Pre-Arrival Orientation Guide

Plan Your Pre-Arrival Orientation

The Pre-Arrival Orientation should be conducted in-person, on a date between the last visa appointment and the first flight departure.

You must bring:

  • All students' insurance cards

Students must bring

  • Their job offer
  • Their housing plan

A description of the Work/Travel Program and its purpose

College and University students enrolled full time and pursuing studies at post-secondary accredited academic institutions located outside the United States come to the United States during their summer break to share their culture and ideas with people of the United States through temporary work and travel opportunities.

DOS Exchange Visitor Program Participant Letter, Program Brochure and Toll Free Number

Students will receive these documents, as well as a toll-free phone number they can use to call the U.S. Department of State, via email shortly before you arrive.

ERDT's Fee

Students must be informed that ERDT receives $350 from the fees that each participant pays.

Job Details

Instruct students to take out their job offer and read it now.  Have them inform you if they do not understand all of the below:

  • Their hourly wage;
  • How to contact their employer before arrival;
  • The duties they can expect to perform;
  • Any details regarding overtime;
  • Their expected arrival date;
  • All items they are expected to bring to the U.S. for their job;
  • How much money is due to the employer upon arrival (for materials, uniform, testing, housing, etc.)

Communicating with ERDT

Participants must visit www.erdtworkandtravel.org within 24 hours of arrival in the U.S., click on "Validate and Update SEVIS," read the text at the top, then click on "Validate SEVIS" and answer the questions.  This tells ERDT that they are in the U.S.

Within 1 week of arrival, they must return to www.erdtworkandtravel.org, click on "Validate and Update SEVIS," read the text below the "Validate SEVIS" button, then click on "Update SEVIS and answer the questions.  This serves as their Post-Arrival Orientation.

ERDT will email participants at least once a month.  Participants must check email once a week and respond to all emails from ERDT within 1 week. 

Participants must inform ERDT within 1 week if they change their housing address.  Any time students report their address to ERDT (when validating or updating SEVIS, or if reporting a new address via email) they must include their apartment number (unless they are in a house).  They may not list a P.O. Box number or an intersection.

In the event of an emergency, participants may call ERDT at 800-321-3738, and follow the prompts to connect to the ERDT Help Line, which is a mobile phone carried at all times by ERDT Work & Travel Program staff.

If participants feel they are not getting the help they need from ERDT, they should call the U.S. Exchange Visitor Hotline, 1-866-283-9090.

Arrival in the U.S.

You must ensure that participants have a good, safe plan from the time they arrive in the U.S. until they have begun working, and are living in their permanent housing:

  • They must have ERDT's phone number, 1-800-321-3738 or 310-450-4624, accessible while traveling.

  • Any medications must be clearly labeled.

  • They must pack copies of their documents in their checked luggage, and keep their documents very safe during travel.  IF A STUDENT LOSES HIS/HER J1 VISA BEFORE APPLYING FOR SOCIAL SECURITY, HE/SHE CANNOT PARTICIPATE IN THE PROGRAM AND MUST RETURN HOME.

  • They must understand how to successfully pass through U.S. Customs & Immigration.  U.S. Immigration will look at their DS-2019 form and may question the students if they are arriving on an inappropriate date, or if they do not have travel plans all the way to the city or town where they will work.  

  • They must have pre-planned transportation all the way to their job site.  For safety reasons, we highly recommend a domestic flight to their job site over Greyhound or Amtrak.  

  • They must have communicated with the employer about exactly when and how they will arrive at the job site.

  • They must have a pre-planned place to stay (hostel or hotel) temporarily until they are in permanent housing.  Remember that cheap accommodations can be unsafe.  If you have questions about whether the pre-planned temporary accommodations you have found are safe, just contact ERDT and we will be happy to help.

  • They must have a plan for finding permanent housing.

  • They must understand that in the first 2 weeks after arrival, they will have many expenses associated with arrival, and they may not receive a paycheck from their employer.  So, they must bring money with them, expect that they may spend it all in these first 2 weeks, be patient over these 2 weeks, and notify ERDT if they have any concerns or need help.

Housing

Housing must be safe, legal, and affordable.  Students should only sign a lease or housing agreement if they understand all of the details.  They should contact ERDT if they have any questions or concerns, before signing the lease or housing agreement (even if it is with their employer).  Once they sign a lease, it is legally binding.

If their employer provides housing, ERDT has checked to ensure that the weekly rate students pay is comparable to other seasonal housing in the area.  Remember that seasonal rent is higher than permanent rent.  It may be that the employer pays, for example, $800 a month for a 3 bedroom apartment, but collects a total of $1200 per month from the 6 students who live there.  This is because sometimes an employer has to pay for a 6 or 12 month lease, even though they only will have students living there for 3-4 months.  They also often cover the cost of furniture, utilities, cleaning and other costs.

