FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (Updated on 01/04/2023)
We share your concerns for everyone’s health, safety, and welfare and the situation regarding COVID-19 as it continues to evolve. Please follow the links below for the latest guidance for Exchange Visitor Program sponsors and participants.
VIEW ARCHIVED FAQs
- Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) participants should contact their sponsor if they have any questions about the effects of COVID-19 on their EVP program.
FOR J-1 VISA APPLICANTS/SELECTEES (Updated 5/1/20)
- Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, can the requirement for the “Statement of Need” (SoN) letter for J-1 Alien Physicians be waived?
- Public Law 94-484, as reflected at 22 CFR 62.27(b)(6), requires that alien physician applicants provide SoN letters from the governments of the countries of their most recent legal permanent residence. Such letters must include written assurance, satisfactory to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, that there is a need in those countries for persons with the skills the alien physicians seek to acquire. SoN letters must bear the seal of the concerned governments and be signed by a duly designated official of the governments.
- The SoN letter is a requirement that cannot be waived. While the Department generally requires SoN letters to be provided by the relevant Ministries of Health, this may not be possible at this time. Temporarily, and due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Department will allow flexibility to help applicants meet this requirement. For example, the Department will allow both electronically signed SoN letters from Ministries of Health and SoN letters issued by foreign embassies in the United States, where the relevant countries have elected to authorize their embassies to provide these statements. For, individuals applying for fellowship training for whom ECFMG already has SoN letters on file for the related specialty, it is not necessary to submit new SoN letters. For further guidance, please reach out to ECFMG at: EVSP-support@ECFMG.org.
CURRENT PROGRAMS (Updated 04/22/22)
- Are J-1 exchange visitors who are in research or training programs at host organizations eligible to participate in a host organization's telework policy? What are the Department's recommendations or requirements for J-1 exchange visitors in regard to being physically onsite at their host sites?
- As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect communities throughout the United States, some host organizations continue to offer a hybrid model (both virtual and in-person elements) by instituting telework policies for employees. Through June 30, 2023, ECA’s guidance continues to be that temporary modification of a current, active-status exchange visitor's program due to exigent circumstances beyond a sponsor’s or host entity’s control does not undermine the program’s original consistency with program regulations. ECA understands that program sponsors may need to adjust program activities to meet their obligations to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of their exchange visitors. Sponsors may pursue ways to maintain program objectives, including a limited hybrid option, of one to two telework days per week, for one more academic year, not to exceed June 30, 2023, while preventing unnecessary exposure to COVID-19. The limited hybrid option is available for the following five exchange categories' host organizations that have instituted telework policies: College/University Student (Academic Training and Student Intern), Research Scholar, Short Term Scholar, Intern, and Trainee. A fully or predominantly virtual exchange program is not permitted. Designated sponsors in those five categories have the discretion to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether J-1 exchange visitors may be eligible to participate in host organizations' hybrid telework policies provided they can successfully achieve the objectives of their exchange programs and meet the purpose of the Fulbright Hays Act of 1961 to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.
- Please note that new exchange visitors can participate in programs only if their host organizations have reinstated partial to full in-person activities.
- Sponsors are expected to continue to monitor their exchange visitors' progress to ensure that the original objectives and educational and cultural requirements of the programs are being met. Sponsors should also ensure exchange visitors have access to the resources needed to carry out their programs (e.g., Research Scholars can effectively collaborate with colleagues and be provided with the resources and equipment needed to perform their research duties and responsibilities).
- Given surges in COVID-19 cases, are exchange visitors, where possible, permitted to pivot to/conduct their programs online or in virtual environments?
- ECA acknowledges that the uncertainty created by surges in COVID-19 cases may continue to lead to varying local health and safety requirements. As we continue to navigate challenges from the ongoing pandemic, ECA understands that program sponsors may need to adjust program activities to meet their obligations to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of their exchange visitors. In keeping with ECA guidance at the onset of the pandemic, we ask sponsors and exchange visitors to consult with host schools and host organizations to pursue ways to maintain program objectives, including online classes or other remote telework arrangements, while preventing unnecessary exposure to COVID-19. ECA confirms that previous guidance in a variety of FAQs is still valid. Through June 30, 2023, ECA’s guidance continues to be that temporary modification of a current, active-status exchange visitor's program due to exigent circumstances beyond a sponsor’s or host entity’s control does not undermine the program’s original consistency with program regulations.
- Please note, however, that new exchange visitors can participate in programs only if their host organizations (e.g., schools or businesses) have reinstated partial to full in-person activities.
- We ask that sponsors continue to keep us apprised of adjusted program activities. Please report to the Office of Private Sector Exchange Program Administration (OPA), via the email address listed below for the respective category, of individual sponsor and host institutions’ decisions and altered modalities, as they may vary according to local and state conditions. In aggregate, this information helps the Department determine what (if any) additional flexibilities might be necessary. Please note that formal incident reports are not required.
