Frequently Asked Questions

About MESA

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
  • Certificate in Applied Agroecology
  • grant eligibility for Stewards to develop community projects upon return home

MESA 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 the visa designation is “Trainee”, MESA refers to our international participants 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.

Stewards are matched with Hosts according to similar agricultural interests.

Upon approval, MESA will activate your application to share with our Host network. If a Host chooses your application, MESA will share their invitation, Host Application, and detailed Training Plan with you. You must carefully review all information provided, and either accept the invitation, or if the conditions do not meet your personal training objectives, inform MESA so that we may continue to seek the right match.

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:
https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/internships/

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.

Day-to-day 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 32-48 hands-on 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.

At the 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.

Check out our Farm-Centered Learning Network for Social Change. Online learning is a unique feature of MESA’s US program. Stewards are automatically enrolled in the MESA Stewards course and also in our popular Applied Agroecology course. Other courses may also be available during your program. The MESA Stewards course contains program materials, such as the Steward Handbook, plus optional monthly reports, required evaluation forms, and additional resources. The Applied Agroecology course is also open to non-Stewards, and has lessons 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 financial support to help Stewards 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 health insurance while in the US. Please review current State Department insurance requirements. You may self-enroll in a health plan (some online plans cost just $40-60/month, but offer limited coverage). Or, you can ask MESA to enroll you in a recommended insurance policy for $90/mo. that includes enrollment and MESA’s administrative support.

About Fees and US Costs

For individual candidates who apply without nomination by a trusted partner, MESA’s CAAPX fee is due when your Host placement is confirmed, and before we mail your J1 visa application packet.

If you’re nominated by a trusted Global Partner (GP), Country Representative or Steward alumnus, you may be eligible for a partial scholarship and/or payment plan for your CAAPX fee. Requests for financial support are handled on a case-by-case basis. If you receive MESA’s fee support, you still need to pay the first $500 toward your CAAPX fee before MESA delivers your visa application packet. Please remind your GP to request a “Scholarship and Payment Plan Request Form” from MESA within two weeks of submitting your application.

Compensation 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 “supply chain” businesses, etc.

Most placements provide housing and food free of charge, in addition to a stipend. Some Hosts may provide an hourly wage, but might deduct housing and/or food from wages. This information will be clearly noted in 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.

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:

http://j1visa.state.gov/sponsors/how-to-administer-a-program/

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:

http://j1visa.state.gov/basics/common-questions/#participants

More Questions?

Email us, and please include the name of your home country.