US immigration law has provisions for several categories of “Exchange Visitors.” These categories include Au Pairs, camp counselors, summer work/travel, physicians, professors and researchers, short-term scholars, teachers, students, and trainees. The US Department of State and the US Department of Homeland Security/USCIS together administer the J-1 visa program. The J-1 visa programs allow foreign nationals to come to the US to enhance their skills in an occupation through participation in a structured training program.
In this article we will focus on the trainee program and discuss what a J-1 ‘Umbrella Sponsor’ is. We will also talk about the use of an umbrella sponsor to obtain a J-1 visa.
In order to obtain a J-1 visa, you need to have an employer and the employer must be pre-authorized by the State Department to sponsor a J-1. But not all the employers are pre-authorized to have their own J-1 program. Thus, the J-1 umbrella sponsor comes to rescue in such situation.
J-1 Umbrella Sponsor
What is a J-1 Umbrella Sponsor?
US employers with training programs who wish to train foreign nationals can attempt to establish their own J-1 program allowing them to issue Form DS-2019 form (required to obtain a J-1 visa at a consulate) to foreign nationals or alternatively, a J-1 “umbrella program” may be used. An umbrella sponsor is an organization that has completed the US State Department authorization review process and has received permission to sponsor J-1 trainees who will be working for third-party employers. Without umbrella sponsors each potential US employer would have to go through the complicated and time consuming process of applying for and being designated by the State Department as a sponsor.
Some of the better known examples of J-1 umbrella sponsors include the American Immigration Law Foundation, InterExchange, Inc., and the British American Chamber of Commerce. Many umbrella sponsors have imposed restrictions based on occupation, age, education, nationality, and other criteria.
A J-1 umbrella sponsor is an organization that has State Department permission to sponsor J-1 trainees working for third-party employers
What fields are allowed for training under the J-1 trainee program?
The Department of State allows J-1 training in any of the following occupational categories:
- arts and culture;
- information media and communications;
- education, social sciences, library science, counseling, and social services;
- management, business, commerce and finance;
- health related occupations;
- the sciences, engineering, architecture, mathematics, and industrial occupations;
- construction and building trades;
- agriculture, forestry, and fishing;
- public administration and law; and
- other occupational categories requested by a sponsor and approved by the State Department.
The training program can be in a specialty or professional field or in a non-specialty occupational field, however J-1 training is not permitted in unskilled occupations.
Does a J-1 employer have to have a Training Plan?
All employers seeking J-1 trainees must have a detailed training plan in place that is designed to meet the defined objectives of the trainee. Skills, knowledge, and competence must be imparted to a J-1 trainee through a structured program of activities which are supportive and appropriate to the training experience. The program can include classroom training, seminars, rotation through several departments, on-the-job training, and attendance at conferences, as appropriate.
All training plans must be completed on the new Department of State Form DS-7002, and must include, at a minimum, the following:
- A statement of the objectives of the training;
- The skills to be imparted to the trainee;
- A training syllabus or chronology;
- A justification for the utilization of any on the job training to achieve stated course competencies; and
- A description of how the trainee will be supervised and evaluated.
In order to ensure the quality of the training program, the training plan needs to provide for ongoing evaluation of each segment of the training. The Department of State requires that the evaluations, at minimum, should be conducted at the midpoint and conclusion of the program, and evaluations must be signed by the trainee and his or her immediate supervisor. Additionally, the DS-7002 must now be signed by all interested parties; the trainee, his or her supervisor, and the program sponsor.
Can J-1 visa be used for ordinary employment?
No, J-1 visa cannot be used for ordinary employment.
The J-1 trainee must be coming to the US for bona fide training, meaning:
- Use of the J-1 training visa for ordinary employment purposes is strictly prohibited;
- Gaining experience” is not a valid objective for J-1 training unless the experience is a component of a legitimate training program;
- A trainee may not be placed in a position which otherwise would be filled by full-time or part-time employee;
- The training program must not be designed to recruit and train foreign nationals for employment in the US;
- The trainee must not work in an unskilled occupation.
Eligibility Requirements for J-1 Trainee:
Before a foreign national will be issued a J-1 visa there has to be a match between the training program and the trainee’s background, experience and needs. The program must be at a level appropriate for the trainee’s career development and cannot duplicate any of the trainee’s prior training and experience. Program sponsors must verify that the trainee has sufficient English to undertake the particular J-1 training program.
A J-1 trainee must have sufficient funds to cover the cost of his or her stay in the US or have made other arrangements to provide for the expenses. The funds do not have to come from the employer. The sponsor should provide the trainee with an estimate of living expenses they will incur during the trainee’s stay.
The J-1 visa program requires that all J-1 trainees, and any accompanying family members, have insurance that will cover sickness or accident during their time in J-1 status. Minimum coverage shall provide medical benefits of at least $50,000 per accident or illness, repatriation of remains in case of death in the amount of $7,500, expenses associated with medical evacuation to the trainee’s home country in the amount of $10,000, and a deductible not to exceed $500 per accident or illness.
Often, the most difficult requirement for J-1 visa applicants to meet is the requirement of “nonimmigrant intent.” The applicant must prove to the satisfaction of the consular officer that they have not abandoned their residence abroad, that they have no intention of abandoning their residence abroad, and that they intend to return to their home country at the end of their authorized stay in the US.
J-1 visa applicants also must prove that they do not fall within one of the classes of persons “inadmissible” to the US, which include persons who have committed certain crimes, persons who have made certain misrepresentations in connection with US immigration applications, persons with certain communicable diseases of public health importance, persons who have violated their US immigration status in certain ways, etc.
Eligibility Requirements for the Host Company:
The most important requirement for the host company is that it must ensure that the J-1 trainee engages in bona fide training, as described above. They must have individuals on staff, or retain outside entities, that possess and maintain demonstrable competence to provide the training outlined in the training plan. Typically, the program sponsor will require the host company to provide copies of the trainers’ resumes. The host company must also have sufficient physical facilities and equipment to provide the training. The host company must provide continuous supervision of the trainee, and as noted above, periodic evaluation of the trainee.
Before issuing a DS-2019 to the trainee the umbrella sponsor will require the host company to sign a written agreement coving the above obligations.
The host company may (but need not) pay the J-1 trainee for employment as part of the training program. If the host company does pay a wage, there is an exemption from social security / Medicare taxes during a J-1 exchange visitor’s first two calendar years in the US.
Selecting A J-1 Umbrella Sponsor
How to select and what things to consider while selecting a J-1 umbrella sponsor?
One should consider the following things, when selecting a J-1 umbrella sponsor:
- Is the sponsor authorized by the State Department to sponsor training in your occupational field and at the right specialty (professional) or non-specialty level?
- Is the sponsor authorized b the State Department to sponsor J-1 trainees for the length of time you seek to be in the U.S.?
- Does the sponsor have a successful track record and a solid reputation with the State Department and consulates?
- What is the sponsor’s fee?
The J-1 trainee category has undergone sweeping changes in recent years in an attempt to stop perceived abuses of the system. There had been occasions where some sponsors misused training programs bringing in foreign nationals for ordinary employment or as stepping stones to other types of longer-term visas. Such misuse had made the J-1 training visa the subject of much controversy and criticism. However, with the changes that have been made it will be much more difficult to misuse the program.
Even though the J-1 trainee program is more restrictive in who can use it than it was in past years, it is still a great option for foreign national that qualify to come to the US for additional training in their chosen field. Finding and using an umbrella sponsor allows many employers to take advantage of the program that would not otherwise be able to.
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