Work Immersion program returns with expanded eligibility

PROVIDENCE — After spending much of the pandemic on hold, a long-running state program supporting paid internships is making a return with expanded eligibility and increased reimbursement rates for small businesses.

The Work Immersion program, launched in 2013 under the R.I. Governor’s Workforce Board (GWB), provides partial wage reimbursement to businesses providing temporary, paid work experience to students and adults.

While this program typically runs on an annual basis, serving around 120 employers each year, it was placed on hiatus in July 2020 due to a lack of Job Development Fund dollars. The program briefly returned in April 2021 on limited funding, but closed again in June.

But this week, the GWB opened applications for what is intended to be a full return of the program, said Alyssa Alvarado, executive director of the GWB.

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Following its pause, several aspects of the program have been adjusted to better meet business needs, she noted, including some that intensified during the pandemic.

Among the changes, businesses with fewer than 25 employees can qualify for a 75% reimbursement rate, rather than the 50% rate the program has typically offered across the board.

For businesses with more than 25 employees, the reimbursement rate remains at 50%.

In another change, the program now provides wage reimbursement for all high school students and underemployed adults. Previously, this funding was only available for high school students in career and technical education (CTE) tracks, college students and unemployed adults.

“We really went back to the original intent behind the legislation that created that program,” Alvarado said, “and that was really about helping students and the unemployed get work experience that would help them later in their career.

“We thought there was no reason at this time to preclude high school students who aren’t enrolled in CTE tracks,” she added.

The Governor’s Work Board also determined that the program could help part-time workers looking to gain full-time employment. 

“We really don’t see any reason not to utilize this program to help those folks as well,” Alvarado said. 

Eligible businesses must pay participating employees at least $15 per hour, though the program will provide reimbursement for pay rates of up to $20 per hour. Businesses paying participants more than $20 per hour can still participate, but will not be reimbursed beyond this cap.

In past years, minimum wage requirements for eligibility were calculated on a case-by-base basis, Alvarado said, but the GWB changed this rate to a minimum of $15 for all businesses due to the competitive marketplace.

Businesses can employ a maximum of five participants per calendar year under the program, and must offer 80 to 400 hours of work experience per participant.

Applications will remain open on a rolling basis. The application and full guidelines can be accessed on the GWB’s website.

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. Contact her at