In many ways, getting the visa for my US internship was harder than getting the internship itself - after all, there is no Leetcode to help you get through USCIS bureaucracy. Though there is some information online, it can feel scattered and hard to find. This is particularly true for non-Canadian citizens since we have an additional interview at the US Consulate. That’s where this guide (hopefully) comes in.

Before I begin, here are some excellent guides made by other UW students you may want to check out as well:

❗ This guide is unofficial. Immigration policies can change at any time. Please speak to your immigration sponsor for any mission-critical advice.

Table of Contents

The Basics

The J1 Visa is an “exchange visitor” visa, which is meant to allow students, teachers, or researchers to study or work in the US. The key thing to note is that this is not a traditional “work” visa (like TN or H1B), and is meant to be more for cultural exchange or training (in fact, exchange students studying at a US university also apply for the J1 Visa). This is why you will have a sponsor (like Intrax or Cultural Vistas) do the main leg work for the visa.

  • The J1 Visa is issued according to the start and end date for your internship, but you can enter/leave the US 30 days before/after the start/end date.

  • The J1 Visa can be either single-entry (you can only enter the US once) or multiple-entry (you can enter the US multiple times before your internship end date).

    • Multiple-entry visas are preferable, and you can (allegedly) request one during your US consulate interview, though they may not grant it to you. Anecdotally, since 2023, everyone I have spoken to was given a multiple-entry visa without asking for it.

❗ Most non-Canadian J1 Visa holders are subject to a 2-year home residency requirement, which means that you have to return to your home country for 2 years before you can apply for a green card or H1B. Home country refers to your country of citizenship, so you can NOT clear this requirement by living in another country (i.e. Canada). This is a VERY important thing to look into if you’re an international student and want to work in the US full-time after graduation.

The Process

The process for getting a J1 Visa is as follows:

  1. After signing an offer, the company will set you up with a sponsor (Intrax or Cultural Vistas)
  2. You submit your information to your sponsor
  3. Wait to get the DS 2019, DS 7002 & SEVIS payment receipt from your sponsor
  4. Fill and Submit the DS 160 Form
  5. Book a visa interview appointment at your country’s consulate
  6. Go to the interview, submit your passport
  7. Receive your passport in the mail/pick-up from Canada Post

Steps 2, 5, and 6 take the most time since you’re waiting on your sponsor or the US embassy. If you are a Canadian citizen, you skip steps 4, 5, and 6, since you get your visa at the border.

❗ I only have experience with Intrax, though the process with Cultural Vistas should be similar.

Step 1: Submit Information to your Sponsor

Once you’ve signed your internship offer, your company will set you up with a sponsor and (hopefully) an immigration consultant. In this step, you will be asked to submit your personal information, documents (e.g. passports, transcripts, etc.), academic details, and internship details. For Intrax, this is done on their online portal and is fairly straightforward.

This step is 100% dependent on you - do this as soon as you can. It should not take more than a day or two, and shouldn’t require any special documents outside your passport and transcript. Your process will not move forward until you complete this step.

Step 2: Wait for documents

Your sponsor will use this information to generate your DS-2019 and DS-7002 forms and will make a payment to SEVIS for your application.

  • DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility): Contains information about you, your sponsor, and your internship (including start and end dates). This is the most important document for your visa application.

  • DS-7002 (Training/Internship Placement Plan): Contains (more) information about your internship, including your supervisor’s information, your job description, and expected responsibilities.

    • I’ve noticed that the information in this form may not match your actual role exactly (presumably because it is filled out by HR and not your immigration manager). Regardless, you should have a general idea of your role and responsibilities as mentioned in this form, since that is what your interviewer will be looking at.
  • SEVIS Payment Receipt: Proof that your sponsor has paid the SEVIS fee required for your application. This was attached alongside DS-7002 for me, but you can also get it from this link (you will need your SEVIS ID, which is on your DS-2019).

    • This is not a payment for the consulate interview, which will come later.

This step can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on how fast your sponsor is and how persistent you are. If you haven’t heard back from your sponsor in a week, I would recommend emailing them and your company’s recruiter/immigration consultant. Please be persistent - I have heard stories of this step getting lost in bureaucracy for weeks, especially if you got your internship early on in the term.

These forms were normally sent by physical mail with a wet signature, but since Summer ‘23 Intrax has switched to using Docusign to sign these documents which is much quicker. If you do get it in physical mail, please keep the document safe since you need the original signature for your consulate interview.

Please note that you can start doing Step 3 while you wait to get your forms back.

Step 3: Complete & Submit DS-160

The DS-160 is a general form that is required for almost every US visa application. It asks for your personal information, family information, travel history, employment history, education, and a whole lot more. The link for this form is

This is a long form and will take you a few dedicated hours to complete (probably over a few days). You only require your DS-2019 and SEVIS payment receipt on the very last step of this form, so I would recommend starting this form as soon as possible, and submitting it once you have those documents in hand.

