Exchange Visitor Program Information on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

UPDATED ON 6/29/20

We share your concerns for everyone’s health, safety, and welfare as situation regarding COVID-19 rapidly evolves. Please follow the links below for the latest guidance for Exchange Visitor Program sponsors and participants.

At this time, we do not have the capacity to answer all inquiries individually. Please direct all general COVID-19 questions to JVisas@state.gov.

For press inquiries, please contact ECA-Press@state.gov.

On Monday, June 22, President Trump signed a proclamation suspending entry into the United States of certain immigrants and nonimmigrants who present a risk to the U.S. labor market following the coronavirus outbreak. For the list of J visas subject to the proclamation, please see the full text of the proclamation: https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-suspending-entry-aliens-present-risk-u-s-labor-market-following-coronavirus-outbreak/.

For more information on visas, please visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/proclamation-suspending-entry-of-immigrants-and-nonimmigrants-who-present-risk-to-the-US-labor-market-during-the-economic-recovery-following-the-COVID-19-outbreak.html.

 

FOR PARTICIPANTS

  • 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.
  • On March 20, 2020, U.S. embassies and consulates suspended all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa services.
  • Routine visa services will resume as soon as possible, but a specific date at this time cannot be provided. Emergency visa services will still be available on a case-by-case basis. If you have an emergency, please consult the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate where you are applying for a visa for more information.

FOR SPONSORS (Updated 7/7/2020)

EMBASSY CONTACTS (Updated twice on 5/12/2020)

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

CURRENT PROGRAMS (Updated 6/11/2020)

  • ANNUAL REPORTS FOR ACADEMIC INSTITUTION SPONSORS: Are 2019/2020 academic year annual reports still due July 31, 2020?
  • Yes. Sponsors must submit annual reports by the regulatory mandated due dates. 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 that had to shorten their programs or those who had difficulties with repatriation.
  • Will the Department consider extending beyond the maximum duration programs in the Trainee or Intern categories to compensate for the time lost by exchange visitors who had just started their programs and returned home due to the COVID-19 situation?
  • The Department is aware that some trainees and interns who had just started their programs returned home prematurely due to circumstances beyond their control. When resumption of such programs is safe and practicable, the Department will consider sponsor requests for extensions beyond the maximum duration and will provide sponsors with additional guidance. Exchange visitors’ circumstances may change during their time off-program. Sponsors are encouraged to maintain communications with original host entities as they reassess whether they must modify initial placements to be able to offer programs that meet regulations and reflect exchange visitors’ individual and changed circumstances.
  • Are sponsors required to extend insurance for exchange visitors whose programs the Department extended for 60 days? Who must pay for the extra insurance?
  • Yes, sponsors must extend the insurance coverage and fund it as they did during the exchange visitors’ initial programs.
  • Last week, the Department extended the programs of exchange visitors whose programs recently ended or are about to end. Some of these individuals are no longer pursuing program activities or updating sponsors with their whereabouts. Are sponsors responsible for these exchange visitors>
  • The Department recognized that its decision to extend all programs based on program end date criteria would result in the reactivation of the records of certain exchange visitors who are no longer pursuing program objectives. As always, sponsors should end the programs of exchange visitors who are no longer pursuing program activities or updating sponsors with their whereabouts. Sponsors are responsible for exchange visitors who are in Active status, and they are required to monitor programs and accurately update SEVIS daily, as necessary. The Department is working with sponsors to individually address situations that involve minors (on the Secondary School Student program) who remain in the United States either involuntarily or by choice.
  • The cost of shipping original Forms DS-2019 to exchange visitors is particularly burdensome given sponsors’ increased costs and decreased revenue streams. During the crises, could the Department reconsider allowing sponsors to digitally send Forms DS-2019 (signed in blue ink and scanned)?
  • As noted during the conference call with sponsors on March 27th, sponsors are advised to reprint Forms DS-2019, fully execute them with original signatures in blue ink, and transmit them in accordance with routine requirements if exchange visitors need Forms DS-2019 for formal processing (i.e., visa application issuance or application for entry to the United States). If exchange visitors do not need them for formal processing, sponsors may electronically transmit to exchange visitors updated and fully executed Forms DS-2019 reflecting last week's 60-day extension. This exception, that applies only to this unprecedented situation, will reduce the sponsors' burden of reprinting and transmitting original forms. Please note, however, that sponsors should inform exchange visitors that electronically transmitted forms will not be sufficient for formal processing, and exchange visitors anticipating formal processing requirements should request their sponsors send them original Forms DS-2019.
  • Are exchange visitors in Active status able to work?
  • The health, safety, and welfare of exchange visitors continues to be the Department’s primary concern. Sponsors must balance the needs of exchange visitors to have money to cover basic needs with the need for social distancing. Sponsors and exchange visitors must be aware of each jurisdiction’s shelter-in-place (or similar) orders; working in violation of such orders is not acceptable.
  • Some interns and trainees were about to go home within 15 days of their original program end dates when the Department extended their program end dates. May sponsors increase in SEVIS the window for the early end of exchange visitors’ programs?
  • In this situation, there is no need to wait another 60 days for the exchange visitors to go home. If the exchange visitors were prepared to end their programs early and their travel arrangements are in place with no anticipated delays or restrictions, they should leave as originally planned. The Department extended exchange visitor programs due to the volume of exchange visitors experiencing trouble making travel arrangements. Sponsors are responsible for exchange visitors who are in Active status, and they are required to monitor programs and accurately update SEVIS daily, as necessary.
  • (3/31/2020) What should I do if exchange visitors want to return home, but their travel plans are complicated by a lack of commercially available flights or their countries currently prohibit all inbound travel?
  • Given the uncertainty of available flights and ongoing travel restrictions, Private Sector Exchange strongly recommends exchange visitors proactively reach out to their respective embassies if they are unable to book return flights home. A growing number of embassies are posting special communications on their websites and social media for their exchange visitors (students and others) in order to make contact with them.
  • IMPORTANT: Exchange visitors must keep their U.S. sponsors notified of all travel plans.
  • Is a sponsor still able to permit exchange visitors to go forward with their 30 days of travel from the program end date when ending/shortening their exchange programs?
  • Exchange visitors still technically have a 30-day grace period following the program end date. However, sponsors should encourage exchange visitors to follow CDC guidance and consider health, safety, and welfare implications for travel at this time.
  • Is the Department of State asking Exchange Visitor Program sponsors to suspend exchange programs for ALL exchange visitors from ALL countries for 60 days starting from March 12, 2020?
  • Although the Exchange Visitor Program is not specifically subject to the ECA-funded program suspension, ECA strongly recommends that all Exchange Visitor Program private sector program sponsors follow ECA COVID-19 guidance, including postponing ALL program start dates for 60 days after March 12, 2020. As the State Department has issued a Global Level 4 Travel Advisory, the suspension applies to ALL countries.

