What Is the 12-Month USA Work and Travel Visa Pilot Program?

The 12-month J-1 work and travel visa pilot program is for Australian and New Zealand students. It is ideal for those looking for US work experience and/or travel. The Pilot Program was introduced in 2007 to promote cross-cultural exchange, and has continued to be renewed since.

Various organizations and businesses offer the 12-month program, and usually feature a partnership between a US Government designated sponsor and an in-house agent for the sponsor. It is up to the applicant to research the organization they choose to ensure it is indeed a Government designated sponsor.

If the applicant is a mature age university/college student, they will need to find a program with no age limit, as most programs on the market have age limits of 28-30.

To be eligible for the program, the applicant must have a valid Australian or New Zealand passport, and be considered a student. In order to fall under the ‘student’ category, the participant will need to have completed at least one year of post-secondary study, or be within the 12-month period after graduating. If the applicant is studying at an institution other than college or university, they may still be eligible; they will simply have to prove that their course leads to a degree qualification.

Fees are often a hot topic when it comes to what is included in various programs offered by organized. Points to look out for are; does the package include health and travel insurance? Is there 24-hour phone support? Will there be a US Consulate briefing before the mandatory interview? Will each person definitely get a job placement?

Applicants should be aware of the time period some organizations take to process the application. Be aware that flight fees will be lost if tickets are booked without the visa arriving in time for the departure date. It is common practice for flight costs to not be included in program fees. The SEVIS fee is mandatory for all applicants on the 12 month J1 visa, and can only be paid by the applicant, as it is a non-refundable fee. This is also the case with the worldwide non-refundable fee, and the US Consulate issuance fee. It is wise to budget for these additional costs.

A highlight of the 12-month J1 Program is the applicants’ option to land in the US before finding a job, instead of being placed before arriving. This was not always the case, and is of great benefit to those participants who would like to work in a specific area. It should, however, be noted that applicants may not work in the following areas:

Domestic positions
Door-to-door sales positions
Patient care positions

There are often two types of programs offered under the 12-month J1 work and travel visa; The Self-Placement Program, and the Job-Placement Program. The placement jobs are generally non-skilled positions found in:

Amusement Parks
National Parks

If an applicant is undecided as to which program best applies to their situation, they should consider what they want to get out of the program. Whether it is merely the travel aspect, or an internship for a career-move, it is paramount for applicants to remember that this visa is primarily designed for cross-cultural exchange. Being open to experiencing US culture and daily life is a must.