Frequently Asked Questions
MESA is a non-profit organization, which means that we do not exist to make a profit, and program fees must be used for program services. MESA serves the public good through the advancement of environmentally sustainable food production. We promote agroecology by offering vocational training and cultural exchange opportunities in the United States for beginning farmers around the world.
MESA sponsors a US Department of State J1 Training and Cultural Exchange Program. If MESA approves your SAGE Steward application, we become your J1 visa and US program Sponsor. Our organization is responsible to select qualified US Host trainers, maintain your visa status, monitor and evaluate your training activities & cultural experiences, and ensure your well-being for the duration of your US training program.
MESA is unique among other J1 Sponsors because we:
- Exclusively promote sustainable farming and food systems
- Invest in exchange opportunities for beginning farmers and food systems leaders from the global south
MESA’s US Host placements tend to be smaller-scale, have diversified crops and marketing strategies, and are committed to environmental stewardship. MESA also partners with NGOs and universities — aka Global Partners — which also promote sustainable agriculture.
In addition to the services required of all J1 Program Sponsors, these additional benefits are unique to MESA’s program:
- interactive, online agroecology course and extensive preparation prior to U.S. arrival
- U.S. conference and workshop reimbursements (up to $!50/Steward)
- SAGE Certificate in Applied Agroecology (requires SAGE completion)
- Grant eligibility for Steward alumni to develop community projects upon return home
MESA’s SAGE Stewards join our global community of alumni, sustainable farmers, educators and activists working to preserve ancestral knowledge, promote ecological practices, and build better livelihoods for small-scale farmers.
MESA currently partners with three esteemed community-based, agriculturally-aligned NGOs. G-Biack is based in Kenya, SAPSRI in Sri Lanka, and Instituto Perucano in Peru. Each NGO partner facilitates “SAEP” online certificate courses to advance professional development for beginning farmers and food systems leaders. SAEP also serves as prerequisite for anyone seeking to join MESA’s US “SAGE” program for the first time.
Maybe. Each partner NGO has agreed to support candidates outside of their own country, but within a certain geographical region. For example, G-Biack, in Kenya, is happy to enroll and represent all African nationals. SAPSRI, in Sri Lanka, is able to enroll and represent candidates from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines. Instituto Perucano, in Peru, respresents candidates from Latin America and the Carribean.
Possibly. If you are from a country that is not included in the above list represented by our three GPs, you may email us. MESA may require that you enroll in one of our GP-facilitated SAEP courses and/or meet other eligibility criteria before we invite your SAGE application.
Although your J1 visa designation is “Trainee” in agriculture, MESA refers to SAGE trainees as “Stewards”. You may therefore see both words used interchangeably in MESA’s program materials.
About US Training
Before applying for SAGE, all prospective candidates must complete the 12-week SAEP courses facilitated by a MESA Global Partner. Please contact the Global Partner in your geographical region for the next course date. Upon completion of SAEP, you may then be invited to apply for SAGE. Most US placements are available between March-May. MESA may also offer “off-season” or short program opportunities during other months of the year.
Upon MESA’s approval of your SAGE application, MESA will share your application with our Host network. If a Host chooses your application, MESA will then notify you and share the Host’s Application & detailed Training Plan with you. You must carefully review all information provided. You may either accept the invitation and return your signed Agreement to MESA, or if the conditions do not meet your personal training objectives, inform MESA so that we may continue to seek the right match.
Note: Compensation (e.g. stipend, housing, food, educational opportunities, etc.) and 32-40 hours of weekly training activities vary by Host. Each Host placement is different: MESA partners with a wide range of sustainable farms, non-profits, “sustainable value chain” agricultural businesses, etc.
Maybe. If you have already corresponded with a farm or farm organization/business that’s wants to host you, please invite them to contact MESA. MESA will then follow-up to ensure they are great match for you and our program.
Daily life involves living and training full-time at your Host placement to gain hands-on, sustainable agriculture experience over a full season. Stewards usually live at the their Host assignment for the full training period. Depending on the Host placement you accept, your should expect an average of 40 training hours per week. Daily activities can be physically strenuous and repetitive during peak season.
Upon successful conclusion of your program, MESA will mail a program completion certificate and provide an end-of-program evaluation to help analyze your achievements. Stewards return to home with new friendships and professional connections made through MESA’s global network. Stewards are encouraged to develop proposals for projects in their home communities, and may apply to MESA for matching project funds.
