One of the most memorable things you can do when you're a student is to spend a summer in the US on a J-1 work and travel programme. The J-1 Summer Work and Travel Programme lets full-time third level students enter the US on a J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa and work there legally for up to four months. It's a brilliant opportunity to experience life in this huge and fascinating country.
The programme was introduced by the US Department of State back in 1964 to enable foreign students to live and work in the US and gain firsthand experience of US culture and life.
It's a rite of passage for a lot of Irish students and for some it's their first time living away from home. I remember when my sister went on her J-1 during her time at Trinity College. I was only 14 years old at the time and deeply envious of this amazing experience she was having thousands of miles away. I vowed to go off and do the same some day and, sure enough, after my first year of university, I followed suit and went to Ocean City, Maryland.
The memories of that summer will stay with me for life. We had a stop-over in New York en route and went around the city for four days like typical tourists craning our necks up at the skyscrapers. A lot of J-1 programme providers let you book a stopover at no extra cost so it's a great way to see an additional place.
Getting your J-1 visa: USIT, Go4Less and SAYIT Travel
So what do Irish students wanting to go on a J-1 have to do? Rather than booking everything separately, it's advisable to use a well-established J1 visa provider. The two main J-1 providers in the Irish market are SAYIT Travel, Go4Less and USIT. Both these companies specialise in putting together J-1 packages for students including the visa and flights. SAYIT, Go4Less and USIT normally negotiate cheaper flights to popular J-1 destinations with the airlines. The price of the package usually includes insurance and the provision to change your travel dates without penalty – especially useful if you need to come home to repeat an exam.
The first step in the process is to fill out a J-1 application form. On this form, you'll outline where you want to go, when and details of your education and date of birth etc. The form normally comes with a hefty Ts and Cs section which, boring and all as it looks, should be read before you sign the form.
The average US tax back we get for J1 students is $800
In order to be eligible for participation in a J-1 work and travel programme, you need to meet the following criteria:
- You must be at least 18 and under 28 years of age when you apply
- You must be currently enrolled and participating in third level studies. Your J-1 provider can let you know if your course is eligible
- You must possess a valid electronic version of your passport at the time of application and it must also be valid for at least 1 month after your return from the US.
It's also advisable to have a job and accommodation arranged before you travel so you get the most out of the experience. Back in Maryland, we had to stay in a hostel for a while before getting something more permanent so try to book your apartment in advance so you save time and money before you get there.
Your visa sponsor can provide advice on job providers and the types of work that are typical to your destination. J-1 students normally work in a variety of places including restaurants, hotels, holiday resorts, shops, ice-cream parlours and theme parks.
Last but not least - Don't forget to get your tax back
People are always sad to come home from their J-1 trip as they've had such a great time but there is one silver lining to the cloud – a tax refund! If you've been working in the US and paying tax, the likelihood is that you've paid too much and are eligible to claim a J1 tax refund. We've been providing tax refunds for Irish J-1 students since 1996 and realise that sometimes students aren't aware of the possibility that they overpaid tax. It's free to get a tax refund estimation so it's definitely something we'd recommend doing. It's always nice to get a cash windfall just in time for the Autumn semester!
Been on a J-1 recently or planning to go? Send us your photos and share your experiences on our Facebook page.