By Magdalena Jachymiak, Career Advancement Program Intern

With so many non-immigrant visa categories, it can get pretty confusing to understand the differences. The J-1 Intern/Trainee and the H-1B are temporary, non-immigrant visas that allow foreigners to gain career experience in the United States. However, there are some key differences in the structure and purpose of each visa program. This article will go over the major differences between the J-1 visa for Interns and Trainees and the H-1B visa.

The J-1 is considered an Exchange visa, while the H1B is considered an Employment visa. The purpose of the J-1 visa is to foster cultural exchange and provide career experience (for interns and trainees), while the H-1B is focused more on the work aspect. The J-1 program is regulated by the U.S. Department of State and J-1 participants are expected to engage in cultural activities during their programs and host organizations are required to provide opportunities for the participants to experience American culture. The H-1B visa is regulated by the Department of Labor and is considered a work visa, intended specifically for workers in a “specialty field”.

The J-1 visas, for Interns and Trainees specifically, are commonly sought after by young professionals or recent graduates. J-1 Interns and Trainees train in a wide range of fields such as business, hospitality, computer science, and fashion design. Internships last up to 12 months and Traineeships last up to 18 months. In comparison, the H-1B visa typically requires a more technical career, such as in the STEM fields, and lasts between 3 to 6 years.

J-1 Interns and Trainees need to secure an agreement with a host organization and a visa sponsor. The role of J-1 visa sponsors, such as CCI Greenheart, is to ensure that Department of State regulations are being followed. For example, the Department of State requires that training plans are being followed by supervisors and that participants are engaging in cultural activities. H1-B visa holders on the other hand, do not need a visa sponsor, and only need an agreement with an employer. Also, J-1 Interns and Trainees receive training and exposure to several areas in their field during rotations, while the H1-B employees have more of a traditional work experience.

While some individuals may be eligible for both the J-1 and the H-1B visa categories, the nature and duration of program is different for each category. Understanding the specifics of these two types of visas can help you better choose which visa is a better fit for your needs. The following chart compares the J-1 visa for Interns and Trainees and the H-1B visa (you can also download it in PDF form):

Visa Chart

J-1 Intern/Trainee H-1B
Federal Department Department of State Department of Labor
Purpose
  • Educational and cultural exchange
  • Non-immigrant Intent: the J-1 exchange visitor is encouraged to leave the US upon completion of his/her program
  • Work in specialty occupation
  • Dual intent: temporary employment visitors and those who intend to apply for permanent residency
Requirements and who is the program for? Interns: Currently enrolled at a foreign post-secondary academic institution or have graduated no more than 12 months prior to program start date;

Trainees: Has a degree and one year or related work experience or 5 years of related work experience in field in which they are seeking training

(Other J-1 Categories: Summer Work Travel Program, College and University Students, Professors and Research Scholars, Secondary School Students, Short-term Scholars, Specialists, Camp Counselors, Physicians, Teachers, Au Pairs)

Individuals in a specialty occupation; services related to a Department of Defense cooperative research and development project; or services as a fashion model of distinguished merit or ability

  • What is a specialty occupation? It requires theoretical and practical application of highly specialized information
  • Some common fields: architecture, engineering, mathematics, science, and medicine
  • Bachelor’s degree required (many H1-B visa holder have higher degrees, i.e. Master’s, PhD.)
Duration of Stay
  • Intern: Maximum of 12 months
  • Trainee: Maximum of 18 months (hospitality training programs limited to 12 months)
3 years, extendable to 6 years
Application Process Applicants must secure both a interning/training placement with a business or company and visa sponsorship from a DoS designated sponsor (e.g. CCI Greenheart)

  • A DS-7002 training plan approved by the visa sponsor and signed by the applicant, host organization, and visa sponsor
  • A DS-2019 form issued by the visa sponsor
  • Prospective intern/trainee applies for visa and schedules visa interview
Applicant must agree to a work agreement with a US employer before applying for visa

  • Prospective employer must file a Labor Condition Application (LCA) to the Department of Labor
  • Employer submits form I-129
  • Prospective worker applies for H-1B Visa and schedules visa interview
Yearly cap 109,000 (all J-1 categories) 65,000 + First 20,000 applicants with a Master’s Degree or higher (total: 85,000)
Family of visa holder Spouse and unmarried children under 21 may seek admission under J-2 nonimmigrant classification. Spouse and unmarried children under 21 make seen admission in H-4 nonimmigrant classification.
After Program The exchange visitor is expected to return home for after the program in order to share the experience with others. Must meet specific eligibility requirements to apply for an additional internship/traineeship. Must spend 1 year outside of the US before applying for another H-1B visa.
Sources http://j1visa.state.gov/ https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/h-1b-specialty-occupations-dod-cooperative-research-and-development-project-workers-and-fashion-models