FUTURE PROGRAMS (Updated 6/25/2020)

  • Can exchange visitors participating in the Teacher, Professor, and College/University Student categories of the Exchange Visitor Program teach/take online/hybrid classes in the academic session starting this fall or must all courses be in person?
  • The purpose of the Exchange Visitor Program is to facilitate in-person exchanges. Any potential new exchange visitors (i.e., individuals currently in “initial” status in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)) may start their exchanges only if their programs and host academic institutions will be able to comply with regulatory requirements. For example, college/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)); 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)). While these regulations do allow ECA to provide some flexibility in permitting a limited amount of distance learning, ECA reminds sponsors that the Exchange Visitor Program generally requires programs to foster the exchange of ideas between exchange visitors and their American counterparts. Thus, host academic institutions should have reinstated partial to full-time classroom participation or be able to meet other formal in-person requirements before hosting new participants.
  • With respect to exchange visitors who are currently in “active” status in SEVIS and are continuing programs that were underway in a manner compliant with regulations when the pandemic reached the United States, ECA 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 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 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.
  • OPERATING WITH FEWER THAN FIVE EXCHANGE VISITORS: Will the Department of State (Department) allow sponsors to operate with fewer than five exchange visitors? If so, what is the process?
  • Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) regulations at 22 § CFR 62.8(a) require sponsors (other than federal government agencies) to have at least five active exchange visitors during the annual reporting cycle (e.g., academic, calendar, or fiscal year) stated in their individual letters of designation or redesignation. The Department understands that conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic may make it difficult for some sponsors to meet this minimum program size requirement. The regulations at 22 CFR § 62.8(a) give the Department the sole discretion to waive this requirement. Sponsors who seek waiver of the five-participant minimum should cite the Covid-19 pandemic in requests for waiver and submit them to the Office of Private Sector Exchange Designation at AGExchanges@state.gov.
    1. In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State has temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Our overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but we are unable to provide a specific date at this time.
    2. Visas that are currently valid will remain valid. Travelers may be subject to entry restrictions or quarantined if they choose to travel to the United States.
    3. Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) sponsors are reminded to continue to follow guidance that ECA/EC has posted at j1visa.state.gov, e.g., reconfirming summer placements, ensuring exchange visitors not take positions U.S. workers might fill, and protecting the health, safety, and welfare of any participants and the Americans with whom they may interact. ECA/EC thanks sponsors for their continued support of the EVP through these unprecedented times.
  • On May 12, 2020, the Department extended indefinitely its initial 60-day “pause” on ECA-funded programs.  How does this affect the Exchange Visitor Program (EVP)?
  • Please refer to ECA announcement (March 13, 2020) regarding the pause on ECA-funded programs for 60 days from the date of the announcement on March 12.  That statement urged EVP sponsors to follow the guidance issued for ECA-funded programs.  We continue to strongly recommend that private sector sponsors similarly follow the guidance for the indefinite pause.
  • Is the guidance (on pausing programs) applicable to all J-1 exchange visitors currently outside of the USA (from all countries) with program start dates in the future?
  • Please refer to ECA communication dated March 16, 2020 for exchange visitor SEVIS records in Initial or Active status. Specifically, "The Department urges sponsors to either cancel the programs altogether or defer the start dates to a date past the current recommended 60-day suspension period and issue new Forms DS-2019.”  As the new ECA -funded program hiatus is indefinite, the Department urges sponsors to defer program start dates and continue to monitor and update SEVIS records (including periodically updating "place holder" program start dates to make certain they are in the future).  We will advise all sponsors by email when the suspension period for ECA-funded program ends.
  • Has the Department cancelled programs in any category of the EVP?
  • No.  However, should sponsors choose to continue programs in spite of the on-going pause of ECA-funded programs, the Department urges sponsors and program participants to fully consider the risks of international travel at this time and to be sensitive to the current level of unemployment in the United States.  Please refer to ECA communication dated April 29, 2020 (Communication to Sponsors:  Vetting Summer Placements) on the “For Sponsors” section of the J1visa.state.gov website.
  • When will routine visa services resume?
  • The Department (or Embassies) will resume routine visa services as soon as possible, but we are unable to provide a specific date at this time.