Agricultural training can involve long hours and highly variable daily scheduling based on the season. On-farm activities are led by the Host or a supervisor, and will vary by season. Each placement offers different educational and social opportunities; Stewards may be invited to attend family or community gatherings, farmers’ workshops, visit other organic farms, etc.
While you may travel offsite and visit nearby places of interest on your days off, you should expect to spend most of your time at your primary placement. MESA’s program includes very little vacation-time: Host and Steward must agree in advance to extra days off to compensate accrued overtime, if any.
Most Hosts provide accommodations and food for the duration of the Steward’s stay. Housing may be in the host family home, a small trailer, a rustic cabin, shared intern housing, converted barn or bunkhouse, etc. Stewards have access to basic necessities: kitchen, bathroom, shower, electricity & heat, etc. Some Hosts provide a television, computer, internet and/or telephone, but amenities vary and are not guaranteed. Each Host will have different rules regarding cleaning, laundry, etc. Stewards are expected to help with general house cleaning and daily meal preparation. Each Steward needs to learn their own Host’s “house rules” upon arrival.
MESA uses Google Classroom to share your Steward handbook, resources, assign progress reports, schedule online meetings, and invite you to join monthly, educational webinars. MESA staff will review your SAGE Steward classroom during your US orientation.
MESA encourages you to meet with fellow international Stewards and Hosts, either in person if you’re nearby, or via the online Classroom and scheduled webinars. MESA also provides educational enrichment grant of up to $150 toward registration &/or travel to a farmers’ conference or workshop.
If you accept the Host invitation, you will sign and return MESA’s Steward Agreement and pay your $500 SAGE program deposit plus $220 SEVIS fee. MESA will then confirm the placement, issue your SEVIS receipt and J1 visa documents, and send you the information needed to prepare for and schedule your U.S. Embassy interview.
After you receive your visa authorization, you’ll pay the remaining balance due to MESA for your SAGE fee. You may then coordinate your arrival plans with your assigned Host an book your flight! In most cases, Hosts meet their Stewards at the airport closest to their placement. Upon arrival, you’ll receive an orientation for your placement. Within 2 weeks, you also have an online orientation with MESA staff. MESA staff will introduce US culture and customs, review program requirements, and discuss your learning objectives. MESA will also make sure that you’re able to access your Steward Dashboard to access program resources like the Steward Handbook, and we will also review opportunities for you to join discussion forums, free or MESA-sponsored online courses and webinars with distinguished experts in the fields of agroecology, global food systems, bio-intensive mini farming, urban permaculture, farm business planning, etc..
Upon successful conclusion of your US training period, you’ll complete an exit evaluation and receive MESA’s SAGE Certificate of Program Achievement that will also note your primary training focus.
Yes, J1 trainees are required to have medical insurance while training. MESA will enroll you in a medical/health insurance plan, and provide support if you need medical care. This is an important program benefit that is included in the fee that your Host pays to MESA.
About Fees and US Costs
No. Your non-refundable $500 SAGE deposit is due when you accept a Host invitation and return your Steward Agreement to MESA. The balance of your SAGE fee ($1350 for full program season or $750 for 1-4 month short program with a non-profit Host) is due when your J-1 visa is approved by U.S. Consul. The balance of your SAGE fee must be paid prior to your U.S. arrival.
SAGE is designed to provide for your basic US living costs during your program, including housing, food, medical insurance, plus a stipend for incidental expenses. SAGE is a vocational training and cultural exchange program; it is NOT intended to make money. Most Host placements provide free housing, daily food, plus MESA’s monthly fee which includes the $700 Steward stipend. MESA sends the $700USD Steward stipend, minus 14% due for federal taxes, to you at your host placement. All compensation (stipend, food, housing, other) is also described on the Host Training Plan. DO NOT ACCEPT ANY HOST PLACEMENT INVITATION UNLESS YOU FULLY UNDERSTAND AND ARE SATISFIED WITH THE COMPENSATION OFFERED ON THEIR TRAINING PLAN.
Not for first-time Stewards. Wages may be offered for Steward alumni who join our Next Level Program (NLP) for a second program season. For Host partners that do provide wages for NLP Stewards, temporary employment must be authorized by MESA, and only if wages are offered by the US Host placement, and only for the purpose of agricultural training. Upon arrival, NLP Stewards need to ask MESA for an employment authorization letter and apply for a Social Security Number to receive wages as part of their US training.
