J-1 EXCHANGE VISA BASICS
The J-1 visa is used for a variety of purposes, ranging from au pairs to exchange students to professors. One J-1 subcategory allows eligible international professionals or interns to receive training at U.S. companies for a select length of time. International trainees and interns have the opportunity to gain valuable career training while at the same time learning about life in the United States.
BENEFITS OF A J-1 VISA
- J-1 trainees and interns return home with new career skills and a greater appreciation for American people and culture.
- The U.S. employer gains greater knowledge and appreciation for the J-1’s foreign national’s business practices, country and culture.
- Unlike the H-1B visa, there is no cap on the number of J-1 visas that can be issued each year.
- The J-1’s validity is typically a maximum of two years, with renewals possible.
- Spouses of J-1s can obtain independent work authorization. That may create opportunities for entrepreneurial endeavors.
DRAWBACKS FOR THE J-1 VISITOR
In addition to the relatively short initial period of stay, a J-1 visa poses several other challenges for an entrepreneur. It is generally for a training position, not to run a company. Also, some J visas require a nonimmigrant to leave the United States for two years before pursuing an H-1B visa or permanent residence. Sometimes a waiver of the two-year rule is possible.
HOW TO MAKE A J-1 WORK FOR AN ENTREPRENEUR
For the enterprising foreign national, a J-1 visa may be useful as a way to gain experience and incubate ideas at an established U.S. company in the entrepreneur’s field of interest as part of a program of practical learning.
The utility of a J-1 visa for an entrepreneur depends heavily on the nature of the sponsoring organization, the host employer, and the programs the employer is authorized to offer.
Given that a startup company may be unlikely to have its own exchange visitor designation, it is not uncommon to apply via an umbrella sponsoring organization. For example, the French-American Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with several Pennsylvania organizations, including East Stroudsburg University, recently began sponsoring international entrepreneurs to participate in ESU’s Business Accelerator Program and establish startup companies.