GUIDANCE FOR EXCHANGE VISITORS RETURNING TO THEIR COUNTRY OF ORIGIN (Updated 6/11/2020)

  • EXCHANGE VISITORS WHO WANT TO RETURN HOME: What should exchange visitors do if they are unable to return home within the 30-day grace period following their program end dates due to lack of commercial air flights or border closures?
  • First, exchange visitors experiencing difficulty returning home should remain in contact with their sponsors (and sponsors should document exchange visitor records to reflect these contacts and the exchange visitors’ efforts to leave the United States.). Second, they should consult the Office of Private Sector Exchange’s website at https://j1visa.state.gov/covid-19/ to review its list of potential contacts at foreign countries’ U.S.-based consulates or embassies. If the exchange visitors’ home countries are not listed on the site, they should review their home countries’ websites and search social media to try to identify points of contact who can offer assistance. Exchange visitors are also encouraged to retain documentation of their efforts to exit the United States before the end of their grace period.
  • For additional guidance, refer to ECA communication dated February 7, 2020, specifically the section on exchange visitors currently inside the United States. Sponsors and their exchange visitors are also encouraged to review the following USCIS website detailing special situations for extensions and change of visa status, including those individuals subject to INA 212(e): Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement:  https://www.uscis.gov/i-539.
  • Where is the most up-to-date information on travel and entry restrictions?
  • For travel inquiries and up-to-date information on travel restrictions, please visit https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html for updated Embassy information. Otherwise, you should contact your sponsor directly for program specific questions.
  • What should I do if exchange visitors want to return home, but their travel plans are complicated by a lack of commercially available flights or their country currently prohibits all inbound travel?
  • Where commercial flights are unavailable or travel to a country is suspended, ECA refers sponsors and exchange visitors to the websites and social media sites of the embassy in the United States of the exchange visitor's home country. ECA is aware some foreign governments are using such sites to provide assistance, including registering citizens who are seeking flights home.
  • What does a sponsor do if an exchange visitor cannot return home?
  • Please refer to ECA communication dated February 7, 2020, for guidance, specifically the section on exchange visitors currently inside the United States. Sponsors and their exchange visitors are also encouraged to review the following USCIS website detailing special situations for extensions and change of visa status, including those individuals subject to INA 212(e): Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement. Go to:  https://www.uscis.gov/i-539.
  • I am an exchange visitor currently in the United States. Because of the coronavirus situation, my sponsor is shortening my exchange program and informing me that I now must return home. What should I do?
  • The Department of State is currently working with the sponsor community to protect the health, safety and welfare of U.S. persons and all exchange visitors to the greatest extent possible, which may involve repatriating exchange visitors, if it is safe and feasible to do so. Your sponsor is still the best point of contact to address this issue and we encourage you to follow their guidance.
  • We are hosting an exchange visitor. Our sponsor has decided to have our exchange visitor remain in the United States despite the coronavirus situation. We feel that it is safer for the exchange visitor to return home to his/her natural family. Should the exchange visitor return home now?
  • The Department of State is currently working with the sponsor community to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all exchange visitors to the greatest extent possible, which may involve repatriating exchange visitors if it is safe and feasible to do so. Your sponsor organization is still the best point of contact to address this issue and we encourage you to follow their guidance.

VISA AND SEVIS QUESTIONS (Updated 7/1/2020)

