Q: What can you tell me about the J-1 visa Summer Work Travel programme?
A: The Summer Work Travel programme provides foreign students with an opportunity to live and work in the United States during their summer vacation, and to experience and be exposed to the people and way of life in the United States.
The programme affords full-time university students the opportunity to accept a summer job in the United States and participate in cultural exchange.
Q: Some of my friends said they loved it, but some others said the experience wasn’t what they thought it would be.
A: Thousands of participants from Jamaica participate each year, so it’s no surprise that there are mixed accounts of the J-1 experience. We see many repeat participants from Jamaica, with some students going for three summers in a row!
We’ve found that the applicants who have the best experiences in this programme are those students who are well informed.
Here are a few observations that all applicants should keep in mind:
- The J-1 programme does not require a local agency in Jamaica, and interested students do not have to pay local agency fees. There are designated J-1 sponsors in the US that help students fulfil programme requirements prior to departure, such as finding a job, arranging visa paperwork, and enrolling in insurance. Students must have a US sponsor organisation before they can apply for the visa, and a list of approved sponsors can be found here:
Any company that is not on this list is not an official sponsor, including Jamaican companies who say they can get you a J-1 visa — these companies may charge increased fees to do legwork that students can do themselves.
- The jobs are typical American university student summer employment jobs. Most participants work in non-skilled service positions at resorts, hotels, restaurants, and amusement parks. Some J-1 sponsors offer positions as an au pair or camp counsellor. While you won’t be expected to dress in a suit and tie, these jobs provide valuable professional experience with fair wages — and it is exactly the type of employment that regular American students have. An informal poll of US Embassy Kingston found current US diplomats who worked summer jobs as parking lot attendants, ice cream servers, lifeguards, and waiters while in school.
This is the American summer experience — learning about another culture is part of what makes exchange great.
- J-1 students have the same rights US workers enjoy. This means a J-1 participant has the right to be paid fairly, to report abuse without retaliation, to request help from unions and labour rights groups, as well as to seek justice in US courts. The interviewing consular officer at the embassy will review these rights, among others, with you, and provide you with a pamphlet when you come in for your visa interview.
In addition to these basic rights, the US Department of State places further regulations on the type and nature of work that students can be asked to undertake to help protect them further. The US Government wants to know if any programme abuses or mistreats J-1 participants, and maintains a special “hotline” number — 1-866-283-9090 — for reports of abuse.
If you are interested in this unique opportunity to live and work in the US, we encourage you to talk to as many former J-1 students as you can about their experience — J-1 veterans are among the best information sources for new J-1 participants.
Q: I am interested in applying for Summer Work Travel! What should I do?
A: Apply as soon as you can. As soon as you have a sponsor, line up your job, and obtain a completed DS-2019 form from your sponsor, you should apply for your J1 visa.
Applying early will ensure that there are no undue delays in your application due to missing paperwork or processing times, that you have more choices of available appointment times, and that, if you are issued a visa, you can start work in the United States when your employer needs you to. We also encourage you to review the list of items required to bring to your interview at the embassy; this includes your passport, a photo taken within the last six months, and your DS-2019 form obtained from your sponsor.
You should also be prepared to demonstrate that you are a student who has completed at least one semester of college studies.
For further information, visit the US Department of State’s J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Programme website at
You can find more information about how to travel to the US on our website, https://jm.usembassy.gov. Keep on top of Embassy news on our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pages/US-EmbassyJamaica and by following @USEmbassyJA on Twitter. We also answer general visa questions on our Facebook and Twitter pages.