Students must inform ERDT within 1 week if they change their housing address.  If they do not, their program will be terminated.

If there are any problems with housing - broken appliances, leaks, mold, bugs, or if there is a safety issue due to problems with a window or door, they should first contact their landlord or housing provider.  If they cannot get it fixed or need further assistance, they should contact ERDT.

Transportation

Transportation must be safe and reliable.  ERDT has pre-checked all of the communities where our students have jobs, to ensure that safe and reliable options exist.  We expect students, therefore, to find and use these options, and not to risk their safety to save money on housing or transportation (for example, hitchhiking, or biking/walking in unsafe conditions).  There are 4 basic options for transportation:

  • Walking - Ensure students know how long they are willing to walk to walk to and from work (in miles).  It may be hot and they may be tired from work.  They should not walk along a busy street that has no sidewalk, or alone at night, ever.

  • Bicycling - Ensure students know where they can purchase a bicycle, and how much it will cost.  They should not be riding along a highway or road with a high speed limit.  Bicycle accidents are the #1 way that J1 students are injured or die, every year.  Unfortunately, motorists in the U.S. cannot always be trusted to drive safely around bicycles.

  • Public transportation - Ensure that public transportation runs as late or early as students work, and that students understand the cost.

  • Employer-provided transportation (shuttle, carpool) - Students should check their job offer to see if the employer provides transportation, and the cost.  If they have any problems with it, they should contact ERDT.

Applying for Social Security

2 business days after students have validated SEVIS, they should travel to their nearest Social Security office with the below items:

We recommend that students list their employer address on the Form SS-5, as their address is probably not yet stable.

Check out our Social Security page for a list of questions we get frequently.

Students who already have a Social Security card / number do not need to apply again.

Medical Care and Insurance

ERDT requires Home Country Agents to provide insurance for participants.  At the orientation, please give all students their insurance cards (a card or document showing their name, insurance company and policy number).  Instruct them to put the insurance card in their wallet, and keep it in there until they have finished their Work & Travel Program and come back home.

They will need to show this card when seeking medical treatment, and that if they lose this card or document, they must immediately contact you for a new copy in case they have a medical emergency.

Inform students that medical insurance doesn't mean that all services are free.  Tell them about any deductibles or fees they may have to pay.

Have students check their insurance card dates and ensure they are covered for their entire trip in the U.S., including the grace period.  If they are found to be in the U.S. without insurance, their program could be terminated.

Students should understand the difference between the 4 main types of health care facilities:

  1. Doctor's Office     The insurance probably has a list of specific doctors (also known as Primary Care Physicians) that can be used for a low cost or no cost.  This can be less expensive than Urgent Care if there is time to make an appointment - for example, to get medicine for a cold or rash that won't go away, or to get a refill on a prescription, or for a minor infection.

  2. Walk-In Clinic     Work & Travel participants would most commonly use a Walk-In Clinic for services that are not covered by their insurance, such as vaccinations, pregnancy tests or getting a prescription for birth control, or getting a physical exam (for sports, for example).  They will need to pay for all services at Walk-In Clinics.  However, the cost would typically be lowest at a Walk-In Clinic.  Care is offered on a first-come/first-served basis. They do not take appointments.

  3. Urgent Care     Urgent care is probably the most typical health care facility for Work & Travel participants, who are likely to face urgent non-emergencies such as sudden illness or allergic reaction, or a minor accident (broken bone, non-life-threatening cut).  The cost may be higher than with a doctor's office.  Urgent care is usually open evenings and weekends, unlike a doctor's office.  Work & Travel participants should know where an urgent care center is in the community, before they come to the U.S.   

  4. Emergency Room     The Emergency Room should only be used when a student believes his/her life may be at risk (trouble breathing, chest pain, severe bleeding, trouble maintaining consciousness). Please read this article on when it is appropriate to use the Emergency Room. 

Getting hurt at work     When ERDT approved each employer, we checked to be sure that every employer has Worker's Compensation insurance.  Worker's Compensation is the insurance that covers workers anytime they are injured at work, even if it was due to a mistake they made.  If a participant is injured at work, they must report the injury to their employer immediately and ask for a claim form.  After they have done this, or if the employer will not give them a claim form, they should contact ERDT immediately.  It is illegal for the employer to refuse to give them a claim form, or to fire them for having an injury at work. 