  • VISA APPLICATION FEES: 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.
  • ELECTRONIC FORMS DS-2019: Will the Department of State (Department) allow exchange visitors to use electronic copies of Forms DS-2019 for formal processing (e.g., visa interview, admission to the United States at the port of entry)?
  • No. As noted during the conference call with sponsors on March 27th, sponsors are advised to print Forms DS-2019, fully execute them with original signatures in blue ink, and transmit them in accordance with regulatory requirements if exchange visitors need Forms DS-2019 for formal processing.
  • However, the Department continues to permit sponsors to email copies of fully executed Forms DS-2019 to exchange visitors to reflect updated information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (e.g., extended program end date, change of address). Sponsors must advise exchange visitors that electronic versions of Form-DS-2019 cannot be used for formal processing. Exchange visitors anticipating formal processing requirements should request their sponsors send them original Forms DS-2019.
  • SEVIS STATUS FOR STUDENTS WHO RETURN HOME: For exchange visitors who return home but continue to be enrolled in U.S. academic institutions, what actions should sponsors take in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)?
  • For exchange visitors who will complete programs online and not return to the United States for the next semester, sponsors should shorten their programs and their status will revert to “inactive.” For exchange visitors who are continuing programs online and intend to return to the United States this fall, sponsors should leave their SEVIS records in “active” status. The sites of activity will remain the same (since they will continue to be enrolled at the same institutions), but sponsors should note in remarks that the exchange visitors have returned to their home countries due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
  • Can an exchange visitor in Active status whose visa has expired and who departed the US apply for another visa to return and continue his/her program?
  • Yes, if the program dates on the Form DS-2019 are still valid.  Please visit https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html for updated Embassy information and scheduling visa appointments.
  • If an exchange visitor wishes to return home during this time and has enough time on his or her exchange program to return back to the host placement should sponsors keep the SEVIS record in active status?
  • Please refer to ECA communication dated March 16, 2020 regarding exchange visitor SEVIS records in Initial or Active status. Specifically, “Sponsors may also keep an exchange visitor’s SEVIS record active until the exchange visitor is able to return to the United States to continue with his or her original program objectives. Exchange visitors should be mindful of the validity dates of their J-1 visas; they may need to renew their visas before they return to the United States.”
  • Can special exceptions be made to allow exchange visitors to renew their J-1 visas without traveling back to their home country?
  • An exchange visitor currently on an exchange program whose visa has expired and who does not plan to travel outside of the U.S. does not need to renew his or her visa.
  • If the exchange visitor does travel outside of the United States during their current exchange visitor program and after their J-1 visa has expired, they must apply for a new J-1 visa in their home country in order to re-enter the United States to continue their program. Please visit https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html for updated Embassy information".
  • I am a sponsor and have decided to end the exchange visitors’ program early but they are unable to return to their home country.  If travel home is delayed (due to the COVID-19 epidemic and restricted travel) beyond the duration of stay date (d/s) what is the consequence and solution?  Should a visa extension for exchange visitors be applied for now?  A visa extension approval could take weeks to approve and involves fees.
  • The Department is aware that a significant number of exchange visitors currently in the United States are at the maximum duration of their current Exchange Visitor Program category and their exchange program cannot be extended. Sponsors and their exchange visitors are encouraged to review the following USCIS website detailing special situations for extensions and change of visa status, including those individuals subject to INA 212(e): Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement. Go to: https://www.uscis.gov/i-539.
  • What visa services are currently available at U.S. embassies and consulates?
  • On March 20, 2020, U.S. embassies and consulates suspended all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa services. Routine visa services will resume as soon as possible, but a specific date at this time cannot be provided. Emergency visa services will still be available on a case-by-case basis. If you have an emergency, please consult the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate where you are applying for a visa for more information.

PROGRAM DISRUPTION (Updated 4/13/20)

  • What should a sponsor do if the Exchange Visitor cannot meet the cross-cultural activity requirements in the regulations?
  • The Department understands that the COVID-19 situation has caused a major disruption in program participation. Current exchange visitors may continue on programs that, as intended/designed, fully complied with the regulations – including with regard to the cross-cultural activity requirements – provided that the deviation is not excessive for the circumstances, and that it occurred due to factors (like the current COVID-19 situation) outside of the sponsors’, hosts’, and exchange participants control. Sponsors should document all such unique circumstances, and must continue to monitor exchange programs to ensure they meet program objectives to the fullest extent possible during this situation. Sponsors must also closely monitor the health, safety and welfare of each exchange visitor to determine if remaining on the exchange program is truly feasible.
  • Can an intern whose program has been delayed beyond the 60-day suspension still participate if their qualification for participation falls outside of this duration? For example, an intern will be beyond one year of graduation.
  • The Department understands that the suspension has caused a major disruption in program participation. Previously approved applicants may delay their start date to participate in a program where the program as intended/designed complied with the regulations, provided that the delay is not excessive for the circumstances and that it occurred due to factors (like the current COVID-19 situation) outside of the sponsors’, hosts’, and exchange visitors’ control. Sponsors should document all such unique circumstances.
  • What if an exchange visitor is unable to participate in his or her exchange program for the required minimum of 32 hours?
  • The Department understands that the COVID-19 situation has caused a major disruption in program participation. Current exchange visitors may continue on programs that, as intended/designed, fully complied with the regulations – including with regard to the number of hours to be worked – provided that the deviation is not excessive for the circumstances, and that it occurred due to factors (like the current COVID-19 situation) outside of the sponsors’, hosts’, and exchange visitors control. Sponsors should document all such unique circumstances, and must continue to monitor exchange programs to ensure they meet program objectives to the fullest extent possible during this situation. Sponsors must also closely monitor the health, safety and welfare of each exchange visitor to determine if remaining on the exchange program is truly feasible.
  • If an exchange visitor elects to return home, can the 2-year home residency rule be waived?
  • Administration of the 2-year home residency requirement falls under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  • What should a sponsor do if an exchange visitor’s school is closed for the rest of the academic year?
  • The sponsor must assess the situation, which may include utilizing alternative ways of maintaining program objectives due to school closures, such as online classes or home schooling. The Department notes that a temporary modification along these lines for exigent circumstances beyond a sponsor’s or host entity’s control does not undermine a program’s consistency with the regulations.  Sponsors have the ability to end their exchange visitors’ programs early and begin the process of sending the exchange visitors home, whenever it is safe and feasible to do so. The Department also asks that sponsors continue to follow all state and local departments of education guidance on this matter.
  • Is the Department of State asking Exchange Visitor Program sponsors to suspend exchange programs for ALL exchange visitors from ALL countries for 60 days starting from March 12, 2020?
  • The Department understands that the COVID-19 situation has caused a major disruption in program participation. Current exchange visitors may continue on programs that, as intended/designed, fully complied with the regulations – including with regard to the cross-cultural activity requirements – provided that the deviation is not excessive for the circumstances, and that it occurred due to factors (like the current COVID-19 situation) outside of the sponsors’, hosts’, and exchange participants control. Sponsors should document all such unique circumstances, and must continue to monitor exchange programs to ensure they meet program objectives to the fullest extent possible during this situation. Sponsors must also closely monitor the health, safety and welfare of each exchange visitor to determine if remaining on the exchange program is truly feasible.