- ON-LINE V. IN-PERSON LEARNING: Can currently active exchange visitors participating in the Teacher, Professor, Secondary School Student, or College/University Student categories of BridgeUSA teach/take online/hybrid classes or must all courses be in person?
- With respect to exchange visitors who are currently in “active” status in SEVIS, the Department understands that program sponsors have adjusted program activities to meet their obligations to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of their exchange participants in the context of the pandemic. In keeping with its March 11, 2020 message (https://j1visa.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/3.11.2020_Exchange-Visitor-Program-Sponsor-Guidance.pdf), the Bureau of Educational and Cultural affairs (ECA) continues to ask sponsors and exchange visitors to consult with host academic institutions to find alternative ways to maintain program objectives, including online classes or other arrangements, while preventing unnecessary exposure to COVID-19. A temporary modification along these lines of a current exchange participant's program due to exigent circumstances beyond a sponsor’s or host entity’s control does not undermine the program’s original consistency with the regulations.
- ON-LINE V. IN-PERSON EXCHANGES: Can exchange visitors who were in “Active” status on March 11, 2020, and are otherwise complying with the terms of their nonimmigrant status, whether from inside the United States or abroad, continue to participate 100% in on-line/virtual programs?
- With respect to exchange visitors who were in “Active” status when the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent last spring, ECA understands that program sponsors adjusted program activities to meet their obligations to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of their exchange participants. In keeping with ECA's message on March 11, 2020 (https://j1visa.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/3.11.2020_Exchange-Visitor-Program-Sponsor-Guidance.pdf), ECA continues to ask sponsors and exchange visitors to consult with host organizations to pursue ways to maintain program objectives, including online classes or other arrangements, while preventing unnecessary exposure to COVID-19. A temporary modification along these lines of a current exchange participant's program due to exigent circumstances beyond a sponsor’s or host entity’s control does not undermine the program’s original consistency with the regulations.
- POST-PROGRAM GRACE PERIOD: May sponsors allow exchange visitors to travel during the 30-day period after their program end dates when ending/shortening their exchange programs?
- There are no changes to regulations governing exchange visitors’ 30-day grace period following their program end dates. However, sponsors should encourage exchange visitors to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and consider health, safety, and welfare implications for travel at this time.
FUTURE PROGRAMS (Updated 3/29/23)
- Does ECA plan to continue the temporary modifications it put in place during COVID-19 after June 2023? For example, will exchange visitors be permitted to take online classes, or participate in host companies’ telework policies?
- ECA continues to assess its COVID-19 guidance issued on March 11, 2020, in which we asked sponsors to find alternative ways to maintain program objectives, including online classes or other arrangements, while preventing unnecessary exposure to COVID-19. We expect to be in a position prior to June 30, 2023, to provide updated guidance for the coming year. While the pandemic necessitated shifting some programs temporarily to virtual programming, ECA reminds sponsors that the Exchange Visitor Program is designed to foster the exchange of ideas between exchange visitors and Americans in person. As such, we anticipate exchanges will move back to predominantly in-person activities. In the interim, ECA confirms that previous FAQ guidance regarding limited temporary virtual/online program adjustments remain valid.
- ON-LINE V. IN-PERSON EXCHANGES: Can exchange visitors starting new programs participate in 100% on-line/virtual programs?: The purpose of the EVP is to facilitate in-person exchanges. For example, college and university student programs must generally take place "at a degree-granting post-secondary accredited academic institution" (2 CFR 62.23(a)); teachers must teach "in an accredited primary or secondary school" (22 CFR 62.24(d)(5)); secondary school students “are afforded the opportunity to study in the United States at accredited public or private secondary schools” (22 CFR 62.25(b)); and professors "must conduct their exchange activity at the site(s) of activity" although occasional lectures or consultations are allowable at other locations (22 CFR 62.20(f)). Similarly, intern and trainee programs require exchange visitor interaction with Americans to meet program objectives: “Such training and internship programs are also intended to increase participants' understanding of American culture and society and to enhance Americans' knowledge of foreign cultures and skills through an open interchange of ideas between participants and their American associates. (22 CFR 62.22(b)). While the COVID pandemic necessitated shifting some programs temporarily to online or virtual programming to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of participants, the Office reminds sponsors that the EVP generally requires programs to foster the exchange of ideas between exchange visitors and their American counterparts in person. Thus, new exchange visitors can participate in programs only if the host organizations (e.g., schools or businesses) have reinstated partial to full in-person activities as of the date sponsors accept exchange visitors into their programs.