Note that “submitting” this form does nothing other than store it in some server somewhere and generate a confirmation barcode you use to book the interview. Though you can not edit the information after submitting it, you can always create a new form. Once your interview is booked, however, you can not change the information on the DS-160 (since you link the interview with one specific DS-160 barcode).

Location of Interview

You need to select the exact embassy you want to interview at while creating your DS-160 form, so now might be the time to discuss the consulate situation (specific to Canada). The wait times for interviews at any of these consulates are long - usually too long for you to get your visa in time before your internship begins. You can find the wait times for each consulate here, but from my experience, these wait times are not always accurate.

💡 If you’re considering multiple locations due to long wait times, you can fill in and save identical DS-160 forms for multiple locations and decide which location to go for when you’re booking the interview.

The not-so-secret solution to these long wait times is expedited appointments. All Canadian consulates offer expedited appointments, which you can request once you have booked your interview and paid the fee. However, you must have a valid reason for requesting an expedited appointment, and you must provide proof of this reason. The most relevant reason for us is if the earliest interview date you could get was after your internship start date.

💡 This can lead to some interesting situations. For instance, if your internship begins on January 5, and the earliest interview dates for Ottawa and Toronto are January 2 and January 27, you will be better off booking your interview in Toronto since you will be eligible for an expedited appointment. (The expedited appointment system does not consider the fact that it takes 1 - 2 weeks after your appointment for you to get your passport back 🙃)

Here are some other pointers I have after going through this process twice:

  • Assuming you are on the East Coast, Toronto is the best consulate in my opinion. It always has incredibly long wait times which is, ironically, good, since it means you are almost always eligible for an expedited appointment. Toronto approves expedited appointment requests within a day or two (they approved mine in 3 hours), and you can get an appointment within 1 to 3 weeks.
  • Ottawa took 2 weeks to respond to my expedited request, and the earliest expedited interview date I ended up getting was later than the Toronto expedited date I got, despite Ottawa having shorter wait times on their website. Ottawa seems a lot slower than Toronto for non-immigrant visas, and it seems like Toronto is better equipped for J1 Visa interviews (probably because they see a lot more of them).

💡 I booked an interview at both Ottawa and Toronto (and paid the fee twice 😓). I was cutting it close to my internship start date and wanted to maximize my options. It worked out for me - despite Ottawa having shorter wait times, Toronto’s expedited interview date was earlier than Ottawa’s, and I ended up getting my visa 2 days before my flight. Paying the fee twice may be worth it if it helps you not lose a week of your internship.

  • Calgary and Vancouver are decent consulates and better than Ottawa, but not as good as Toronto in terms of response times. Their wait times are typically the shortest, at least on paper.
  • Halifax and Quebec City are pretty small consulates - at the time I was booking my interview, they didn’t have any dates available at all.

💡 It is (unfortunately) common for people to have to fly to a different city with shorter wait times. I have heard of people flying from ON to Calgary/Vancouver, and some even got these flights reimbursed from their employer. However, note that because you submit your passport at the embassy, you must have some other form of Canadian ID to take a flight back home!

Using the website

Screenshot of DS-160 website

As you can tell, the website wasn’t made with UI/UX in mind. Here are some things to keep in mind while using the website:

  • The website lets you retrieve a saved application - make note of your application ID and security questions when you start an application.
  • The form lets you save the form and come back to it later, but it will log you out after ~10 minutes of inactivity (though sometimes it will glitch out and log you out earlier). Save your form frequently - ideally every time you go to a new page of the form.
    • The form does not let you save the form if the form is failing validation, so if there are any errors or missing fields in your form, fix those and hit save again.

Digital Photograph

You need to submit a digital photograph that matches the specifications in your DS-160 form. The website tests and rejects photos that don’t seem to match the specifications. You also need a physical copy of the image for your consulate interview.

My recommendation would be to go to a local photo studio that specializes in visa photographs, and get both a physical and digital copy - they do this kind of stuff daily and know the rules better than you do.

💡 The photograph they use for your Visa is the one you submit at the consulate interview (i.e. the one you submit digitally is overridden). I had used an incorrect photo for my DS-160 (I was wearing glasses), so I took a new photo from the studio and used that for my interview.

Step 4: Book your Interview

❗ No interview is needed if you’re a Canadian Citizen

You can book your visa appointment immediately after you fill in and “submit” your DS-160. This is handled entirely by the US embassy in the country you are in. The location you choose will be the same as the location of your DS-160.

