Summer work-travel programme
Ask The US Embassy
Q: I've heard that as a university student here in Jamaica, I may be eligible to apply for a summer work and travel visa for four months. Could you explain this programme and tell me how I could qualify?
A. This is a very timely question as the embassy's consular section is beginning to schedule appointments for applicants who -- if successful -- would travel in summer 2010. The exchange visitor work and travel programme is one of the most common uses of the J-1 visa. Last summer, the embassy issued almost 4,000 J-1 visas for Jamaican students to travel to the United States for exchange visitor programmes, the majority of whom were summer work and travel participants.
This programme is designed for foreign students who are enrolled in post-secondary institutions and allows them to work and travel in the United States during their summer vacations. Most participants typically work in non-skilled service positions at resorts, hotels, restaurants, and amusement parks.
Also allowed are summer internships in US businesses and other organisations, such as those dealing with architecture, scientific research, graphic arts/publishing and other media communication, advertising, computer software and electronics, and legal offices, among many others. However, the term of the internship may not exceed the four-month programme duration, and must be completed during the student's summer vacation only. Students may not apply for an extension of a J-1 visa.
Qualifying for the J-1 visa
There are several requirements that students must meet in order to qualify for the J-1 visa summer work and travel programme.
First, the student must be enrolled in a bona fide post-secondary school and must be pursuing a degree or full-time course of study at an accredited academic institution. It is important to note that vocational training does not qualify the student for a J-1 summer work and travel programme visa unless the student can demonstrate that it is a full-time course of study that results in an academic degree from an accredited institution.
Second, students should be aware of the details of their work and travel programme. If students co-ordinate their programme through an agent, the agent should provide the name and location of the employer (also referred to as the sponsor) as well as information about the contractual obligations in terms of work duties, responsibilities, and hours of work. Students should also have an understanding of where they will reside in the United States during the programme. The agent often assists in co-ordinating travel to and from the United States and may provide help with housing arrangements.
Third, if students co-ordinate their placement in the programme for themselves, without going through an agent, their employer/sponsor should verify with the student that money is available to cover the cost of the trip to the United States as well as housing expenses. In these situations, employers/sponsors should also provide the student with pre-departure information about how to confirm their employment and secure lodging. If employment is not confirmed before departure, or is no longer available when the student arrives in the United States, employers/sponsors are expected to make efforts to find employment for participants within one week after their arrival.
Fourth, in all cases, employers/sponsors are required to provide students with an orientation, the name and address of the contact person in the United States, and information about medical insurance coverage. Employers/sponsors are not required to pay for a student's medical insurance, but they must assure that they are covered.
Although students are not required to have exact employment details at their visa interview, this information is helpful in presenting their case and demonstrating their qualifications. Students without confirmed employment must show that they have sufficient finances to cover their living expenses while they search for a position. In certain situations, students may know their employer but not their actual job title. These students should make an effort to get as much information as possible prior to their interview so that they can demonstrate to the interviewing officer that they are knowledgeable of or pursuing more information about their upcoming work and travel.
There are some restrictions against use of the summer work and travel programme. Specifically, summer work and travel applicants cannot be employed as domestic employees in US households. Also, students cannot apply for a summer work and travel visa if they are required to invest their own money in the business or provide their own inventory for door-to-door sales.
Students, agents and sponsors should monitor programme dates. The programme should be for no less than three weeks and no more than four months during the student's summer vacation. Students should also ensure that they return to their countries in time to attend the first programme of classes after the summer vacation, without exception. If students reapply for the programme the following year, consular officers will review the student's return date to verify that they returned to their home country in time for classes.
Students should be prepared to present the appropriate documents at their visa interview, including their passport, one photograph, and supporting evidence of their paperless application using form DS 160. The most important document that the student applicant should present is form DS-2019, which provides information on the summer work and travel programme. This document should remain with the student's passport at all times. Students may also choose to present a student ID card or transcript, although they are not required for the interview.
Students' rights in the United States
After receiving their visa, any summer work and travel participant should be aware of his or her rights while in the United States. Strong emphasis is placed by US authorities on ensuring that summer work and travel participants, as well as all other J-1 visa holders, are treated fairly and according to US laws. J-1 visa holders have the right to:
* Be treated and paid fairly;
* Not be held at a job against their will;
* Keep their passport and other identification documents in their possession;
* Report abuse without retaliation;
* Request help from unions or immigrant and labour rights groups; and
* Seek justice in US courts.
These rights apply to all foreign workers in the United States, including J-1 visa holders, H visa holders, and foreign domestic employees. If summer work and travel participants or other J-1 visa holders feel that their rights are violated, they should contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Centre in the United States at 1-888-373-7888.
J-1 Summer Work and Travel Visa valid for only one summer
When students qualify for the J-1 visa and their visa is printed, the dates on the visa will correspond with the dates on form DS-2019 (meaning that it is valid for no longer than four months, and should match the employment dates directly). A J-1 summer work and travel visa is only valid for the year and period in which the student will be in the United States. Rarely, a student may find that the validity of their visa was incorrectly printed; in this case, the student is encouraged to contact the embassy at ConsularKingst@state.gov.
The American Embassy staff in Kingston will answer any questions you may have regarding US consular law, regulations and/or practice. Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send them to the embassy.