- ON-LINE V. IN-PERSON TRAINING: Can applicants wishing to participate in the Intern or Trainee categories of BridgeUSA participate in online/hybrid training programs or must all training be in person?
- The purpose of BridgeUSA is to facilitate in-person exchanges. Regulations governing the Intern and Trainee categories anticipate in-person interaction between exchange visitors and their American counterparts: “Such training and internship programs are also intended to increase participants' understanding of American culture and society and to enhance Americans' knowledge of foreign cultures and skills through an open interchange of ideas between participants and their American associates.” (22 CFR §62.22(b)(1)(i)) While these regulations do allow the Department to provide some flexibility in permitting a limited amount of virtual training, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs reminds sponsors that BridgeUSA generally requires programs to foster the exchange of ideas between exchange visitors and their American counterparts. Thus, host organizations should have reinstated partial to full-time in-person training or be able to meet other formal in-person requirements on the date they agree to host exchange visitors.
SECONDARY SCHOOL STUDENT PROGRAMS (Updated 6/1/22)
- VIRTUAL VETTING AND MONITORING: For the 2022/23 academic year, may local coordinators substitute in-person vetting and monitoring of exchange students and host families with virtual communications?
- The Exchange Visitor Program regulations direct sponsors to conduct host family vetting and exchange student monitoring to protect the health, safety, and welfare of exchange students. The regulations set forth at 22 C.F.R. § 62.25 require in-person contact (e.g., initial interview, orientation, first month’s contact, second home visit). During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, these in-person activities may have been limited as a result of stay-at-home orders, social distancing requirements, and other health-related situations. Given expanded access to vaccines, masks, and testing, the Department updates its temporary guidance with respect to these in-person requirements. Sponsors are now required to resume in-person vetting and in-person visits to remain in compliance with the Exchange Visitor Program regulations.If a local coordinator, exchange student, or host family is in quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19 exposure, sponsors may conduct a virtual visit as a temporary measure until in-person contact can take place.
- * Sponsors who utilize virtual technology (due to COVID-19 exposure) for conducting interactions with exchange students and/or their host families are required to fully document the reason for the virtual meeting and all uses of virtual technology to meet requirements, including digitally saving video files.
- * Sponsors must reschedule the in-person visit as soon as it is safe to do so.
- * Sponsors should be ready to provide such information if requested by the Department.
CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECKS (Updated 6/1/22)
- Can sponsors forgo criminal background checks if, e.g., county offices are closed and it is not possible to conduct manual searches?
- Sponsors continue to be required to conduct character reference checks and criminal background checks, as specified in the regulations. The regulations generally do not identify specific requirements for criminal background reports themselves, except that for certain programs they must include a search of the Department of Justice's National Sex Offender Public Registry (which is online). This requirement remains in effect.
- APPLICATION FOR REDESIGNATION: Does the Department of State plan to postpone or waive the requirement to apply for redesignation or to pay the associated redesignation fee due to the financial hardship that sponsors may face due to COVID-19 and/or the suspension of certain programs pursuant to the recent Presidential Proclamation?
- No. The regulations do not allow for the Department to waive the requirement for sponsors to submit a complete application for redesignation (see 22 CFR §62.7). As per §62.7(a), sponsors must file for redesignation no more than six months and no fewer than three months before the designation expiration date set forth in their most recent letters of designation or redesignation. A complete application includes confirmation of payment of the required non-refundable application fee through pay.gov (see 22 CFR §62.7(b)(3) and §62.17).
- WAIVER OF FIVE PARTICIPANT REQUIREMENT: Can sponsors pause their exchange programs due to financial hardship resulting from COVID-19?
- Yes, the Department will consider requests submitted by sponsors that, pursuant to 22 CFR § §62.8(a), seek a Department waiver, for up to one year, of the requirement that they have no fewer than five actively participating exchange visitors during the annual reporting cycle. Please note, however, that sponsors must keep their designations current throughout any such pause in program. Please contact the Office of Private Sector Exchange Designation to discuss this option.
- SPONSOR ANNUAL REPORTS: Will the Department allow extensions for filing annual reports required by 22 CFR §62.15(a)?
- No. The Department requires all sponsors to submit annual reports on an academic, calendar, or fiscal year basis, as indicated in their letter of designation or redesignation. The Department does not foresee any circumstances that would alter the upcoming deadlines. Annual report narratives should explain program highlights as well as difficulties, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sponsors are encouraged to provide data and/or narratives on the number of exchange visitors who had to shorten their programs or those who had difficulties with repatriation.
- INSURANCE COVERAGE DURING EXTENSIONS: Are sponsors required to extend insurance for exchange visitors whose programs are extended beyond the original program end dates? If so, who is financially responsible for the extra insurance?