If a participant is injured outside of work and cannot work     If a participant cannot work due to an injury that happened outside of work, ERDT can allow the participant to stay in the U.S. for 3 weeks to try to recover and start work again (provided they can afford housing without working).  Under law, an employer can fire a worker who is injured outside of work and cannot work.  Participants may still use the grace period to travel (if a grace period is allowed by the U.S. embassy in your country).

Life and customs in the U.S.

In this section, you are the expert!  Please give a description of how the following aspects of life are different between your country and the U.S.  If you need any help, contact ERDT.

  • Weather

  • Time (Americans are very punctual, particularly for work)

  • Social events (parties, dates)

  • Courtesy (saying "please," "thank you," "you're welcome," "I'm sorry," walking on the right, waiting in line).

  • Friendliness (for example, people in the U.S. often smile and say "Hello" to strangers).

  • When to say "excuse me" - for example, if you have bumped into someone, if you need for someone to move, if you need someone's attention, if you have sneezed, coughed, or burped (or worse! :-)

  • Safety and crime, including identity theft

Following The Law

Remind students to familiarize themselves with laws in their state and city.  In many cases, the punishment for breaking a law can be more serious for a J1 participant than for a U.S. citizen.

  • Laws regarding alcohol & drugs The legal limit for drinking in the U.S. is 21 in all states.  Drinking in public is not allowed.  While marijuana use is legal in some states, it is against U.S. law.

  • Laws regarding drunk driving (legal limits vary by state; punishment is severe)

  • Laws regarding sex  Remind students that sex with someone under 18 or sex with someone who is drunk and unconscious can be considered rape, punishable as a serious crime.

  • Laws regarding shoplifting  ERDT once had a J1 Work & Travel student in jail for several weeks for shoplifting cosmetics.  Most stores have cameras, security devices and security guards.  

  • Laws regarding biking and walking  A police officer may issue a ticket to someone who is riding a bicycle on the sidewalk or walking across the street without being in a crosswalk, for example.

  • Laws regarding housing  In most areas there is a time beyond which you cannot make too much noise.  Also, most areas have a limit on how many people can live in an apartment.

Opening a bank account

Students will need to open a checking account where they can deposit checks.  They should follow the below steps:

  • Ask their employer if there is a bank they recommend.  Ensure there is a branch nearby.

  • Go into the branch and ask for details on opening a checking account, particularly:
    • What they will need to bring to open the account;
    • If they must keep a minimum amount of money in the account;
    • If there is a monthly fee for the account
    • How much they will pay if they take too much money out (called an overdraft fee);
    • Participants may wish to visit several banks and choose the one that has the lowest fees;

  • The employer may do "direct deposit," where instead of handing the employee a paper check, they deposit the money straight into the employees account.  This will mean that students can access their money faster, and don't have to worry about losing a check.  They will receive a receipt (like a pay stub) every time money is deposited.

If students need to cash a check before they have opened a bank account, they can do this at Walmart, or sometimes other grocery stores, for free.  There are also "check cashing centers," but these charge a large fee and are not recommended.

Many checking accounts come with checks and with a credit/debit card.  These cards allow you to spend more money than you may have in your account, and you will be then charged a large penalty, so keep track of how much money is in your account.  If you lose a checkbook or credit/debit card, call the bank immediately to cancel it, so that someone else can't use it to get money out of your account.

Libraries and community centers

Work & Travel participants typically use libraries primarily for free internet!  Books and periodicals (magazines and newspapers) are also available at the library.  

Libraries and community centers often also offer opportunities for things to do, such as classes and social activities.  You can also find bulletin boards at most libraries listing things like classes, activities, social groups, even housing, jobs and items for sale.

Prohibited jobs

Instruct participants that they have been approved to do the job listed on their job offer.  If the employer changes their tasks or duties, ERDT must be informed.  Work & Travel students may never:

  1. Work more than 4 hours between 10 pm and 6 am.

  2. Do any job requiring full or partial nudity;

  3. Do any job requiring them to touch another person for an extended amount of time (piercing, tattooing, massage, manicure, clinical or patient care) or come into contact with body fluids (blood, urine);

  4. Do any job requiring a license;

  5. Do any job involved with gambling;

  6. Work as a teacher or camp counselor;

  7. Work at a private home, employed by the homeowner (In child care, elder care, gardener, housekeeper, chauffeur, personal assistant);