SECONDARY SCHOOL STUDENT PROGRAM (Updated 6/18/20)

  • TUITION: Are public secondary schools required to charge tuition for J-1 visa exchange students under the Secondary School Student category?
  • No, the regulations contain no such requirement. In fact, the majority of public school districts view the enrollment of exchange students in the Secondary School Student (SSS) category as a voluntary cultural exchange and charge no tuition. This is distinct from the enrollment of foreign students on F-1 visas, in which case the payment of tuition is required. While the SSS regulations neither prohibit nor require the charging of tuition by host schools, either public or private, 22 C.F.R. § 62.25(f)(1)(ii) does require sponsors to secure "prior written acceptance for the enrollment of any exchange student in a United States public or private secondary school" which must include "written arrangements concerning the payment of tuition or waiver thereof if applicable." In addition, § 62.25(f)(3) provides that "[u]nder no circumstance may a sponsor charge a student private school tuition if such arrangements are not finalized in writing prior to the issuance of Form DS-2019." Thus, the regulations allow for the payment of tuition if the school, the sponsor, and those responsible for the student agree, but the payment of tuition is by no means a requirement of the Exchange Visitor Program.
  • The host family vetting and exchange visitor monitoring regulations require in-person contact (e.g., initial interview, orientation, first month’s contact, second home visit). Do local coordinators have any flexibility in conducting some of these activities through virtual meetings?
  • The Department acknowledges that the best way to meet sponsor obligations to protect the health, safety, and welfare of minor exchange visitors is, in some cases, to move them into new host family homes. Today’s technologies offer flexibility for use during the current health crisis that requires social distancing and, in many jurisdictions, compliance with stay-at-home or other health-related orders.
  • Temporarily, and to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of exchange visitors as program regulations require, the Department will allow virtual, real-time communications among host families, exchange visitors, and local coordinators during this crisis, when in-person contact is not safe. Sponsors are reminded that contact with exchange visitors during the first month following replacement is required. Even a home tour can be conducted using such virtual technology. If exchange visitors remain in homes long enough to require second home visits, having exchange visitors conduct virtual tours of their homes could fulfill the second home visit requirement.
  • Sponsors must adhere to all other aspects of the vetting and monitoring requirements. For example, all family members residing in a home must be present for a virtual interview. Sponsors must maintain monthly contact with exchange visitors to confirm their health, safety, and welfare, and that their programs continue to meet the objectives. And, as discussed further below, sponsors must obtain criminal background check reports on all residents 18 years or older.
  • This flexibility requires sponsors to fully document all technical deviations from the regulations, including digitally saving video files. Also, for host families that have not previously and successfully hosted for a sponsor, the Department recommends an additional level of approval (e.g., by a regional coordinator or headquarters staff) of the placement and the sufficiency of the technological substitution for in-person activities. Such approval should be maintained in exchange visitors’ files.
  • When conditions permit return to in-person contact, the Department expects sponsors to revert to the traditional in-person method of vetting host families and monitoring placements.
  • 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). The Department is not waiving this requirement.
  • Has the Department of State directed high school students to return home?
  • No. The Department of State has not directed high school students return home, except for the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program which is jointly run by the U.S. Department of State and the German Bundestag.
  • For the privately funded programs we are asking sponsors of these programs to follow published ECA guidance for the ECA-funded programs (which as aforementioned has generally not required high school students to return home) and to make decisions based upon what best protects the health, safety, and welfare of exchange visitors and the Americans with whom they interact.
  • Please be aware that there are a number of different exchange programs available for high school students, and not all are overseen by the State Department.
  • Due to the COVID-19 situation, does a sponsor have the flexibility to place two exchange students in a fully vetted host family that are from the same country or are a distant relative to the host family?
  • The Department understands that the COVID-19 situation has caused a major disruption in program participation. Exchange visitors may continue on programs that, as intended/designed, fully complied with the regulations provided that the deviation is not excessive for the circumstances, and that it occurred due to factors (like the current COVID-19 situation) outside of the sponsors’, hosts’, and exchange visitors control. Sponsors should document all such unique circumstances and must continue to monitor exchange programs to ensure they meet program objectives to the fullest extent possible during this situation. Sponsors must also closely monitor the health, safety and welfare of each exchange visitor to determine if remaining on the exchange program is truly feasible.