- Yes, sponsors must require that exchange visitors maintain insurance coverage while participating in an exchange program, from the start to end date of their programs. Insurance coverage during program extensions should be funded in the same manner as it was funded during exchange visitors’ initial programs.
- ENDED PROGRAMS: Are sponsors responsible for exchange visitors whose programs have been extended but are no longer pursuing program activities, seeking visa status change, and/or updating sponsors with their whereabouts?
- Sponsors are responsible for exchange visitors who are in “active” status. As always, they should end in SEVIS the programs of exchange visitors who are no longer pursuing program activities or fail to update sponsors with their whereabouts. To the extent possible, sponsors should assist exchange visitors who are stranded in the United States at their programs’ end due to travel restrictions or border closures.
TRAVEL/ VISA SERVICES (Updated on 5/23/23)
- EXTENSION OF ACADEMIC CATEGORY VISA INTERVIEW WAIVER THROUGH END OF 2023: Can Academic J Visa applicants (secondary and university students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists) continue to receive a waiver of the in-person interview requirement?
- Yes, the Secretary of State has extended previously approved authorities permitting consular officers to temporarily waive the in-person interview requirement for certain academic J visa applicants until December 31, 2023. Eligible applicants include certain academic J visa applicants previously issued any type of visa, or certain first-time applicants who are citizens or nationals of a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) participating country, who have no prior Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) denials, and who have previously traveled to the United States on ESTA. Consular officers may still require an in-person interview for any visa applicant based on circumstances in their country or any other fact the officer believes may be relevant to visa eligibility. We strongly encourage applicants to review interview waiver availability and guidelines by checking the website of the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate where they are applying. Consular officers may continue to apply the interview waiver authority which permits certain applicants renewing a previously issued visa in the same classification within 48 months of the prior visa’s expiration to be eligible for interview waiver. This authority remains in place until further notice. For more details on eligibility please visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/important-announcement-on-waivers-of-the-interview-requirement-for-certain-nonimmigrant-visas.html
- Can J1 applicants who have been issued a J visa in the past 48 months qualify for an interview waiver?
- Yes. Certain applicants renewing their J visa within 48 months of the prior visa’s expiration may be eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement. The Department has removed the requirement that J visa applicants have the same SEVIS number in order to qualify for this waiver. All J visa applicants must continue to present a new Form DS-2019 and pay the appropriate visa application processing fee. We strongly encourage applicants to review interview waiver availability and guidelines by checking the website of the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate where they are applying.
- What is the current guidance for J-1 exchange visitors regarding COVID-19 testing and vaccination requirements?
- According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, as of 12:01 a.m. EDT on May 12, 2023, noncitizen nonimmigrant air passengers no longer need to show proof of being fully vaccinated with an accepted COVID-19 vaccine to board a flight to the United States. More information here: No Longer in Effect - Amended Order: Implementing Presidential Proclamation on Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic | Quarantine | CDC
VISA APPLICATION FEES: For how long is a visa application fee receipt valid?
A nonimmigrant visa application fee receipt is valid to make an appointment one year from the date of payment. This fee is nonrefundable and non-transferrable.
EXPIRED J-VISAS: Can an exchange visitor in “Active” status whose visa has expired and who departed the United States apply for another visa to reenter the United States to return and continue their programs?
Yes, if the program dates on the Form DS-2019 are still valid. U.S. Embassies and Consulates are phasing in resumption of routine visa services on a country-by-country basis. For more information on the phased-in resumption of visa services, please refer to the following website: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/phased-resumption-routine-visa-services.html. For country-specific travel information (including scheduling visa appointments), please refer to the following website: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html.
RENEWAL OF J-VISAS: Can special exceptions be made to allow exchange visitors to renew their J-1 visas without traveling back to their home country?
Exchange visitors currently in the United States and actively participating on BridgeUSA programs can remain in the United States even if their visas have expired. They do not need to renew their visas if they do not plan to travel outside of the United States.
- If exchange visitors travel outside of the United States during their current programs and after their J-1 visas have expired, they must apply for new J-1 visas in order to re-enter the United States to continue their programs. For more information , please refer to the following website: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/visa-services-operating-status-update.html
- For country-specific travel information (including scheduling visa appointments), please refer to the following website: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html.
- REPATRIATION: What should sponsors do if exchange visitors experiencing difficulty returning home due to lack of commercially available flights or travel restrictions, among other issues.
- Sponsors should encourage exchange visitors to contact their respective embassy for assistance. Many embassies have special communications on their websites and social media links for their citizens. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html Exchange visitors should contact their sponsors directly for program specific questions and to keep them apprised of their travel plans. Exchange visitors are also encouraged to retain documentation of their efforts to exit the United States before the end of their grace periods.