. The extension approval period may take 2-3 weeks, therefore, please plan accordingly to apply for an extension in advance of the original program end date.

Evaluations

Evaluations are required by the U.S. Department of State at the end of an internship. Those with a program lasting longer than six months must also submit a Midterm Evaluation. Evaluations must be completed by the individual participant and their direct supervisor at their host company or school.

Cultural Vistas will email participants and supervisors directly at the time that an evaluation is due. We ask that you please complete these required surveys in a timely manner upon request. If you have questions about these surveys, please contact your Cultural Vistas representative.

24-Hour Emergency Line 516.210.8591

Outside of our business hours, please call our emergency line, which is monitored 24 hours, 7 days a week, with any matters that jeopardize one’s individual’s physical or mental health, safety, wellbeing, or program participation or require the intervention of program staff.

Contacting Cultural Vistas Staff

Our main office line (212.497.3500) is staffed Monday to Friday between 9 am to 5 pm EST.