3/27/2020 COVID-19 EVP SPONSOR CALL Q&AS

  • THEME: Consular Affairs
  • Q1: When do you expect US Embassies and Consulates to open for J1 interviews? Will there be refunds available for the applicants if they cannot attend because the US Embassies and Consulates are not open?
  • (A) Routine visa services will resume as soon as possible, but a specific date cannot be provided at this time. A visa fee is valid to make an appointment one year from the date of payment. No visa fee refunds are available at this time for those applicants who have not been able to schedule or cannot attend a visa interview due to a COVID-19-related closure.
  • Q2: Once nonimmigrant visa interviews start happening again, will priority be given to those whose visa eligibility deadline would be coming up soon in terms of an interview slot?
  • (A) At the appropriate time, the Visa Office will provide guidance to our visa sections worldwide on the resumption of routine visa services. As a matter of general operating procedure, most visa sections worldwide schedule visa interviews for students and exchange visitors separately from regular B1/B2 visa applicants (visitors for business and tourism). Therefore, the wait time for a student or exchange visitor is generally much shorter than the wait time for a B1/B2 applicant. In addition, our visa sections worldwide routinely expedite visa interviews for students and exchange visitors upon request if there is a compelling need to expedite visa processing.
  • Q3: Is the Department considering a visa application process that substitutes video interviews for in-person interviews in order to expedite the process when consular sections reopen?
  • (A) The Department of State has no plans to substitute video interviews for the in-person visa interview.
  • Q4: Could the Consulates and Embassies especially in China and India where we have high student populations consider issuing student and scholar visas (F & J) via mail in documents and interviews via skype or face time, instead of in person?
  • (A) The Department of State has no plans to substitute video interviews for the in-person visa interview. Consular officers may grant interview waivers for those renewing a visa in the same visa classification. To be eligible for a potential interview waiver, the F, M, or J visa applicant's application must have been filed within 12 months of the expiration of his or her prior visa in the same category.

  • THEME: Reporting and Program Duration
  • Q5: Sponsor in California asked: Has ECA considered waving / suspending / postponing program re-designation fees or management audits?
  • (A) Please know that we are fully aware of how this situation is causing financial distress on many sponsors. The Department is assessing the situation for both redesignation fees and management audits and will provide further guidance at a later time. If your designation is up for renewal in the next couple months, please apply in SEVIS online before expiration. We will work with you on collection of supporting materials. There is no plan at this time to postpone management audits, but again will notify sponsors with any deadline changes.
  • Q6: Sponsor in New York asked: Will the Department consider extending certain categories beyond the maximum duration?
  • (A) This is a very common question and one we are looking at very closely. At this time the Department is not extending categories beyond the maximum duration but is continuing to monitor the situation.  The Department is updating FAQs this week to provide an updated link for any exchange visitor whose program has reached maximum duration and wishes to apply for change of status through the Department of Homeland Security. https://www.uscis.gov/i-539
  • Q7: Sponsor in Texas wrote: Teachers needing to file extension requests are having difficulty getting admin letter in time for the filing deadline 3 months before the beginning of their extension period. What should we advise them?
  • (A) ECA understands that this is a difficult situation. Sponsors should submit as much of a complete package as they can in support of an extension request, and ECA will work with them from there.
  • Q8: Sponsor in Utah wrote: We have multiple Au Pairs who already have visas in hand, who are now not able to arrive until May (or longer). They will be turning 27 before they are able to arrive now. How can we validate their arrival in SEVIS to allow them to fully participate in the Au Pair program as normal once arrivals are permitted?
  • We received several similar questions from sponsors wondering if interns will still be eligible to participate if, for example, an intern will now be beyond one year of graduation when they are able to start their program.
  • (A) Au pairs or interns with program start dates in the next few months who met the age requirements at the time of selection and have already received their visas have met the regulatory requirements. We recommend that you keep SEVIS program dates updated and document their files with the unique circumstances.
  • Q9: Sponsor from California wrote: Please clarify that the 32 hours mentioned on the J1visa website that states “What if an exchange visitor is unable to participate in his or her exchange program for the required minimum of 32 hours?” relates only to the Intern category.
  • (A) Sponsors can reference the Frequently Asked Question on our website “What if an exchange visitor is unable to participate in his or her exchange program for the required minimum of 32 hours?”.  The guidance there applies to all categories that require a minimum of 32 hours, such as interns, trainees, and teachers.  As that guidance states, current exchange visitors may continue on programs that, as designed, fully complied with the regulations – including with regard to the number of hours to be worked – as long as the deviation is not excessive for the circumstances. Of course, sponsors must continue to monitor exchange programs to ensure they meet program objectives to the fullest extent possible during this situation. Sponsors must also closely monitor the health, safety and welfare of each exchange visitor to determine if remaining on the exchange program is truly feasible. Sponsors are strongly encouraged to document all such unique situations.
  • Q10: Sponsor from Washington DC wrote: What is the procedure for site visits with regard to limited travel and the outbreak of coronavirus? Is there protocol for virtual site visits?
  • (A) Sponsors should consult with the host placements to seek alternative ways to maintain program objectives, while preventing unnecessary exposure to the disease and its spread. A reasonable, temporary modification for exigent circumstances beyond a sponsor's control would not undermine a program’s consistency with the regulations. Again, sponsors are strongly encouraged to document their decisions throughout this situation.

