J-1 Orientation

Dear Cultural Vistas Participant:

Congratulations! Your application to Cultural Vistas for sponsorship under the J-1 visa for Intern or Trainee has been approved! Your documents for sponsorship have been mailed to you. Cultural Vistas will be the legal sponsor for your J-1 visa and responsible for your stay in the United States during your internship or on-the-job training program with a host employer in the United States.

Cultural Vistas has authorization from the U.S. Department of State to sponsor foreign citizens under the J-1 visa program, and to issue the Certificate of Eligibility document (DS-2019 form) that entitles individuals to apply for a J-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate overseas.

Here you will find step-by-step instructions and the items you need to apply for your J-1 visa and start your training program.

STEP 1 - Obtaining Your J-1 Visa and U.S. EntryThis section contains your sponsorship documents and related information on preparing your visa application. This section will provide all the information you need to know to apply for your visa. Canadian citizens do NOT have to apply at the U.S. Consulate for a J-1 visa stamp.

The Step 1 materials were mailed to the address you provided Cultural Vistas. These materials include:

  • DS-2019 SEVIS Certificate of Eligibility
  • DS-7002 Training/Internship Placement Plan
  • Receipt for Payment of SEVIS Fee

Please read through the following STEP 1 page for important information and instructions on how to obtain your J-1 visa from the U.S. Consulate or Embassy. Note there are special instructions for Canadian citizens. Please contact Cultural Vistas if you have questions.

Instructions for Canadian Citizens Only

The process for entering the United States for Canadian citizens is different from any other nationality. Due to the unique relationship between our two countries, Canadian citizens do NOT need to apply at the U.S. Consulate for a J-1 visa stamp. You may proceed directly to the border and cross with your paperwork from Cultural Vistas.

When preparing to cross the Canadian/United States border please have a valid Canadian passport, your receipt of SEVIS payment, your DS-7002 form, and your DS-2019 form. You will receive a stamp in your passport indicating a J-1 visa.  Your admission number and electronic I-94 can be accessed online at www.cbp.gov/I-94. You will likely need to present this document to apply for a social security card, complete paperwork for your employer, and to show that you have a legal status in the United States. Do not lose this form or the DS-2019 form. Keep them in a safe place. Please skip the rest of the STEP 1 instructions and proceed to STEP 2.

 

Locate your local United States Embassy or Consulate

The U.S. Department of State web site provides information about current visa policies. It also provides contact information for your local United States Embassy or Consulate, and details regarding application procedures. If you cannot locate this information on the website, then please call/visit the local United States Consulate for information.

 

Make a visa appointment with a U.S. Consulate in your country

The United States Embassy or Consulate requires an interview appointment. If you have not done so, you should make an appointment at this time. Depending on the country, this can be done in person, or by telephone, mail, or the internet. Refer to the U. S. Department of State Embassy and Consulate directory for accurate information.

 

Prepare your documents

  • Sign your Certificate of Eligibility (DS-2019) form in blue ink in the bottom left section where “Signature of Applicant” is indicated.
  • Visit your U.S. Consulate website to find instructions on how to apply, as well as application forms and information on visa fees.
  • You will need to complete a DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application form to submit for your visa interview.
  • Visa application forms can be found at the U.S. Department of State website.
  • An application for a non-immigrant visa carries a fee that you must pay prior to your interview. Please see your Consulate’s website for specific instructions on how to pay.

 

Go to your interview appointment

When you go for your appointment, you should bring the following documents:

  • Valid Passport: Your passport MUST be valid for at least 6 months beyond the end date of your program.
  • Certificate of Eligibility- DS-2019 SEVIS form: Be sure to sign and date your DS-2019 form in blue ink in the lower left where “signature of applicant” is indicated.
  • Training/Internship Placement Plan – DS-7002 form
  • Receipt for Payment of SEVIS fee
  • Completed DS-160 Non-immigrant Visa Application(s)
  • Proof of payment of all visa fees: Application fees must be paid before your appointment.
  • Any other documents required by the United States Consulate. It is beneficial to bring documentation to the interview that supports your home ties to your county, i.e. property forms, family ties.

Submit your application, passport, and supporting documents to the United States Embassy or Consulate. Your application will be reviewed by the consular official. Additional reviews may be required.

  • The United States Consular Officer will make the final decision on your J-1 visa. The Consular Officer will interview you to determine your interest in the United States, your English language skills, and the purpose of your stay. When completing the visa application, it is important to write that you are training, NOT working. The J-1 visa is a practical training visa, and not a work visa. It is also important to understand that the J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows you a short period of training in the USA. You must return to your home country at the end of your program.
  • Remember to ask for a “multiple entry” visa. A “multiple entry” visa will allow you to enter the U.S. multiple times during your program dates on the J-1 visa. To check your visa for multiple entrances, look under the “entries” section on the J-1 visa. It should be marked with an “M” under the “Entries” section.
  • If approved, your J-1 visa will be issued and stamped in your passport. The consular official will return your SEVIS DS-2019 form, and your passport with your J-1 visa.

If your J-1 visa application is denied, please contact Cultural Vistas immediately.

If you do not receive your J-1 visa from the U.S. Consulate because your visa application is denied, please contact Cultural Vistas immediately. We will determine whether or not we are able to appeal the denial, or whether we will withdraw sponsorship. Please note that Cultural Vistas reserves the right to withdraw program sponsorship and, at such time, issue any refunds due in accordance with our refund policy.

 

Important Notes

The J-1 visa stamped in your passport is like an entry ticket that allows you to enter the U.S. However, it is your Certificate of Eligibility (SEVIS DS-2019) form that allows you to train while in the United States. Both the visa and the DS 2019 form are required for your training program. In addition, please keep your SEVIS fee receipt (I-901 Form) with your documents. These are essential legal documents. Please keep these in a safe place at all times.

 

STEP 2 - Beginning Your Program and Visa ValidationThis section contains information on steps to take before and after your arrival in the U.S. Your insurance information is also included.

Coming to the United States

The following documents and information can be found in this section:

  • Health Insurance Booklet
  • Health Insurance Card and Policy
  • Participant Handbook

Please read through this STEP 2 page and the instructions for recommended steps to follow before your entry into the United States. It is essential that you understand the procedures. Please contact Cultural Vistas if you have questions.

Before you go:

If you have not already completed the cultural orientation please take time to walk through this information that covers important topics like U.S. cultural norms and safety which will help you prepare for a successful program.

 

Make travel plans and inform all parties

Make your flight arrangements as soon as you have received the J-1 visa from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country. Be sure to notify your host employer of your expected arrival date and flight information.

  • Confirm that your passport and non-immigrant visa are still valid for entry into the United States.
  • Check to see that your visa accurately reflects your correct visa classification. This means you MUST have a “J-1” entered in the visa Type/Class on the visa itself.

 

Program dates

Please note that your Certificate of Eligibility (DS-2019) document is valid only for the dates printed in Box 3 of the form. It is required that you inform Cultural Vistas if you cannot enter the United States in time to begin your program by the start date printed on your DS-2019 form. You may need to be issued a new DS-2019.

If you arrive after the start date printed on your DS-2019, this time will be considered lost and you cannot stay longer at the end of your program to make it up.

Exchange visitors entering the United States for the first time under their non-immigrant visa may be admitted up to 30 days prior to the program start date. You may also remain in the US up to 30 days after the end date printed on the 2019. This time is intended for you to travel around the U.S. and gather your belongings. You are not able to leave the U.S. and come back within this 30 day period.

 

Health Insurance and medical coverage

Below you will find more information on your health insurance plan. Please refer to the appropriate section based on your insurance start date as listed on your health insurance card. If you are entering the USA within the 30-day grace period before your program begins, or planning to remain during the 30-day grace period after your program ends, and would like additional coverage for the full 30 days please contact Cultural Vistas to arrange this. Insurance for dependents accompanying the participant must be purchased separately. Participants can purchase dependent full coverage health insurance in their home country or a Family Plan from Cultural Vistas, or participants can purchase only medical evacuation and repatriation insurance from Cultural Vistas for their dependents.

  • Health insurance plan started on or before April 30th, 2016
    Linked below are fact sheets on your IEES health insurance plan, administered by ASRM, LLC that describes medical coverage under the Cultural Vistas program. You will also find the BCS Insurance claim form below.
    Health Insurance Brochure
    Frequently Asked Questions
    BCS Insurance Claim Form
  • Health insurance plan started on or after May 1st, 2016
    You may find information about your Seven Corners health insurance plan, administered by Envisage Global, on the Healthcare Zone.
    If your policy started on or after September 6th, 2017, please access your Healthcare Zone here. On this site, you will find resources on how to seek medical treatment and find a doctor or a hospital in the U.S. as well as helpful healthcare tips. You have been issued a copy of your insurance ID card and policy documents prior to the commencement of your travels. If you would like to print another copy of these documents, you can access them all here at any time.
    Claims:
    For claims submitted prior to February 1st, 2017, please sign up for the secure MyPlan platform (see instructions) to view and track your medical claims and Explanation of benefits during your program.
    For claims submitted on or after February 1st, 2017, please sign up for the secure My Account platform (see instructions). Should you reach out to Seven Corners and do not gain a response, either to an email inquiry or phone call, please contact the insurance provider again after 2 business days. If after the second time contacting the insurance company you do not hear back within 24 hours, please reach out to your main point of contact at Cultural Vistas and provide more information so we are able to escalate any issues with our account managers.

Important Note: Insurance through Cultural Vistas meets the requirements of the J-1 visa but does not meet the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). It is possible that a J-1 visa holder may be subject to comply with this legislation which regulates health insurance. Please refer to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services webpage on PPACA and the IRS webpage (Question 11) for more information. Failure to comply may result in penalty. Note that if you are a J-1 Intern or a J-1 Trainee and you do not meet the substantial presence test, you should not be subject to the PPACA health insurance requirement.

 

Initial expense money

Cultural Vistas recommends that you bring the equivalent of one month’s wages to cover your initial expenses (such as apartment rental deposits, utility deposits, food, transportation, international driver license, etc.) until you receive your first paycheck.

 

Participant handbook

Please download the Cultural VIstas Participant Handbook [PDF]

 

Documents for border crossing

These are the documents you should bring with you and carry on your person when you travel. Do NOT check them in your baggage. Documents to carry on your person:

  • Passport
  • SEVIS DS-2019 form
  • Evidence of Exchange Visitor status (Cultural Vistas folder and Training Plan)
  • Cultural Vistas address and contact information – Cultural Vistas is your program sponsor
  • Address and contact information for where you are staying

Make sure you bring your DS-2019 to the United States and have it accessible to show at the border crossing.

 

Arriving in the United States:

Border crossing

Do not lose or misplace the DS-2019 form.

  • Travel by Aircraft – The United States Customs and Border Protection has recently automated the Form I-94 at air and sea ports of entry, therefore a paper I-94 Form will no longer be provided to you upon arrival.
  • Travel by Land – The Customs and Border Protection Officer will provide the necessary Form I-94 at the port-of-entry (border).

As you approach the inspection station, ensure that you have passport and DS-2019 form available for presentation to the immigration officer.

It is important that you tell the Customs and Border Protection Officer that you will be an exchange visitor.

You will be asked to state the reason you wish to enter the United States: “Why are you coming to the United States?” Your answer should include the following: “I am coming to the United States as an exchange visitor to participate in a J-1 visa program sponsored by Cultural Vistas.”

 

Immigration inspection

Once your inspection is complete, the inspecting officer will:

  • Scan your passport, generating an electronic arrival record.
  • tamp your passport with entry date and “D/S” (Duration of Status).
  • Give you back your passport, and your DS-2019 form.
  • A paper version of your I-94 can be obtained at www.cbp.gov/I94.

You should print the I-94 for your records. You will likely need to present this document to apply for a social security card, complete paperwork for your employer, and to show that you have a legal status in the United States.

 

Cultural Vistas Arrival

You MUST contact Cultural Vistas within 5 days of your arrival and provide Cultural Vistas with your address where you will reside while in the United States.

If you are staying at a hotel for a few days until you find permanent housing, please submit the hotel address. If your U.S. home address, phone, or email changes, or if you move from a hotel to a more permanent address, you are required to send your updated information within 10 calendar days to remain in compliance with J-1 visa regulations.

Please submit your information here: culturalvistas.org/validating-j-1-visa/

Cultural Vistas needs to enter this information into SEVIS so that your arrival is recorded and your visa is activated. Failure to do so will result in problems when your employer checks your authorization to work in the U.S., as well as problems when trying to apply for your Social Security card. (More details about SSN card to follow)

 

STEP 3 – Continuing Your ProgramThis section contains information which will assist you throughout your stay in the U.S. Documents in this section include instructions for applying to Social Security, tax assistance, and evaluations you will need to complete.

Beginning your training

The following documents and information can be found in this section:

Participant/Host Company Midterm Evaluation
Participant/Host Company Final Evaluation
Travel Validation Instructions
Frequently Asked Questions Guide
Please read through this STEP 3 page and follow the instructions. Please contact Cultural Vistas if you have questions.

 

Contact Cultural Vistas

If you have not already done so, you MUST contact Cultural Vistas within 5 days of your arrival and provide Cultural Vistas with your address where you will reside while in the United States.

If you are staying at a hotel for a few days until you find permanent housing, please submit the hotel address. If your U.S. home address, phone, or email changes, or if you move from a hotel to a more permanent address, you are required to send your updated information within 10 calendar days to remain in compliance with J-1 visa regulations. This is required for both J-1 and J-2 participants.

