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J-1 Programs - Why Companies Host

by Melany Hamner

The U.S. Department of State and J-1 sponsors are deeply invested in J-1 exchange programs due to the far-reaching diplomatic effects of large-scale cultural and educational exchange. As a result, exchange programs - specifically J-1 trainee and intern programs - have been and continue to be well-funded and fervently promoted by both entities. Though this support is essential to the success of exchange programs, it is U.S. companies with no direct interest in cultural and educational exchange or public diplomacy, providing J-1 training and internship opportunities and driving program growth.

In order to getter a better sense of why companies host J-1 programs, Global Current surveyed nine host companies of varying sizes and industries. Each company has operated a J-1 program for one to ten years and hosted at least one J-1 participant in 2009. The survey results revealed that each J-1 program fits one of two profiles, a strategic program or a need-based program.

Companies that implement strategic programs, typically have a J-1 program firmly embedded in a long-term strategy to attract top talent, train and develop an international workforce or increase communication and information sharing between company branches. These companies are often large multinationals with the capacity to support large-scale exchange programs. They implement highly-structured rotational programs that can support a large number of trainees and also standardize the training to ensure program quality. An example is a multinational bank that works to develop young talent in the firm and improve internal communications by maintaining an on-going international training program. The program has components in several countries including the United States where trainees receive training on U.S. financial markets. Afterwards they are sent to bank branches overseas to receive additional training or assume a permanent position.

Highly-structured rotational programs are relatively costly, providing significant support to trainees including housing, transportation and health insurance. Also, the training is focused and often requires the support of several full-time employees. Despite costs, a majority of the companies surveyed reported growth since the programís inception, which suggests that the J-1 program often creates significant value and supports key company strategies. Additionally, five of six companies that host strategic rotational programs reported that they retain J-1 participants in foreign offices. In most companies, former J-1 participants advance quickly, and two companies reported that a typical J-1 participantís career in the company will last 5 years or longer. Thus, it would appear that highly-structured rotational programs are a key component of a long-term strategy to increase productivity and employee retention.

Need-based programs are hosted by companies that have no long-term strategy involving the J-1 program, and are implemented when a need arises within the firm. An example of a need-based program is when a marketing manager opens an internship to provide a learning opportunity for a young professional and to receive support on a market research project. The manager happens to select a foreign national as the best candidate for the position. The J-1 program in this case is used as more of a reactive measure based on a need, as opposed to a key component of a company strategy.

Need-based programs are less costly and typically involve fewer participants and offer fewer benefits such as housing or transportation. The participant may even be required to pay the sponsorship fee. The survey results suggest that the smaller investment yields a smaller return. Though a majority of the surveyed companies reported that the participants are hard-working, productive and knowledgeable, two of the three companies with need-based programs reported zero retention for J-1 participants and no program growth. This indicates that the J-1 program, though temporarily valuable, may not be a long-term strategy.

Host companies do not operate exchange programs with the intent of supporting U.S. diplomatic efforts; companies host programs with the objective of adding value to the company. Regardless of intent, host companies play an integral role in public diplomacy by enabling cultural exchange at office meetings, company picnics, and even at the water cooler. In addition, J-1 programs benefit from the oversight of a J-1 sponsor, ensuring that cross-cultural activities are taking place and that each program is compliant with J-1 regulations. Thus despite varying perspectives, the federal government, J-1 sponsors, and host companies each play an essential role in the growth and success of professional exchange programs. Each entity finds value in the J-1 program and supports educational and cultural exchange by making exchange programs available for hundreds of thousands of participants each year.

About The Author

Melany Hamner is currently the Director of Global Current. It is a division and registered DBA of AIESEC United States, a J-1 visa sponsor designated by the US Department of State to oversee training and internship programs in a variety of occupational categories. Founded in 1952 in New York City, AIESEC United States has helped thousands of law firms and organizations obtain J-1 visas for their foreign national trainees and interns.

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