The J1 visa hell: Problems, Struggles and Solutions
If you want to go to the USA as a tourist, an employee, a student, an intern or as anything else, you’ll need to have a visa. Period. There are many different types of Visa’s, but as an intern (in my case) you’re required to go with a J1 visa. This process was harder than I thought so I decided to make a blog post about it. There’s a chance you will have a smoother visa application of course. Just be prepared for everything!
J1 Visa Sponsor
You can apply for this visa through a visa sponsor. Don’t try to do it yourself, it’s not possible and you’ll lose way too much time that way. So I’ll save you some time and tell you again: it’s not possible! I’ve reviewed many sponsors in my search for a good one and in the end I went with CICD. My host company already worked with CICD with their previous interns and CICD provided the most information on my first questions. I’ve based my decisions mostly on the duration of the application process, the price and the possibility of using my own health insurance.
I assume that most J1 visa applications will go the same, but keep in mind that my story is based on my own experiences with the CICD J1 visa program.
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 received visas
– 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. This does not mean that they accept to be your sponsor!
It’s recommended everywhere that it’s best not to book any flights or housings when you haven’t received your visa yet. Of course I ignored this completely and booked everything right away. A big mistake on my side… My internship starts on February 1 and I started my visa application late November. I thought that two months would be more than enough, but guess what?
It’s required from every visa sponsor that you have a legitimate health insurance. Most of the visa sponsors I found provide you with a 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 a health insurance of your own (in my case). So I went with CICD as 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. I submitted the form and heard nothing from it again. Till… here we go… a week before my departure! This time I was required to fill in a form, especially about questions 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! But this was quite a shocker because I heard so last-minute that my first health insurance company form was incomplete. I thought I was ready to go!
Another time-consuming event was the site visit at my host company. 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 your host company is already in the system of your visa sponsor, the site visit is not required.
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 and during the exam period there was a chance that the school was closed. So I emailed my international coordinator at my school, but it was 2am 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’.
The hour difference
Another problem was the time difference between me, my intern 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. Everything is closed here at 6pm. 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 via 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.
My j1 visa documents went from Seattle to Memphis. From Memphis to Paris and from Paris to Antwerp. I tried to let my package be delivered at Brussels, so I could pick it up myself in the morning and going straight for the embassy after that.
To enter the US Embassy, 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.
So up next: receiving my documents! I wanted to pick up my documents at FedEx Brussels myself, so it would go faster. But in the morning I received a phone call from them, telling me that my documents were sent to Antwerp instead of Brussels. I thought that my whole plan failed but I had nothing to lose. I had already made my embassy appointment at 9am and 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.
This wasn’t a problem at all, so I was lucky again. Did my interviews successfully and asked the lady if it was possible that she could fix my visa in a day. 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. It was all or nothing, because I didn’t rebook my flight. So I was still going to leave for NY the next day. And I was lucky! My visa was ready to pick up!
Making an appointment at the US Embassy isn’t free. It’ll cost you € 160.00 and the best thing of all is: You can’t pay it with a Belgian creditcard. 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. So I called my bank and asked them if it was possible that they paid my US embassy appointment for me, but with a higher urgency level than that I did the payment. 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! Maybe I could still receive my J1 Visa in time…
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