Updated on June 15, 2020·
J1 Visa Application: Problems, Struggles, Solutions and Preparations
Planning on going to the USA as a student? You’ll need to have a J1 visa. This post will only cover my personal experience with a J1 visa application, because this is what you need as a student (in my case). I went with CICD GO as a visa sponsor and here is my adventure! Make sure you prepare for everything!
A quick note before we continue. I wrote this article because of the struggles I experienced when applying for a J1 visa. This article will not go in-depth about legal issues for a J1 application. Hopefully, this prevents you from making the same mistakes as I did 🙂
The J1 Visa program
It’s a non-immigrant visa for students, professors, or exchange visitors who want to study or do their internship in the USA. It allows you to live in the United States for 3 – 6 months. Apparently there are many types of visas and their visa program. In my case – a student internship exchange – I required a j1 visa.
Let the fun begin!
J1 Visa Sponsor
For a J1 visa sponsorship, you actually need multiple things at once. If you’re dreaming of going on an internship in the USA, start reaching out to companies and apply for your internship. Please do this in advance!
Roughly said, I think in total, my complete J1 visa application took about 2 years. It’s not only the visa application, but it’s also reaching out to companies you want to apply for your internship.
The first steps are finding a company that is willing to have you as an international intern and finding a correct visa sponsor for your needs. There are a lot of visa sponsor companies out there and I went with CICD GO. (Center for International Career Development). Why did I go with CICD? I had a lot of questions about those ‘visa sponsors’ and CICD provided me with the most information on my first approach.
My choices for picking a J1 visa sponsor were based on the time for the application process to be completed, the price of the sponsorship, and the possibility of using my own health insurance.
Are you thinking of going without a J1 visa sponsor?
Please don’t. I tried it, did a lot of research on it and it’s just not possible. Let me save you a lot of time there!
The J1 Visa Application Process
To start your visa application, both you and your host company need to fill in some basic information forms about yourself. You’ll receive the documents that you need to fill in from your visa sponsor. Here’s a list of the documents that you can expect:
- Proof of enrollment in your university
- An agreement form of your visa sponsor
- Proof of your health insurance and what they cover
- A copy of previous receive visas (if applicable)
- A scan of your passport profile page
- Your university transcript (exam results)
- Your resume
These are all the documents that you need to send to your sponsor before they’ll send you a payment invoice. After they’ve received your payment, they start reviewing your application.
Sending in all these documents and paying for your visa application does not mean that they already want to be your sponsor!
Everyone recommends not to book any flights or housing if you don’t have your actual visa. Of course, I ignored this completely and booked everything right away. A big mistake on my side. My internship started on February 1 and I started my visa application late November. I thought that two months would be more than enough, but jokes on me…
Every visa sponsor requires that you have legitimate health insurance. Most of the visa sponsors I found will provide you with health insurance of their own. But this is an extra cost on your visa application starting at $ 460 and going up to + $ 1 100. This is a useless cost if you already have health insurance of your own (in my case). So I went with CICD as a sponsor, because here you could use your own insurance plan, without any extra costs.
I asked a signed copy of my insurance plan and filled in a lot of extra questions on the Sponsorship agreement form. After submitted the form and heard nothing from it again. Until… here we go… a week before my departure! This time I was required to fill in another form especially about my health insurance. Luckily for me, I could reach my health insurance company quickly by phone and the lady on the other side was kind enough to provide me the filled-in document the same day! This was quite a shocker because it was so last-minute while I thought I was ready to go!
Visa Sponsor Site Visit
Another time-consuming event was the site visit at my host company. Your visa sponsor needs to visit the company where you’re planning on doing your internship, to make sure it’s legit.
The visit itself was only 5 minutes long, but the CICD agent can’t walk into an office just like that of course. The visit needs to be organized and you’ll easily lose a week with it. If you prepare on time, this is nothing to worry about, but in my case…
When your host company is already in the system of your visa sponsor, the site visit is not required and you can skip this step.
If you receive a scholarship from your school, make sure you have documents for it! My school announced my scholarship through email and told me they would transfer the amount directly to my personal bank account when I started my internship. I didn’t have any documents for my scholarship except this email.