The link to book your interview (in Canada) is here:

Read about choice of location and expedited appointments above, but as a reminder, I recommend only booking a date that is well in advance of your start date (2-3 weeks before) OR after your start date (so you can get approved for an expedited appointment).

There is a fee associated with this interview (about $200 at the time of writing), and this fee does not have to be covered by the employer (this is not the SEVIS fee you saw in Step 2, which must be played be your employer). Of course, some employers may cover it, though most will not (mine did not directly cover it, but had a relocation package that more than compensated for it).

Step 5: Interview & Passport Submission

The interview is very straightforward, and I have not heard of any rejections for J1 visas outside of missing documentation.

Before the Interview

These are the documents you should carry for your interview:

  • Passport
  • DS 2019 (signed)
  • DS 7002
  • I-901 (Sevis Payment Confirmation)
  • DS-160 Confirmation Page (not the whole form, just the page with the barcode)
  • Offer Letter
  • Interview Appointment Confirmation (has date, time & location of interview, and a different barcode)
  • Photograph

Some other documents that I would have on hand, but was not asked for:

  • Proof of Visa Interview Appointment fees
  • Proof of Health Coverage (WUSA medi-passport, or confirmation of health coverage by your sponsor/company)
  • Proof of Financial Support (i.e. bank statements)
  • Transcript / Proof of Enrolment
  • Canadian Study Permit
  • Resume

🏠 I was not asked to show a lease in either of my interviews, so I would not worry too much about having housing finalized by your interview.

✈️ Booked flight tickets are, as far as I know, not necessary - in fact, the consulate told me to not book my flights until I had the passport back. If your employer is covering flights, have a way to show that (usually mentioned in your offer letter).

  • Make sure you know your DS-7002 well (i.e. exact title, job responsibilities, name of your manager, office location). This is the main document your interviewer refers to when asking you questions.

    • This may seem obvious, but the DS 7002 may have discrepancies with your actual job/responsibilities since it is usually written by HR, not your manager.
  • I would recommend reaching at least 15 minutes before your interview slot since there is usually a (long) line outside the embassy. They will not let you in if you are early, though.

  • Specific to Toronto: Note that entry to the embassy for interviews is at the back of the building. The fancy entrance at the front is only for American citizens.

During the Interview

❗ You are NOT allowed to take a backpack, phone, or any electronic devices with you inside the embassy. If you’re traveling from far away, your best bet is to have someone waiting outside, or to leave your things at a nearby shop. Toronto’s embassy has a store next to it that has a locker for exactly this purpose.

Once you are let into the embassy, you’ll follow the line and go to multiple booths. If my memory is correct, the first is verifying your documents and submitting your photograph, followed by biometrics (fingerprints), followed by the interview. You will be asked very basic questions during the interview:

  • Details about your job (job title, responsibilities, location of the office, start/end date)
  • Details about your background (education, past jobs, or internships)
  • Other logistical information (flights, housing) (I was never asked this, but others have been)
  • Plans to leave the US (I was never asked this, but others have been)
    • Super easy to answer if you’re in university - “I need to come back to Canada to finish my degree” 🙃

This is also where you can ask the interviewers for a multiple-entry visa if you specifically need one. Once the interview is done, you submit your passport, and the interviewer will say something along the lines of “Your visa has been approved” and tell you how long it will take to get your passport back. It’s fine if they don’t say “approved” specifically - regardless of what they say, they actually verify your documents after the interview, so you don’t really know the status of your application until your DS-160 status page updates.

Step 6: Wait for your passport

While booking the interview, you would have had the choice to do a Canada Post pickup or pay extra to get it delivered to your home. Depending on when your interview was, you can usually change this until the end of the day of your interview.

Canada Post: Only certain Canada Post locations are eligible for pickup (with most of them in Toronto or other big cities). Please note that you will need to show ID when you go for pickup, so if you don’t have a Canadian Drivers License or other Canadian ID, you will need to enter somebody else’s details and have them pick it up (or pay up for the home delivery.)

There is a DS-160 status page that you can check to see the status of your application after the interview. A few days after the interview, your status should change to “Approved”, and you should get shipping details a few days after that.

They usually say it takes 10-15 business days (2-3 calendar weeks) to get your passport back, though mine has always come within 2 calendar weeks, even during the holiday season.

After receiving your passport

Once you have your passport with the visa, you’re done! Make sure you verify the end date of the visa on your passport - it should be your internship’s end date (don’t worry, the 30-day rule is added on to this date). Your visa will also mention whether you got a single-entry or multiple-entry visa.

Make sure you take all of the documents you took in your interview to the airport as well, since they may ask similar questions.

Keep in mind that if you went through the consulate interview process, your chances of rejection at the border are near zero. Canadian Citizens going with J1 and TN visas face higher scrutiny at the border since that is where they actually get their visas.