  • THEME: EV Safety and Security
  • Q11: Sponsor in Connecticut asked: Should we report EVs under quarantine or only those with confirmed positive COVID-19 cases?
  • (A) Yes, we have had a lot of questions about COVID diagnoses and quarantines. Please submit incident reports for BOTH quarantined (voluntary and imposed) and confirmed COVID-19 positive cases to OPA. Please review the guidance emailed to sponsors by the OPA teams for incident reporting criteria regarding COVID-19-related cases for specific categories.
  • Q12: Sponsor in California wrote: Some exchange visitors with long programs may have to return to their home country this summer in order to renew their J-1 visas. If the Covid-19 situation worsens, and they are not able to travel to renew their visa, what would be the alternative?
  • (A) This concern has been voiced to us by many.  An exchange visitor currently on an exchange program whose visa has expired and who does not plan to travel outside of the U.S. does not need to renew his or her visa.
  • The President has issued several proclamations suspending entry of non-U.S. citizens and legal residents into the United States who have been physically present China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau), Iran, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, or Ireland within 14 days of their entry or attempted entry into the United States.  Exchange visitors who return to renew their visas will generally not be permitted to return to the United States from one of these countries.  The Department of State has also temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide.  As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services.
  • Due to changing travel restrictions, exchange visitors should keep apprised of the latest travel restrictions before making a decision to travel.  Visit travel.state.gov for up-to-date embassy information and travel restrictions.
  • Q13: Sponsor in Washington wrote: How do we report/handle J-1 visitors who might not be able to safely travel at the end of their visa, because of airline disruption or border closures?
  • (A) Updates to OPA containing summaries of these incidents are helpful as we gather information on the impact to the programs. Due to the number of exchange visitors affected by airline disruptions and border closures, individual incident reports are unnecessary.
  • Where commercial flights are unavailable or travel to a country is suspended, ECA refers all sponsors and exchange visitors to the websites and social media sites of the embassy in the United States of the exchange visitor's home country. Some foreign governments are using these sites to provide information about assistance, including registering citizens who are seeking flights home
  • Q14: A host school in Washington wrote: Most, if not all, institutions of higher learning have moved to online operations for faculty and instruction for students. Could you explain how we should report this using the Exchange Visitor Incident Report form.
  • If your institution has moved to an online environment, please send to AGalert@state.gov a completed Incident Report Form, if you have not already done so. Please use this opportunity to remind your exchange visitors of the requirement for them to report to you within ten calendar days any changes in their telephone numbers, email addresses, actual and current U.S. addresses, if any of that information does change. And please update SEVIS to reflect accurate and up-to-date U.S. address and site(s) of activity.

