Wednesday, May 14, 2008

J-1 International Student Workers

Tuesday morning there was a forum at the convention center on J-1 International Student Workers. The forum was cosponsored by the Virginia Beach Hotel/Motel Association, the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association, and the Resort Retailers Association. In attendance were Resort business people, RAC Commissioners, and some concerned citizens. The overflowing crowd delayed the start, as a partition needed to be removed to enlarge the room with the big number present.

The vast majority of student workers in Virginia Beach come on the J-1 program. J-1 is a student exchange program that allows students to work in the U.S. during the Summer break for their colleges and vocational schools in their home countries. Students may work a maximum four months, then are allowed 30 days to tour the U.S. afterwards. Since it's an educational exchange, students can't work until after classes are out in their home country or after they've gone back into session. English proficiency is required to qualify for a J-1 visa.

In 2007 3,706 students worked in Virginia Beach on J-1 visas, coming from 35 countries. The five largest were Russia (1,448), Turkey (556), Ukraine (222), Bulgaria (202), and Thailand (128).

In order to come here on a J-1 visa, the student must have a Sponsor. The State Department has certified 56 organizations as sponsors. The Sponsor is required to have a 24 hour hotline the students can call for help. Sponsors have field representatives throughout the country who can travel here to deal with an emergency. In addition, any employer having problems with a student should talk with the Sponsor first, only contacting the State Department as a last resort.

Any employer wishing to hire a student should make a copy of their DS-2019 form. It's required to work here, and - most importantly - contains the student's Sponsor information. Check the information against the list on the State Department website to verify that it's legitimate. Call the Sponsor before hiring the student! As there is a contract between the Sponsor and student, you could potentially be breaching the contract.

Like any other worker, the student will need a Social Security card, which should be applied for 10-14 days after arrival in the country. The delay is because the student will need to report arrival to the Sponsor, who then sends electronic files to the Feds. After 10 days, Social Security would have access so they can electronically verify the student upon application and issue a letter for work on the same visit. The student needs three documents to apply for a Social Secuirty card: their DS-2019, their Passport, and their visa. (A birth certificate will help, but is not mandatory.) Given the temporary nature of student housing, the issued Social Security card will be sent to the Virginia Beach Social Security office, where the student will need to pick it up.

A minimum 50% of any Sponsor's J-1s are required to be preplaced in work before arrival in the U.S. However, the more different the culture the student is coming from, the more likely the Sponsor is to require a preplacement.

Former J-1s are sought after as workers in their home countries after graduation from college. Poland was a heavy J-1 participant in the 1990s, with companies in post-communist Poland wanting college graduates with American work experience.

An International Student Outreach Program (ISOP) is in the works for Virginia Beach. VBHMA Executive Director Nancy Perry summed it up with the pledge that the students stay in Virginia Beach should be "as smooth, as comfortable, as happy as possible."

Anyone wanting more J-1 information should go to the State Department's website at

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