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. This means that MESA is your J1 visa and US program Sponsor. Our organization is responsible to select qualified Host trainers, maintain your visa status, monitor and evaluate your training activities & cultural experiences, and ensure your well-being for the duration of the program.
MESA is unique among other J1 Sponsors because we promote sustainable food and farming systems. 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 curriculum
- conference and workshop reimbursements
- loans and scholarships for Global Partner-nominated candidates
- a Certificate in Applied Agroecology (requires online course completion)
- grant eligibility for Stewards 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.
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
Programs are offered year-round. Once MESA approves your application, you may begin training whenever a suitable Host placement is available and invites you to train with them, however the application process is competitive and it may take several months to secure a Host placement. Training dates vary by placement—some Hosts have positions available year-round, while others may only host during their busiest seasons, such as between March/April and October/November.
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. If you accept the Host invitation, you will sign and return MESA’s Steward Agreement and pay your $550 SAGE program deposit. MESA will then confirm the placement, issue your J1 visa documents, and send you the additional information needed to prepare for and schedule your U.S. Embassy interview.
Note: Compensation (e.g. stipend, housing, food, insurance, educational opportunities, etc.) and weekly training hours vary by Host Training Plan . Each Host placement is different: MESA partners with a wide range of sustainable farms, non-profits, “sustainable value chain” agricultural businesses, etc.
Yes! We know you’re eager to secure your U.S. Host assignment, but the waiting/selection process can take months. Confirmed program candidates are welcome to research U.S. placements on their own. A great resource that lists sustainable farm internships is called “Sustainable Farming Internships and Apprenticeships“. You can use their searchable web site, located here:
If you contact a farm or farm organization/business in the above network that’s interested to host you, email MESA and let us know the contact information. MESA will then contact the farm or business on your behalf to invite them to join our program as your Host.
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. You may also spend 2-6 hours/week doing the online curriculum and/or developing a sustainable “SPRIG” project with your Host. Hosts provide a variety of agricultural activities throughout the program season. Daily activities can be physically strenuous and repetitive during peak season. MESA’s online agroecology curriculum is designed to complement your training activities and further your learning objectives.
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, conduct an on-site “SPRIG” project with their Host, 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.
Your personal “Steward Dashboard” is accessible when you login to this site. It contains program materials, such as the Steward Handbook, plus optional monthly reports, required Report forms, and additional resources. You are also invited to join the next available session (available 3-4 times per year) of our popular Applied Agroecology course. (additional free courses may also be available during your program.). The Applied Agroecology course is open to online learners everywhere (non-Stewards), with lessons and assignments to advance students’ understanding and application of agroecology.
MESA encourages you to meet with fellow international Stewards and Hosts, either in person if you’re nearby, or via the online platform. MESA also provides administrative and/or up to $150 in financial support to help you attend a farmers’ conference or workshop.
Once you accept a Host invitation, you’ll pay MESA’s fee and apply for your J1 visa. After you receive your visa authorization, you’ll coordinate your arrival plans with your assigned Host. 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 comfortable using the online education system, which includes agroecology curriculum, video links, discussion groups and webinars with distinguished experts in the fields of agroecology, global food systems, bio-intensive mini farming, and urban permaculture.
Upon successful conclusion of your US training period, you’ll complete an exit evaluation and receive your program completion certificate. If you complete the optional Applied Agroecology course, you’ll receive MESA’s Certificate in Applied Agroecology.
J1 trainees are required to have medical insurance while in the US. Your US Host will enroll you in a medical/health insurance plan recommended by MESA. Insurance costs for J1 participants range between $50-$90/month, depending upon such factors as your age, location of your Host assignment, etc. Some Hosts include medical insurance as part of your “non-monetary” compensation, while other Hosts may deduct the insurance cost from your wages or stipend. Be sure to check your Host training plan if you are unsure if the cost of medical insurance is included or not.
About Fees and US Costs
If you are nominated by a trusted Global Partner (GP), you may request a payment plan for the $1300 balance due on your SAGE fee ($1850-$550 non-refundable deposit). If approved for a payment plan, you must still pay your $550, non-refundable deposit before MESA can issue and deliver your J-1 visa documents. Please ask MESA or your GP to request a “Payment Plan Request Form” within one week of accepting a Host placement invitation.
For individual candidates who are not nominated by a MESA Global Partner, your $1850 SAGE fee is due upon Host placement confirmation, and before MESA issues your J-1 visa documents.
Many placements provide free housing and food, in addition to a stipend. Hosts also provide health insurance for Stewards, which may be deducted from your stipend (this provision will be noted on the Host Training Plan). Some Hosts may provide an hourly wage, but might deduct housing and/or food from wages. All compensation (stipend/ wage, food, housing, health insurance, other) is 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.
Yes. Temporary employment can be authorized by MESA, but only if wages are offered by the US Host placement, and only for the purpose of agricultural training. Upon arrival, 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.
Many farms offer a stipend to help cover incidental expenses for their apprentices, interns and/or trainees (aka Stewards). Stipends are NOT the same as wages and are only one part of the financial contribution offered by Hosts, which may also include their cost to pay for your housing, food, educational activities, local travel, insurances, etc.
Stipends will typically be between $500-$800 per month when food, housing and insurance are provided by the Host. However, stipends vary by placement, and may be smaller for educational and/or non-profit placements.
Yes. In addition to the Steward’s US program fee, most Hosts also send monthly fees to help fund MESA’s program and provide Steward benefits and services, including: application processing, US Host recruitment & matching, training plan support, visa sponsorship, online curriculum, educational events, coordinator and administrative assistance.
To encourage innovation and mentorship, Hosts may apply to MESA to receive a “SPRIG” grant, which involves developing an on-site project with their Steward. For these “SPRIG” Hosts, their monthly Host fee may be reduced or waived entirely.
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 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 US program Start-date listed on form DS-2019. MESA can authorize training in the US for 1 to 12 months. Most programs are for 6 – 8 months. 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: