J-1 Intern / Trainee for Cultural Exchange and Career Growth

The category of J-1 intern or trainee is sometimes overlooked as a useful option for individuals and employers. Many foreign nationals aspire to gain professional experience in the United States to enhance their long-term career opportunities in their home countries. These individuals may believe their only options are to either come to the U.S. to study in F-1 or work in H1B status, but some may be better served by participating in a J-1 exchange program as an intern or trainee.

Designed to Expose Foreign Nationals to U.S. Culture and Business Practices

The J-1 exchange visitor program is administered by the U.S. Department of State (DOS). The program has the overall goal of fostering international exchange and development, by providing opportunities for foreign nationals to engage in designated permissible types of activities in the United States. There are J-1 categories for exchange visitors who wish to enter the U.S. to work, teach, study, or participate in other programs.

J-1 Trainee / Intern Programs Limited to Certain Fields

If a U.S. company has a bona fide program aimed at providing professional and cultural training, it may be able to host foreign national trainees or interns in one of seven specified fields. These fields include information media and technology; management, business, commerce and finance; science, engineering, architecture, mathematics, and industrial occupations; public administration and law; arts and culture; tourism; and social sciences, library science, non-clinical counseling, and social services.

Sponsors Must Be Authorized

The DOS WebSite provides a comprehensive database of authorized sponsors searchable by a specific J-1 category. A host company that has been designated by the DOS to administer a J-1 program is responsible for generating the forms necessary for one to apply for a J-1 visa abroad or a change of status from within the United States. In many cases, the sponsor will also serve as that individual’s employer or host, but in some cases, the sponsor is a different “umbrella” entity that oversees the program and has an arrangement with the DOS in setting up the international exchange program.

J-1 Trainee Requirements

The maximum length of stay for most J-1 trainee programs is 18 months. The prospective trainee must have a degree or certificate from abroad and at least one year of experience related to the proposed training. Once the training program is completed, the trainee has to reside outside of the United States for at least two years prior to participation in another J-1 program. (This requirement should not be confused with the two-year home residency requirement that applies to J-1 participants under certain conditions. The home residency requirement is discussed in greater detail on MurthyDotCom in Overview of the J-1 Visa Process.)

J-1 Intern Requirements

The maximum length of stay for a J-1 intern is 12 months. The prospective intern must currently be enrolled in a degree or certificate program at a foreign post-graduate academic institution, or have graduated from such an institution no more than 12 months prior to the start of the J-1 program. An intern can complete one program and then immediately move to intern at another, as long as the individual continues to meet these requirements. On the other hand, a J-1 intern cannot move then to a J-1 trainee program until the individual first leaves the United States for at least two years.


The J-1 trainee or intern is another possibility to consider for foreign nationals interested in progressing within a particular field, while also gaining exposure to professional life and culture in the United States. Individuals with questions about enrolling in one of these J-1 programs, and organizations seeking to create their own J-1 trainee or intern programs, are encouraged to schedule a consultation with a Murthy Law Firm attorney.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.