In general, J-1 students are eligible for “academic training” during the student’s studies or after graduation. Academic training is similar to OPT in the sense that it allows a student to obtain practical working experience in their field of study.
For undergraduate, Masters and pre-doctoral students, the length of training is no more than 18 months, or the duration of the program whichever is less. For example, an MBA student completing a 2 year program, would be eligible for 18 months; but an LLM student completing a 1 year program would only qualify for a 9 month period (i.e. one academic year). On the other hand, a post-doctoral training can be valid for up to 36 months or the duration of the student’s doctoral program, whichever is less. For example, a Ph.D. student completing the degree in 2 years would qualify for no more than 24 months.
J-1 students must have a written offer of employment from a company and apply within 30 days after the completion of their program in order to obtain “academic training.” Authorization for academic training is handled internally and granted by the DSO at the university or college. There is no need to submit an I-765 application to USCIS. Once Academic training is approved, the DSO issues an updated DS-2019.
The validity of academic training is dependent on the J-1 student’s continued employment. Once the student ceases employment, the academic training ends regardless of the expiration date reflected on the DS-2019. During academic training, a J-1 student can have multiple employers, and work part-time or full-time with or without pay. However, a J-1 student cannot be self-employed during academic training.
Unlike the optional practical training (OPT) for F-1 students, there is no unemployment provision for J-1 students in academic training. They can also change jobs as long as they first submit a new application for academic training and receive authorization from his/her university/college.
Another distinction of the academic training program from OPT is that J-1 students in academic training are not eligible for “cap-gap” protection. Therefore, J-1 students must time it carefully and apply for H-1B as soon as possible.
Social Security, Medicare and other taxes
Social Security (FICA) and Medicare taxes: In general, a J-1 student is exempt from Social Security (F.I.C.A.) and Medicare taxes for the first five (5) years in the United States, as long as s/he continues to declare non-resident status for tax purposes. (Internal Revenue Service Publication 519, “U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens”)
Federal, state and local income taxes: Unless a J-1 student qualifies under a tax treaty between the United States and his/her home government, the earnings as a J-1 student will be subject to applicable federal, state and local income taxes, and employers are required by law to withhold those taxes from their paychecks. By April 15 of each year, the J-1 student must file a federal income tax return and a “Required Statement” covering the prior calendar year to determine whether taxes are owed or if a refund is due.
Two-year home residency requirement
Section 212(e) of the immigration regulations prohibit a J-1 who is subject to the two-year home residency requirement from obtaining an H or L visa, and from adjusting status to permanent residence unless the J-1 complies with the two-year requirement or obtains a waiver. However, a J-1 who is subject to Section 212 (e) may apply for an F-1, E-1, E-2, E-3, O, P or TN visa. The J-1 would still be subject to the 212 (e) and must still either comply with the requirement or obtain a waiver. Some J-1s will slowly accumulate the two years over time and eventually comply with the requirement.