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Can I transfer from the F1 OPT to J1 Trainee?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 by

Transfer from F1 visa to J1 visa

From F1 visa to J1 visa

Another common request that we receive, is from former F1/J1 students in the USA who are about to finish their OPT (Optional Practical Training) and wish to transfer to the J1 Intern/Trainee in order to be able to keep working in the USA.

But is that possible?

Let’s start with understanding who these programs are for. The J1 Intern/Trainee program is intended to give the opportunity to train to students/graduates of schools outside the USA. The CPT (Curricular Training) and OPT (Optional Practical Training) on the other hand, are designed to give this opportunity to foreign graduates of US schools.

Maybe this matrix can help to see this more clearly:

Student Status School Located Work Experience Required WE Obtained Available Programs
student in the USA no n/a CPT, OPT
graduate in the USA no n/a OPT
student outside the USA no n/a J1 Intern
graduate outside the USA 1+ year outside the USA J1 Trainee
no degree n/a 5+ years outside the USA J1 Trainee

So, with this clarified, it’s apparent that it’s not possible for an F1 OPT trainee to transfer to the J1 Intern program. You simply are not currently a full-time student of a school abroad. (or within 12 months of finishing studies at such a school)

But what about transferring to J1 Trainee? In theory, this may be possible. If you, for example, graduated with Bachelor’s  degree from a university in your home country, then worked for a year in your field of study and then went on to take a grad school in the USA – not an implausible scenario! – then you meet the basic requirements of the J1 Trainee program!

Sadly, this may not be the end of your problems. You may actually find out that J1 sponsors are not willing to accept your application! Why wouldn’t they?!

The U.S. Department of State has, in the past few years, made unprecedented effort to eradicate cases when J1 programs are misused for obtaining employment – and circumventing the H visas, which are the intended route – instead of providing genuine cultural and educational exchange. As a result, J1 sponsors are under a lot of pressure and enormous scrutiny, and may pass on borderline cases simply to stay out of trouble. They can lose their designation, have their numbers reduced, etc. Secondly, since your case will be complicated and its outcome uncertain, they may decide that it’s not worth their time. After all, they report their fees to the State Department and can’t simply charge you 3 times more than normal applicants to make up for the extra time involved. And finally, they are, by and large, actually committed to the spirit of the J1 program. It can well be argued that you have already had plenty of time to explore the US culture and obtain US knowledge and expertise. As such, you don’t need any more, and their quota will be used more fairly if the place you would take is instead offered to someone who has never had this opportunity.

So what is the conclusion?

If you don’t meet the requirements (non-US degree and non-US work experience), you are obviously flat out of luck. If you do meet them, expect to have to try asking more than one sponsor, and be prepared to demonstrate just how substantially will this additional training benefit your professional growth. (hint, doing the same thing for another year and a half probably won’t cut it)

Another idea!

If you graduated from a U.S. university/college with bachelor’s degree and are nearing the end of your OPT, consider going to grad school! Wait a minute before you dismiss this idea as financially unfeasible. First of all, unlike with undergrad education, there’s quite a lot of financial support available to grad students. Your opportunities for an on-campus job are also much better than 4 years ago when you first arrived in the USA, assistantship is an example. The grad school don’t take as long as your BA degree. You’ll be able to another round of paid CPT and paid OPT. And in OPT, you will likely get paid better than someone without your experience, education and maturity. All this combined may add up to quite a workable situation!

Questions? Ask below :-) In English, please.

APEX Foundation