home Features J1 Visa: the who, the what and the how

J1 Visa: the who, the what and the how

So you’re just back and you’re already plotting your escape; here is the low down on a J1.

J1 refers to the ‘J1 Summer work and Travel Visa’ which allows 3rd level full time students to work in the US for a maximum of 4 months, between the 15th of May and 15th September. For many, it’s a rite of passage throughout their time as a student, and one of the most exhilarating experiences of their lives.

Who can go?

Obviously, you have to be at least 18 at time of application (or 18 by 15th of May with parental permission included with the application form). Students who are completing a full time degree program of two years duration minimum may apply, and final year students can apply for the Summer after completing their course, but they must prove their intention to return to Ireland at the end of their stay (usually either to further education or to full time employment). If you have gone on J1 before, you can go again as long as you meet the eligibility criteria.

Reminder: Last year new regulations were brought in that state you MUST have your seasonal job approved before you travel/your visa is issued, so get cracking on that CV and start applying.

Generally how it works, step by step:

  1. Most people book their J1s through USIT or SAYIT. Both have offices in Cork City (both are on the Grand Parade) so you can drop in if you want to have a chat about how it all works or to book your “package.” These cover administration costs and, depending on the package, can cover things like helping you get a job. Once you put down the deposit for your J1 package, you’ll get an online account where you pay for expenses, send messages and book flights.
  2. Submit documents, such as confirmation of registration to prove you’re a student, and a copy of your passport.
  3. Book your flights.
  4. Look for a job. You can get help through your travel agency, but there is no need to wait, you can contact employers and look on your own terms if you prefer!
  5. Once you get a job, it must be vetted and approved by the CIEE, Council on International Educational Exchange. They are the J1 US Sponsor, and on behalf of the US Government they issue all DS-2019 Work Authorisation Documents (the official form that allows you to work in the US when paired with a J1 visa). Depending on your travel agent, they do this for you, or you can do it yourself by contacting the CIEE.
  6. Once your DS-2019 papers are issued, you must attend an interview in the US Embassy in Dublin.
  7. You must also complete the CIEE orientation online. It just briefs you on some rules and regulations, tips for having a good J1 and gives you guidance on some of the requirements once you arrive on US soil.
  8. Fly out to the US.
  9. Within ten days of the start of your J1 program (the date will be on your DS-2019 form), you must register for SEVIS, a computerised system that the Department of Homeland Security uses to manage information about international students in the US.
  10. Once that is completed, you must apply for a social security number (the US version of a PPS). In order to work legally in the US, you must either have a SSN or show proof that you have applied for it (they can take 3-5 weeks to arrive; not much use when you’re there for 16 weeks max)

Okay, all your paperwork is done, time to work hard, and probably party harder.

You may have noticed accommodation was not included in the step by step guide above, and that’s because it can be a tricky one. Some people like to book it when they settle on a location and book their flights. Some like to book a hostel for the first few weeks of their stay, and book a place when they can see it in person. It’s personal preference, really.

Tips, tricks and reminders:

  1. Book everything EARLY. The earlier you book, the more time you have to plan if anything goes wrong.
  2. Booking early can also save money on things like flights. Between the travel agent, insurance, embassy fees and more, you’re looking at €1000-1500, and that’s before you book flights and accommodation.
  3. If you decide to stay at a hostel when you get there, and book accommodation on arrival, be sure to book a hostel for longer than you think you will need it; better to lose some money in cancellation fees than be homeless in another country.
  4. Even with a job waiting for you, you need to have a minimum of $800 available to you when you leave. You have to have proof of this as well as a completed CIEE Job Offer form with you on arrival in case immigration asks to see it.
  5. Some places/jobs are forbidden on a J1 visa. Do your homework before you go so you don’t end up getting caught later.
  6. Once your J1 program has finished (end date will be on the DS-2019) you can stay for a maximum of 30 days but only as a tourist. You are not allowed to work during this period, but it’s a great opportunity to see the sights. Rent a car and go on a road trip across the country. Get lost on Route 66 and end up the inspiration for a movie about the Route 66 Slasher, I believe in you! (Editor’s note: please don’t actually die)
  7. Many people go on J1 with their friends, which can be a great experience: out with the lads in sunny California sounds like a blast, right? The problem is many people get too comfortable, and don’t try to socialise with people outside the group, or immerse themselves in the local culture. If you wanted a girly weekend away, Killarney is only down the road like! You’re in MURICA, land of the free, home of the Trump – get out there and talk to new people, make new friends and contacts, try to become besties with someone who has a REALLY nice apartment. That way you can go “visit” for your next J1!

A J1 is a wonderful opportunity, and anyone I’ve known who went always had a whale of a time. If you can scrounge the means, it’s definitely worth it, and now is the time to go before the Trump administration wreaks havoc on foreign visas…

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Mary Collins

Mary Collins is a student of Applied Psychology in UCC and is Features Editor for the UCC Express for 2016/17