J-1 Visa Program Changes Now in Effect

The J-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa designed for individuals who plan to participate in a work and study based exchange visitor program that promotes cultural exchange in the US. Exchange visitors such as interns, au pairs, researchers, camp counselors, and scholars can apply for a J visa and stay and work in the US for the duration of the validity of their visa status.

Back in October 2014, the Department of State (DOS) amended Subpart A of the J visa regulations, introducing new changes to the program requirements that would later take effect this year. Most of the changes were made effective January 5, 2015, the most recent change being the new J visa health insurance requirements, effective May 15, 2015.

Prospective J visa exchange visitors and sponsors should take notice of these new regulations, all of which are currently in effect. The amended Subpart A regulations are as follows.

English Language Proficiency

J-1 program sponsors must determine that their participants possess sufficient proficiency in the English language. Prior to the new rule, there were no specifications of how applicants’ English language proficiency would be evaluated. To clarify these requirements, DOS determined that exchange visitors must provide one of the following to demonstrate their English language proficiency:

  • A recognized English language test;
  • Documentation signed from an academic institution or English language school; or
  • A documented interview conducted by the sponsor either in-person or by videoconferencing, or by telephone.

Minimum Health Care Coverage

J-1 participants are required to have health insurance during their stay in the US. Participants who are not provided with insurance by their sponsors must enroll in a private health insurance plan that meets the following requirements:

  • Medical Benefits of at least USD 100,000 per accident or illness
  • Repatriation of Remains in amount of USD 25,000
  • Medical Evacuation of amount USD 50,000

Read more about the J-1 Visa Health Insurance Requirements.

Management Review Requirement

Private sector program sponsors are now required to submit a management review of internal controls, which should be conducted by using independent auditors and completed in a format and on a schedule that has been approved by the DOS.

The management review requirements will be introduced in phases, beginning with the Secondary School Student category. The timeline for all other categories is uncertain at this time. Federal, state, and local government sponsored programs are exempt from the management review requirement. 

Responsible Officers (RO) and Alternate Responsible Officers (ARO) Requirements

J-1 program sponsors must demonstrate that their organization or responsible officers are suitable for such positions. DOS has instated the following changes.

  • Sufficient experience. ROs are required to have no fewer than three years experience in international exchange.
  • Criminal background checks. All ROs and AROs must have criminal background checks no older than four years on file.
  • US citizenship. ROs and AROs must be US citizens and employees of the sponsor.
  • SEVIS access. Sponsors must terminate SEVIS access for departing ROs and AROs within 10 calendar days.
  • Familiarity with Exchange Visitor Program. ROs and AROs must be thoroughly familiar with:
    • Regulations of Exchange Visitor Program
    • Relevant immigration laws
    • All federal and state regulations
    • They must also be familiar with laws related to the administration of the Exchange Visitor Program including DOS and DHS policies, manuals, instructions, guidance on SEVIS and all other relevant exchange visitor program operations. ROs and AROs working with employment component programs must also be knowledgeable of federal, state, and local employment laws, as well as the Fair Labor Standards Act.

For more details about the changes to the J-1 exchange visitor program, refer to the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program website to read about the Subpart A Final Rule.

For information about the exchange visitor visa program, visit J1 Visa.