Stipends are NOT the same as wages and are only one part of the financial contribution offered by MESA and our Host partners, which typically also include free housing, daily food, MESA’s program services, Steward medical insurance, educational activities, local travel, etc.
Except for our non-profit partners which may offer no stipend or a lower stipend amount due to their educational focus, stipends are $700 per month, minus 14% due for federal taxes. In addition, your training compensation will typically include free daily or partial food, free housing & utilities.
Yes. Hosts provide monthly fees to MESA to help fund SAGE that ensures MESA can provide exceptional Steward benefits and services, including: application processing, US Host recruitment & matching, training plan support, legal visa sponsorship, $700/mo. Steward stipend, medical insurance, monitoring and evaluation, educational webinars, periodic site visits, full-time coordinator and administrative assistance.
About J1 Visas and US Program sponsors
The J1 visa is a special category that applies to foreign nationals participating in a US State Department-authorized Exchange Visitor Training Program. With rare exception and unless otherwise granted an official waiver from MESA and the appropriate government agencies, Stewards may not change this visa to another category while in the program. Some countries require that J1 visa holders return to their home country at the end of the training program and to remain home for two years before applying for another non-immigrant visa.
As your Program Sponsor, the Department of State requires MESA to notify government authorities if you violate visa regulations. Any Steward who seriously violates MESA’s program or J1 visa rules will be disqualified, have their visa status revoked in SEVIS, and must return home within 10 days at his/her own expense, or risk eventual detainment and deportation.
The J1 visa includes a 30-day “grace period” for US travel after the program end/visa expiration date. You may travel/sightsee for up to 30 days after your program end date/visa expiration. During the program season, you should not expect to spend more than 2 days off-site, unless you’ve made advance arrangements with your Host placement and MESA.
MESA is designated by the US Department of State to issue a limited number of annual visa applications for candidates who seek US vocational training and cross-cultural experience. J1 visa categories include various occupational fields ranging from agriculture to zoology! Each category has its own rules and maximum length of stay. For example, MESA is designated to sponsor agricultural trainees. MESA facilitates hands-on training at farms and other agriculture-related companies and organizations where trainees live, train and/or work in their occupational field of agriculture to gain practical or advanced experience to be applied upon return home.
Trainees must have prior hands-on experience in agriculture; Interns are not required to have hands-on experience in their field of study.
No, MESA is designated to sponsor agriculture Trainees only, not Interns.
If you are a currently enrolled student, you must also have 5 years of hands-on farm experience to qualify for the J1 Agricultural Trainee visa, which is the same requirement for candidates without a college degree.
Yes, if you already have a degree in agriculture, you only need to have 1 year of hands-on agriculture experience to qualify for the J1 Trainee visa.
Private Sector Programs (for profit companies and non-profit organizations), government agencies and academic institutions designated to issue J1 visa applications are called Program Sponsors. MESA is a US Program Sponsor for agricultural trainees.
Program Sponsors issue pre-arrival information and documents (J1 visa application form DS-2019 and US Training Plan form DS-7002) for approved candidates to apply for J1 Visa authorization at US Consulates in their home countries. Upon US arrival, Program Sponsors provide a welcome orientation (in-person or via Skype), coordinator services, maintain visa records, ensure trainees maintain their health insurance, and monitor training activities. For a better understanding of Program Sponsor requirements, look here:
No. Although all J1 Programs must meet the State Department’s Program Sponsor requirements, many offer different services, trainee benefits, and Host assignments. See above to read about MESA’s unique services.
Stewards may arrive up to 30 days before the start-date listed on form DS-2019. Stewards who arrive prior to their US program start date must notify MESA of their arrival plans in advance of travel, and must purchase travelers’ insurance for any emergency or medical needs during this period.
MESA can authorize training in the US for 1 to 12 months. Most programs are for 6 – 8 months, while some programs with nonprofit partners may last just 3-4 month. Stewards who successfully complete the program also have a 30 day “grace period” at the end of their training. The 30-day grace period is for US travel, sightseeing, etc.
No, you must apply for your J1 visa at the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate based in your home country.
Stewards must return to their home country for two years before they may re-apply for another J1 visa.
I have more visa questions! If you have questions about J1 visas and US Program Sponsorship, please visit the US Department of State’s J1 Visa web site for many more FAQs: