In today’s globalized world, international programs have an important role to play for companies, universities, and students. For companies, international internship programs represent the perfect solution to develop employees with hands-on work experience as well as global and intercultural competencies.
For universities, international students provide campuses with diverse viewpoints and cultural enrichment opportunities. And of course, for students, international work and study programs offer an exciting opportunity to more fully develop their education or work skills while learning about another country’s culture and values. To bring these parties together, they need to find the right sponsor.
What are Sponsors?
Sponsors help universities and companies develop successful study and internship programs. Sponsors also help international students with the visa application process and meeting other requirements to join an exchange program. Finally, sponsors connect international students with universities and employers by helping them find the right programs and providing support during the work or study experience.
If your organization is considering creating a new international student program or updating an existing one, partnering with the right sponsor can make the process go much more smoothly. To understand why finding the right sponsor is so important, it is beneficial to learn more about U.S. exchange programs and the sponsor’s role in administering them.
International Study and Internship Programs in the U.S.
Many international students come to the United States to work or study as part of the Exchange Visitor Program. This program is designed to be a cultural exchange experience that strengthens diplomatic ties between nations.
There are fifteen different categories of these programs including students, interns, and trainees. They allow foreign citizens to visit the United States for a wide variety of purposes including studying, researching, teaching, or training. Depending on the category, these exchange programs may last a few weeks or up to several years.
An international student who comes to the U.S. through the Exchange Visitor Program must apply for a J-1 visa. To obtain a J-1 visa, all applicants must have a sponsor.
The Role of Sponsors in Exchange Programs
To be an officially-designated program sponsor, the sponsor must show the ability to comply with all Exchange Visitor Program regulations. It must also be able to demonstrate that it can meet all the responsibilities and financial obligations required to be a successful sponsor of the exchange program. Finally, it must show that once an application is submitted, the sponsor is prepared to administer the program once designated.
While a few sponsors also host exchange visitors as employers or supervisors, most sponsors are third-party organizations. These third-party sponsors have dedicated teams with the experience and resources necessary to connect applicants to the right opportunities. The right sponsor can also help host companies and universities design their programs and support their exchange visitors during their time in the United States.
How to Find Sponsors for International Students
Currently, there are hundreds of officially-designated program sponsors. With so many sponsors available, it is hard for companies and universities to know which one will be the best partner for them. Organizations often start their attempts to find a sponsor online, but it’s important to find out more than just basic information about a sponsor before deciding to work with them.
When your company works with an experienced sponsor, this means that they will take responsibility for several different aspects of the exchange visitor program. When your organization is evaluating a potential sponsor to partner with for your program, be sure to ask about the following:
1. Visa Assistance
Sponsors should take the lead in helping international students obtain their J-1 visas. Sponsors provide key application documents including Form DS-2019. They can also advise the student about other required documentation, the visa interview, and other tips related to travel.
Student visitors and any dependents traveling to the U.S. with them must have medical insurance at a minimum benefit level defined by regulation. The sponsor should verify that the visitor’s insurance meets the regulatory requirements. If not, the sponsor can help the participant find new or additional coverage.
3. Evaluate English Proficiency
To successfully apply for the Exchange Visitor Program, an applicant must have a sufficient grasp on English to be able to fully participate in their program. Sponsors can evaluate an applicant’s language proficiency and make recommendations at the outset of the program to avoid future issues.
4. Provide Support during Program
As foreign citizens studying or working overseas, exchange program participants often need extra support. Common issues include questions about travel within or outside of the U.S., program extensions, or lost documentation. A good sponsor will provide the support necessary to help program participants with these and other issues.
5. Ensure Government Compliance
Sponsors should monitor their participants during the program to make sure their activities are consistent with the category indicated on Form DS-2019. Sponsors must also submit an annual report and notify the Department of State if there are any serious problems during a program.
5-Point Checklist for Finding the Right Sponsor for Your Organization
Now that you know a little more about the sponsor’s role in administering exchange visitor programs, here’s a five-point checklist to make sure the sponsor you are working with is the right partner:
1. Evaluate Mission and Goals
Consider your organization’s missions and goals for the internship or study program. Why are you interested in hosting international students? What do you hope your program will accomplish? What social, economic, and cultural factors are important in developing your program? Once you have answers to these questions, discuss these goals with your potential sponsor to determine if your goals are compatible with theirs.
2. Discuss Program Objectives
Make a list of educational or skill-related objectives for your program. Discuss these objectives with your potential sponsor. Think about how you will delegate responsibility for communicating program objectives and goals to your staff and your students or interns. Also, consider how you will assess your participants and how you will communicate the results to them and the sponsor.
Some program categories, such as the trainee program, require the sponsor to evaluate the program at certain points. Talk about the evaluation process with your potential sponsor to make sure you understand how this will go if you decide to work together.
3. Determine a Student Selection Process
Discuss a method for selecting participants for your program with your potential sponsor. Sponsors should make sure interns are suitable for their programs and that they are sufficiently skillful in English to fully participate.
Sponsors are also required to offer an orientation to all exchange visitors and their immediate family members who join them in the U.S. Orientation covers a variety of topics about living in the U.S. and the program including:
- Life and customs in the U.S.
- Health care, emergency assistance, and insurance coverage
- Local community resources (e.g., medical centers, public transportation, schools, recreation centers, libraries, and banks), where possible
- Complete program description
- Rules for participating in the sponsor’s program
- Contact information for the sponsor and the name of the responsible officer
Though the sponsor is responsible for orientation, you may want to go over their procedures with them so you and your program participants will agree on these important details. You can also provide feedback to the sponsor about topics you would like for them to touch on during orientation.
4. Create a Code of Conduct
All sponsors and host organizations should jointly discuss a participant code of conduct. The discussions should clearly define the expected rules to follow, who will handle any disciplinary actions, and addressing the infractions of the rules. Make the standards of conduct as clear as possible, keeping in mind that participants may come from different cultural backgrounds.
The code of conduct should clarify that all of the laws of the host country must be followed at all times. It should also describe behaviors that are unacceptable even if legal. Separately, it should also make the affirmative responsibilities of the program participants clear with defined rules such as attendance policies and expectations for participation in program activities.
5. Consider Organizational and Program Resources
Finally, when choosing a sponsor, make sure you know who your main point of contact is at their organization and that they know who to contact at your organization. You may want to set up a time to communicate regularly about the program before and after the participants arrive to help keep the partnership between you and your sponsor flowing smoothly.
Partner with Intrax
If you’re ready to find a partner you can count on, consider choosing Intrax as your program’s sponsor. With more than 30 years’ experience in placing adults and students throughout the United States, Intrax offers award-winning exchange programs: Work Travel, Global Internships, CampCareUSA, Ayusa, and AuPairCare.
Our Partner Team will work with your organization to facilitate placements nationwide in one of our programs. We also help you to administer the program and achieve your business goals.
Contact us to find out more about how we can partner with you as an international student sponsor.