Please submit your information here: culturalvistas.org/validating-j-1-visa/

Cultural Vistas needs to enter this information into SEVIS so that your arrival is recorded and your visa is activated. Failure to do so will result in problems when your employer checks your authorization to work in the US, as well as problems when trying to apply for your Social Security card.

If you or your dependents will depart the US prior to the end date listed on the DS-2019, you must notify Cultural Vistas of your planned departure. Cultural Vistas will then update your SEVIS record.

 

Social Security number

J-1 visa holders should obtain a Social Security Number if they receive income. The Social Security number is used in the United States as a taxpayer identification number. All J-1 participants must file a U.S. tax return in order to abide by appropriate tax laws. Information about the Social Security Administration and how to apply for a Social Security Number can be located on the Social Security website:

  • Do not apply for the Social Security number until you have contacted Cultural Vistas to have your visa validated in the SEVIS government database. You will not be able to obtain your Social Security number if your visa status is not validated by Cultural Vistas before you apply.
  • In order to apply for your SSN you must wait 48 hours after contacting Cultural Vistas for validation in SEVIS, and a minimum of 10 days after you arrive in the United States.  Then you should go in person to the nearest Social Security office in your area.  Please also bring a printed copy of the Social Security support letter with you.

 

Program evaluations

The mid-term and final program evaluations are sent to participants and supervisors via email. These forms are required to be completed in order to maintain your valid visa and program status.

  • Participant/Host Company Midterm Evaluation—  This evaluation is to be completed half-way into your program. You and your supervisor each need to complete an evaluation. We hope this evaluation will help foster a dialogue between you and your supervisor.
  • Participant/Host Company Final Evaluation — This evaluation is to be completed at the end of your program.  You and your supervisor each need to complete an evaluation.

 

Income taxes

If you earned a U.S. salary then you likely paid taxes on a federal, state and/or local level.  These taxes are typically deducted automatically from your paycheck.  Each year individuals must file forms with the federal and state governments to ensure the proper taxes were paid on the income received in the previous calendar year.  If you overpaid in taxes you may be due a refund.  Additionally, if you did not pay enough tax you may be required to pay additional money.  If your internship spans more than one calendar year you will complete this process more than once.  The forms are due April 15 each year.

Cultural Vistas cannot offer specific tax advice.  However, we do know this can be a confusing and complicated topic and we offer participants free access to software that will help you file the necessary forms for the federal return.  You will receive information about this software via email as tax time nears each year.  Please make sure to keep your email address up to date with Cultural Vistas.

If you choose to look for a professional service to assist you with this, please make sure the organization has experience helping foreign nationals file US tax returns in order to make sure it is done properly.

 

Travel outside the United States

You must have an officer of Cultural Vistas authorize your travel outside of the United States. A Cultural Vistas officer must sign your original DS-2019 form to authorize or validate any foreign travel during your program dates. You will need to submit this form and your DS-2019 to Cultural Vistas at least 2 weeks prior to any travel outside the United States.

Should you decide to travel abroad at some point during your internship be sure to email Cultural Vistas train@culturalvistas.org with dates of travel, destination and emergency contact.

You do not need travel validation for travel to Canada, Mexico or the Adjacent Islands.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Please be sure to download and read this information guide [PDF] for important information about your J-1 visa program.

Cultural Vistas, as the legal sponsor of your J-1 visa, is here to provide support or advice to you throughout your practical teaching assignment in the United States. Please do not hesitate to contact Cultural Vistas staff, particularly if you should have questions or concerns about your program. It is our goal to see you successfully complete your program, and also to have the best possible experience of life in the United States.

We welcome you to the United States and hope that your experience here will result in personal and professional growth, as well as a better understanding of American society.

 

You must contact Cultural Vistas when you arrive in the United States, as Cultural Vistas is required to validate your visa status and your program participation with the Department of Homeland Security’s SEVIS system. We must report your U.S home address to validate your program. If your record is not validated within thirty days of the program start date indicated in Box 3 of your DS-2019 form, your visa will be automatically canceled.

Please keep in touch with Cultural Vistas throughout your program, and certainly contact us if you have any questions or concerns. Have a safe flight and WELCOME to the United States of America! Please keep the following contact information with you.

Cultural Vistas – Train USA
440 Park S, 2nd FL, New York, New York  10016
212-497-3500 x130
train@culturalvistas.org

Cultural Vistas also has a 24 hour emergency service. In the event of an emergency, please dial 516.210.8591. This number is available outside business hours (9am -5pm) and on weekends.

Sincerely,

Caroline Gillam, Responsible Officer

Download the U.S. Department of State Welcome Brochure and don’t forget to download your Orientation Checklist