  8. Buy inventory and then sell it.

  9. Take a positions with a traveling fair, or concessionaires;

  10. Drive a vehicle, pedicab or rolling chairs, or ride on a motor vehicle outside the cab;

  11. Chemical pest control, warehousing, catalogue/online order distribution centers, agriculture, forestry, timber or logging, fishing/hunting, mining/quarrying, oil/gas extraction, construction, manufacturing, wrecking/excavation/demolition, shipbreaking, roofing, forest fire fighting/ prevention, slaughtering, meat/poultry/fish packing/processing/ rendering;

  12. Operating a saw-, lath-, shingle- or cooperage stock-mill; power-driven woodworking, hoisting, metal forming, punching, shearing, bakery or paper-products machines; balers; compactors; operating circular-, band-, chain- or reciprocating-saws, guillotine shears, wood chippers, and abrasive cutting discs; in occupations involving exposure to radioactive substances and to ionizing radiations or close proximity to explosives;

  13. Positions at worksites that have experienced layoffs in the past 120 days or that have workers on lockout or on strike;

  14. Non-seasonal positions, or any positions where participants would displace U.S workers

  15. Working for a staffing company that does not provide full-time, on-site primary supervision of the participants. 

Minimum Wage

Each participant should know how much they are making at their job, as listed on their job offer.  This must be more than minimum wage in their state.  To find out what minimum wage is in their state, they can just do an internet search for "Minimum wage in Virginia," for example.  

If they are doing a job where they are not technically making minimum wage (for example, working in a restaurant where they receive tips, or being paid for each room they clean), their employer must ensure that they still earn minimum wage for the hours they work.

Getting a New or 2nd Job

This is one of the most important things to cover during the orientation.  A participant may not change jobs, or add a 2nd job, without first getting permission from ERDT.  If they work, or even do unpaid training at a new job before they have permission from ERDT, ERDT must terminate their program immediately.

  • If a participant is quitting his/her job, they must inform ERDT.
  • Participants must have the employer complete the Mid-Program Job Offer in full.  
  • They must then email this document, along with a current Business License and Worker's Compensation Certificate, to emily@erdtworkandtravel.org.
  • ERDT will contact the employer to confirm all of the details.
  • ERDT will email the participant within 48 hours to let them know if they may begin the new job.

Every year, ERDT terminates multiple participants for not following this rule.  Please don't let your students get terminated.  Emphasize this rule heavily and give students a physical copy of the MId-Program Job Offer so that they have it handy.

Cultural Activities

All students must participate in cultural activities in the U.S.  This can include:

  • Completing the ERDT Cultural Scavenger Hunt;
  • Going to a museum or historic site;
  • Attending a concert, show, or theater event;
  • Participating in holiday celebrations such as a picnic or fireworks;
  • Sightseeing in a nearby city;
  • Going to an amusement park, fair or carnival;
  • Attending a party, picnic or dinner at an American's home

Taxes

Your employer will withhold federal income tax, plus state and municipal tax (if applicable in your state and city) from your paycheck, and will send these taxes to the government.  Typically, the amount the employer withholds is more than you actually owe.  In the beginning of the year after your Work & Travel program, you will receive a W2 from your employer, which tells you how much you made, and how much you paid in taxes.  You will use your W2 to file a tax refund with the U.S. government.

Be sure that your employer knows how to send you your W2.

The U.S. tax refund system is very complicated, even for U.S. citizens.  If you file your tax refund incorrectly, you may not get all the money you are owed, or you could even be charged a penalty.  There are companies who specialize in helping Work & Travel participants with their tax refunds, such as www.taxback.com, and charge a fee of about 10%.  We recommend that you choose one of these companies for assistance, or find an accountant that can help.

The home-country physical presence requirement

If a student has previously visited the U.S. as part of a government funded exchange program, or to pursue graduate medical education, or to pursue a specialized skill included on the Exchange Visitor Skills List, they must return to their home country for two years at the end of their exchange visitor program. This requirement under immigration law is based on Section 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  A waiver may be available; please contact the U.S. Embassy in your home country if you have questions.

Other costs

In general, students should know how much they will spend for:

  • Rent and deposit

  • Utilities (heat, air conditioning, electricity, water, television, internet)

  • Transportation

  • Food and groceries.  They can visit www.walgreens.com to get an idea of how much they will spend on the things that they need.  Aside from food, they will need toilet paper, napkins, toiletries, medications, trash bags, etc.

  • Home furnishings.  They should plan to bring or purchase bed sheets and a towel.  They may need to buy furniture as well.

 

Documents to be distributed at the Pre-Arrival Orientation

The Department of State Participant Welcome Letter;

The Department of State Program Brochure;

A copy of the student’s job offer;

The document “12 Important Things”

The document “ Avoiding Termination”

The document “ERD T Cultural Scavenger Hunt”

The document “Mid-Program Job Offer”