J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program

Asian Exchange Professionals Bolster US Public Diplomacy and Economy


On August 7, 2018, EurekaFacts published a study on the Department of State’s Intern and Trainee Exchange Program. Part of the State Department’s J-1 Visa, the program marries US policymakers’ desire to strengthen global ties and foreign professionals’ attraction to the United States as a land of opportunity. Of the 37,168 participants in 2017, Asia’s presence is evident. 40% of Interns and 60% of Trainees from the top 10 sender countries are from Asia. The report is a testament to Asia’s contributions to America’s public diplomacy and economy.

Overview and Distribution

The Intern and Trainee Program helps foreign professionals develop skills, expertise, and cultural insights during their temporary stay in the United States. Interns are current or recent university students, while Trainees have up to 5 years of experience in their fields. Between 2012-2017, the Philippines sent the greatest number of Interns and Trainees globally, accounting for about 15% of total participants. In 2017 alone, the Philippines sent a total of 4,627 Interns and Trainees. Japan ranked second worldwide for sending Trainees, while South Korea sent the second-most Interns among Indo Pacific countries. Almost half of all participants stayed in California, New York, and Florida.

US host organizations vary in size, location, and industry. Roughly half represent small businesses. Over half represent firms that only operate domestically. The top four industries include manufacturing, hospitality and tourism, engineering and information technology. More than 70% of US sponsors offer internships or trainee programs that are equally or more available to Americans than international participants.

Impact Evaluation

Interns and Trainees’ immediate benefit for US businesses is cultural. Three-quarters of host organizations observe that participants broaden staff’s perspectives and encourage workplace diversity. Longer-term participation offers US businesses transnational advantages. Examples include the spread of knowledge and skills across the organization (65.6%), creation of a pipeline of talent trained in key US business practices (42.1%), and establishment of connections and/or partnerships in key markets (36%).

The programs’ value for US industries is just as eclectic. The programs bring critical benefits to 85% of US firms surveyed. For manufacturing, these benefits take the form of international business connections that further the organization’s global imprint. For hospitality/tourism, the programs create the opportunity for staff to develop intercultural relationships and skillsets. The IT sector benefits from the unique knowledge and skills that foreign talent brings.

Asian professionals have further bolstered the US economy and reputation worldwide. Interns and Trainees spend approximately $2,000 per month, and thus Asian participants from the top 20 sender countries contributed approximately $217.5 million in 2017 alone. Individuals from the Philippines, South Korea and India spent the most among visitors from Asia last year, at $86 million, $44 million, and $33 million, respectively.

Through the program, over three in four participants develop an affinity towards the American people. Seven out of ten feel more positive towards American culture, American firms, and American business practices. Host organizations corroborate the program’s value for US public diplomacy and national security goals, with 95% of respondents agreeing that the program promotes mutual understanding between peoples of the United States and other countries.

Cathy Dao is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington DC. She is currently an undergraduate at Stanford University, studying Political Science and Science, Technology and Society.