  • THEME: SEVIS Documentation
  • Q15: Sponsor in New York City wrote: Several of our EVs have decided, at our recommendation, to cut their programs short and return home due to the coronavirus crisis. I'd like to check your guidance on updating their status in SEVIS, and any other steps we should take. Is there a way to ensure they can return to the US at a later date when the situation has improved?
  • (A) We refer you to ECA website guidance to sponsors dated March 16, 2020. If the exchange visitor is no longer pursuing program objectives, the sponsor should use the shorten program function in This ends the exchange visitor's program and the SEVIS status will be "inactive." You may keep the SEVIS record active if the exchange visitor plans to return to the United States after the travel restrictions and quarantine period are lifted, to complete his/her exchange program. Sponsors should be mindful of the program end date and can extend the program end date in SEVIS if the exchange visitor returns to complete the program.
  • Q16: Sponsor in California wrote: Are there any options to temporarily "freeze" the status of those who state they need to return to their home country now due to COVID-19 but who otherwise would not want to end or shorten their program? There are individuals who are choosing to shorten their program and go home, but who wish to return after things settle. For the Research Scholar, that will not be possible due to the 24 month bar. Any options, if we are not using Out of Country?
  • (A) Yes, you can keep the SEVIS record in “active” status while the exchange visitor is back at home. As noted previously, you should review the program end date. You can extend the end date in SEVIS if the exchange visitor returns to complete the program.
  • Q17: Sponsor in Florida asked: Are we going to just adjust program start and end dates in SEVIS only, or do we need to generate and mail new DS-2019's to our participants once we have an official date? Since some program end dates could be shortened due to the official dates provided from the DOS by country, if the cultural exchange visitors decide to cancel, is their SEVIS fee going to be refunded due to the circumstances?
  • (A) First, review the regulations at 22 CFR 62.12 and the SEVIS RO/ARO Manuals for specific details on when to print a new Form DS-2019. The exchange visitor needs to have an accurate DS-2019 that reflects his/her exchange program at all times. Any decisions you are making that are related to COVID-19 should be included as a remark to the record. If you adjusted the dates, to include shortening the program, we are recommending as a best practice that you issue a new DS-2019. If the SEVIS record is still active, you can amend the program end date and issue a new DS-2019. In response to the last question on refunds, you can pursue SEVIS fee refunds with SEVP
  • Q18: Sponsor in Connecticut asked: For those EV candidates who had DS-2019 issued but were not able to obtain an appointment or travel would the SEVIS fee be carried over?
  • (A) This is not within the State Department’s control, so of course we would defer to DHS for any definitive statements. That said, I looked at the I-901 Fee Frequently Asked Questions at the SEVP I-901 Fee website, and per the website, The SEVIS fee is paid for an individual's opportunity to participate on an exchange program and remains valid for one year after payment.
  • If needed, the individual can re-apply for a visa within the 12-month period without paying a new SEVIS fee. In certain circumstances, a fee payment can be transferred to another SEVIS ID
  • Q19: Sponsor in Atlanta wrote: For the teacher exchange program, when a k-12 school implements remote teaching but the "site of activity" where the teacher officially reports remains unchanged, are there any SEVIS updates required to notify the government that the teacher is temporarily teaching remotely from home due to COVID-19? The expectation is that the teacher will return to the official site of activity as soon as it is safe to do so and is only teaching remotely for a limited period of time.
  • (A) This question perfectly hits what needs to be accurate in SEVIS.  If there’s been no change in the two addresses - they are still reporting to the same host placement, and the home address has not changed - then no changes need to be made in SEVIS.  I do suggest you record or document this event in the exchange visitor's file.  I'll call it a "note to file" but you should maintain this change in the exchange visitor's program for future reference.
  • Q20: Sponsor in Washington, DC asked: How will original signatures on documents be handled with regard to coronavirus?
  • (A) The most important thing to remember is the purpose of the DS-2019.  If the document is needed for either visa issuance or port of entry, the exchange visitor must have the original form - with your original signature in blue ink - on hand to apply for the visa or entry to the United States.
  • Q21: Sponsor in Pennsylvania wrote: With the impact that the virus has had on the timeline for nominations and pushing everything back, our fear is that visa paperwork (form DS-2019s) will not be able to make it to the students in time for fall. In case this does come to fruition, would an exception possibly be put in place for us to email the form to the student? Ordinarily this is not permitted, but would a one-time exception be an acceptable solution, in case the restrictions are lifted very close to the fall? Email would shave off a good week at least in mailing time.
  • (A) We recognize this is a stressful, ever changing situation and we understand your concern.  So we are closely reviewing this question.  Generally, we are not in a position to waive the regulations or other laws that govern the Exchange Visitor Program, and further many of the requirements at issue are imposed separately by other agencies.  It is also early to tell what the long-term impacts of the travel restrictions and quarantine period will have on the Program.  As previously noted, if the exchange visitor needs the original form with signature in order to participate on the Program - perhaps due to a separate requirement for original documents for a visa interview or the DHS requirement for entry to the United States - then the sponsor needs to transmit documents to exchange visitors that meet that regulatory requirement.

  • THEME: Policy
  • Q22: Sponsor on the west coast asked: What plans are being considered to get exchange visitors home to closed border countries before their visa expiration date?
  • (A) We are aware that this is a growing issue.  To try to respond to this we in ECA have stood up a Repatriation Working Group to try to assist sponsors with this difficult situation.  We are already engaging with the rest of the Department, including our Regional bureaus, in order to explore options to assist.  As we work through this process we will keep you informed and work with you to try to resolve matters as they arise.
  • Q23: Sponsor in Chicago asked: Will the Department consider releasing a unified statement from ECA and sponsors that recognizes the need to ensure that J-1 participants are united with their natural families in their home countries before the pandemic worsens? Are sponsors putting exchange visitors in danger by not sending secondary school students home now?
  • (A) As mentioned in my opening comments these are very complex decisions that need to be made on a case by case basis.  There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question that is apparent to us at this time.  For the privately funded programs we are asking sponsors of these programs to follow published ECA guidance for the ECA-funded programs and to make decisions based upon what best serves the health, safety, and welfare of exchange visitors, the interests of natural parents or legal guardians, and those of the Americans with whom they interact.  As previously mentioned, if you make responsible decisions that keep the exchange visitors’ health, safety and welfare, as well as U.S. national security and foreign policy implications, at the forefront of your decision-making, then you can expect the Department’s support.  Also, as previously noted please do check our website at J1Visa.state.gov for the most up-to-date information on all of our programs.
  • Q24: Sponsor in California asked: Is there any possibility the SWT and Camp Counselor programs will be shut down for the 2020 summer season? What about programs starting in the fall?
  • (A) The COVID-19 situation continues to evolve rapidly and its potential impact remains impossible to predict. We are reviewing this on a daily basis. The longer this situation remains, the greater the risk to these programs, but we are not yet at a point where a decision would be made by the Department.  Of course, sponsors can make their own decisions based upon the needs of their organizations.  When we have more definitive information we will share it with you.