And there we were… A week before my departure, my visa sponsor told me they needed documents about this scholarship… I panicked because they informed me so late again and during the exam period (this was in January) there was a chance that the school was closed. So I emailed my international coordinator at my school, but it was 2 am at night. I spammed their phone and even forwarded the email I received from my school where they told me about my scholarship to my visa sponsor. The email was completely in Dutch by the way so they didn’t understand a single word of it. But it worked! They dropped the requirement of paperwork for the scholarship because ‘my funding was not applied for and received as a general grant from my school’.
Lucky me… Panic moment #300
The hour difference
I’m just piling up all my issues for you 🙂 Another problem was the time difference between me, my internship company, and the company of my visa sponsor. We were all located in three different time zones. Brussels, New York, and Seattle. When I went to bed, my visa sponsor started the workday (so to speak). This was pretty annoying because every time my visa sponsor had a question regarding my j1 visa, I couldn’t fix it immediately and everything is closed at 6 pm. We lost a day every time there was a question. Through phone was the fastest way but the line from Belgium to Seattle was pretty bad. And my visa representative was hard to reach through the phone.
Last but not least… The shipment
They knew my visa application was extremely urgent and that I needed to leave the same week. But sending me the documents through email was not possible. Sooo I’ve never tracked a shipment so closely, ever in my life, before.
My j1 visa documents went from Seattle to Memphis. From Memphis to Paris. From Paris to Brussels and from Brussels to Antwerp. FedEx was in charge of my shipment and I have a friend who works there. He kept my package on hold in Brussels so I could pick it up myself at 7 am and go straight to my embassy meeting at 9 am the same day. (Otherwise, my package went to Antwerp and from there it would be delivered by mail to my house)
But in the morning I received a phone call from them at 7 am, telling me my documents were not blocked in Brussels and were sent to Antwerp anyway. I thought that my whole plan failed but I had nothing to lose. it was all or nothing (so actually… I had everything to lose). My embassy appointment was already booked at 9 am of course and I couldn’t do anything there without these documents. Sprinting to FedEx Antwerp was what I did, getting my files in a rush and arriving at the US embassy an hour late.
Maybe I just live for the stress…
To enter the US Embassy in Belgium, you need to have an appointment. I made my appointment before I had all the documents, because they were still on the road. I made my appointment on Thursday, hoped that they could manage my visa in a day and needed to take my flight on Saturday.
This plan actually worked! Although I was an hour late at the embassy, they luckily didn’t care too much. I successfully passed the interviews and asked the lady if it was possible that she could fix my visa in a day. (it was Thursday and my flight was on Saturday) She told me she was going to try, but couldn’t promise anything. Normally it takes seven days to make a J1 visa she told me.
I couldn’t sleep that night and went to the embassy the next morning at 9 o’clock. This time it was all or nothing, because I didn’t rebook my flight and was still planning on leaving to NY the next day. And I was lucky! My visa was ready to pick up!
No joke, I’m getting emotional rethinking about the adventure while writing this blog post… But we still have one more problem to go!
Making an appointment at the US Embassy isn’t free. An appointment costs you € 160.00 and the best thing of all is: You can’t make the payment with a Belgian credit card. What the actual f*ck. You can pay it by bank transfer, but this takes time and as you could read… I didn’t have time.
My genius solution: Calling my bank and ask them if they want to pay my US embassy appointment for me. A bank can force a wire-transfer with a higher urgency level than when a regular person does a bank transfer. The person on the phone needed to ask this at a colleague because he hadn’t received this question in about 20 years. But they did it for me and I was the luckiest person ever!
So after all these problems, struggles, and sleepless nights it all came to a good end! But I’m going to think twice next time if I’m planning on going to the US again
A complete J1 visa application sprint in 2 months! let me know if you can do better!!
I hope you had a lovely read and thank you for your time! Do you want to know a fun fact? I extended my visa after my internship ended and I could all of this again… Believe it or not… read here my second wave of J1 visa application struggles 🙂
A BIG Thank you to CICD GO as my visa sponsor, Night Owl Interactive as my host company, my school, my bank, my insurance, FedEx, and even the US Embassy in Belgium for fixing my visa in a day! Obviously I also want to thank my mom for supporting me through the chaos.