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January 7, 2012 9:01 AM   Subscribe

J-1 visa advice! Help me get from the UK to the US for an internship without spending ALL my funding before I reach American soil…

I'm a UK citizen, and upon graduating from my MA I was offered a prestigious 3 month internship at a research institute in the US. The internship is funded by a non-profit association ($5000 for accommodation and living expenses), and my flights are also covered by them separately. My funding will be released to me once all the details are arranged.

I believe I need a J-1 visa. However, the research institute is not able to be my 'sponsor' (I assume organisations have to be vetted by the government in order to be a sponsor). So, I need to find an approved independent sponsor, and I have been told they can charge up to $1000 - eek!

Furthermore, to apply for a visa I must make an appointment to see the US Embassy, and at the point of booking I must pay the application fee of $140. If I don't get all my stuff in order beforehand I will be required to pay the fee AGAIN to re-apply.

So, my questions:

1) I have been recommended this company as a sponsor. Anyone have experience of using them? Are there better sponsorship companies who are able to sponsor 'work exchange programs'?

2) What do I need to have in order BEFORE contacting the sponsor. Do my internship dates need to be confirmed? Should I have my accommodation sorted? My flights booked?

3) Do I need to have my sponsorship certificate in my hand BEFORE scheduling the application interview at the US Embassy?

4) I am also a full-time PhD student at the moment, taking an approved break to complete this internship, in an almost-but-not-quite associated field. Does my student status afford me any other options?

Thanks for making it this far!
posted by dumdidumdum to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total)
I would research a F-1 visa, which is for students. It seems to me like there's a possibility you would qualify as a full-time student, if you were getting school credit for the internship. You should talk to an immigration attorney if possible (some offer free consultations), or you could talk to the study abroad office at your university.

Please note that IANAL and I don't actually know if you would qualify for a F-1 visa; I just think it might be worth some quick investigation.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:09 AM on January 7, 2012

3) Do I need to have my sponsorship certificate in my hand BEFORE scheduling the application interview at the US Embassy?

I scheduled via a website which seems to cover Africa and the Americas but not the UK, but anyway, it was possible at this website to schedule and then reschedule the interview without penalty if done before a provided cutoff-date. I would recommend finding if the US has a similar walk-you-through-it website for the UK.

The website took me step-by step, requiring this then that info, (the DS-160 can take some time to fill out in its own right, especially if you need to track down info or dates that it requires), and provided a list of the kinds of documents I would need for the situation.

But I would second a US immigration attorney in addition to figuring it out yourself. The stakes are high enough, and the US immigrations system insane enough, that professional help is a good investment, kind of like an insurance policy on your time and your future. Attorneys are useful for 1. Telling you what your range of options really is, bringing up paths you might not realise you had available, and of course 2. Telling you what you need to do, once a path has been chosen.

Create a document, and over the next few weeks, every time you find yourself wondering something about the process, or confused about something, or unsure what your options would be if some exotic scenario came to pass, then write that question in your document. After a while, you'll have all your worries and confusions in the doc, you can edit it into questions, forward a copy to your attorney and buy a half hour on the phone (or whatever) to have it all explained and your options and concerns explored.

Even if you plan to go it alone, make the document. It surprising how many little detail questions there are, and how easy it is to forget them in the face of larger issues. But with visas, even small things are (potentially) big things.

Read everything - don't wing it. At my interview, people were being turned away because they didn't have this or that which the website instructions said to bring. Others hadn't read the security bulletin, and ran into minor hurdles with that (eg having to awkwardly carry a bunch of papers loose upon discovering they weren't able to bring their backpack. Any info kept only on your smartphone won't be accessible to you, etc).

But if you do read everything and follow instructions, complex though they may be, it usually goes easily and smoothly.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:34 AM on January 7, 2012

Another thought, i you haven't checked already - does your own university keep its own attorney specializing in student visas, particularly US visas? Find out what legal assistance your institutions can provide you.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:38 AM on January 7, 2012

Also talk to the research institution you will be doing the internship with. They should have some experience as they will have a lot of people in your situation.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:58 AM on January 7, 2012

While things may have changed in the past 5 years, I used to sign off on J-1 applications for PhD students at a US university and I'm a tad wary of this third party company sponsoring business.

The J-1 has a downside - once you have been on it, you cannot return to the US for a period of two years. The J-1 link you have given states:

The first step is to determine if the prospective employer is a designated exchange visitor program sponsor. If the prospective employer is a designated exchange visitor program sponsor they will issue you with a Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status, form DS-2019, which you will be required to furnish when applying for a J-1 visa.

I am assuming that this is where your institute has said they are not qualified to issue the DS 2019?

(All graduate level universities are, are they linked to any University research program?)

Was the funding institute that recommended the company you have linked to as sponsor and have they used them before?

(I am asking because the US, particularly at the immigration interview stage is very cautious about visa fraud and shell organizations)

The link then goes on to say:

If you are unable to obtain sponsorship for an exchange visitor visa, your prospective employer will be required to file, on your behalf, a petition to accord you trainee (H-3) status. The petition, Form I-129H, is filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) having jurisdiction over the area of intended employment. The petition will take several months to be processed. Please follow this link for further information.

Do you have time before this research program starts and have you explored this option?

RE your other questions:

3) Do I need to have my sponsorship certificate in my hand BEFORE scheduling the application interview at the US Embassy?

You will need their form the DS 2019 - in teh normal course of events, a university officer can sign off on such a form when presented with documentation to the effect that the applicant has independent sources of funding for the duration of their stay.

The I-20 for the F-1 student visa is what is issued when the student is self funded (including loans, extended family etc) while J-1 is required if its a government institution, scholarship etc usually foreign.

You'll need to take a letter from your university stating that you are a full time current student with ongoing commitments (to demonstrate your ties to your home country and that will you will return), the original funding agreements and sponsorship offers, your existing degree certificates, 3 months of bank statements, a utility bill or landlord's agreement - none of these might be requested but they are the most common methods of demonstrating your ties to your homeland and your intention to return. The J-1 is NOT a path to immigration therefore this will be a critical area.

Details on visa application From a university page on J-1 Scholars

Their whole section on J-1 Scholars

4) I am also a full-time PhD student at the moment, taking an approved break to complete this internship, in an almost-but-not-quite associated field. Does my student status afford me any other options?

This where -harlequin- makes a valuable point - check in with your own University's International Student Office or Exchange Visitor programs, they may have other options such as a short term exchange student or Research visitor.
posted by infini at 10:16 AM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your own university may also have ties to universities near your research institute who may be willing to offer to process you through their system, with the aspect that you're a visiting research scholar placed at teh institute you will be with. This is also something to explore when you visit your administrative offices (or your professors/department)
posted by infini at 11:13 AM on January 7, 2012

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