FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (Updated on 04/22/2022)
CURRENT PROGRAMS (Updated 04/22/22)
EARLY PROGRAM END: What can exchange visitors do if their sponsors shorten their exchange programs and require them that to return home now due to the pandemic?
The Department is currently working with the sponsor community to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all exchange visitors to the greatest extent possible. In some cases, this may require repatriating exchange visitors if it is safe and feasible to do so. Sponsors are the best point of contact to address this issue, and exchange visitors should follow their guidance.
MINIMUM WORK HOURS: What should sponsors do if exchange visitors are unable to participate in their exchange programs for the required minimum of 32 hours?
The Department understands that the COVID-19 situation has caused a major disruption in program participation. Exchange visitors in “active” status are able continue programs that, as intended/designed, fully complied with the regulations – including with regard to the number of hours to be worked – provided that any deviation now from the original program plan is not excessive for the circumstances and occurred due to factors (like the current COVID-19 situation) beyond 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 program is feasible.
FUTURE PROGRAMS (Updated 4/26/21)
TWO-YEAR HOME RESIDENCY REQUIREMENT: Can the two-year home residency rule be waived for exchange visitors who return home early due to COVID-19?
HOST FAMILY PLACEMENTS:Due to the COVID-19 situation, does a sponsor have the flexibility to place two exchange students who are from the same country or more than two exchange visitors in a fully vetted host family home or can they place exchange visitors with distant relatives?
No. Sponsors are not permitted to initiate new placements of exchange students from the same country or with the same native language with a single host family.
FORMS DS-2019S AND SEVIS
SEVIS STATUS FOR REPATRIATED EXCHANGE VISITORS WHO WISH TO RETURN TO FINISH PROGRAMS: For exchange visitors who return home and wish to return to the United States to complete their programs, what actions should sponsors take in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)?
Please refer to ECA communication dated March 16, 2020, regarding exchange visitor SEVIS records in “initial” or “active” status. Specifically, “[s]ponsors 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.
TRAVEL/ VISA SERVICES (Updated on 02/02/2022)
Does the end of the travel restrictions under Presidential Proclamations 9984, 9992, 10143, and 10199 impact the J-1 academic category visa interview waiver?
No. Consular officers may still waive in-person interview requirements for academic J visa applicants (secondary school students, college and university students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, and specialists), when the applicant qualifies for an interview waiver.
This interview waiver authority currently remains in place until December 31, 2021.
The Department of State strongly recommends U.S. citizens reconsider all travel abroad. When considering participation in exchange programs or any travel, please visit Travel.State.Gov to review the Travel Advisory of your destination country.Travel Advisories have been updated to rely more on CDC's existing epidemiological assessments for each country.
Presidential Proclamation 10052, which temporarily suspended the entry of certain H-1B, H-2B, J (for certain categories within the Exchange Visitor Program), and L nonimmigrants, expired on March 31, 2021.Visa applicants who have not yet been interviewed or scheduled for an interview will have their applications prioritized and processed in accordance with existing phased resumption of visa services guidance. Visa applicants who were previously refused visas due to the restrictions of Presidential Proclamation 10052 may reapply by submitting a new application including a new fee. The resumption of routine visa services, prioritized after services to U.S. citizens, is occurring on a post-by-post basis, consistent with the Department’s guidance for safely returning our workforce to Department facilities. U.S. Embassies and Consulates have continued to provide emergency and mission-critical visa services since March 2020 and will continue to do so as they are able. As post-specific conditions improve, our missions will begin providing additional services, culminating eventually in a complete resumption of routine visa services. Applicants should check the website of their nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for updates on the services that post is currently offering.
REPATRIATION: 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?
Please refer to ECA communication dated February 7, 2020 for guidance, specifically the section on exchange visitors currently in 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.All 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).Also, exchange visitors should contact their country’s embassy or consulate in the United States for assistance. Exchange visitors are encouraged to consult the BridgeUSA website at https://j1visa.state.gov/covid-19/ to review ECA’s list of contacts at foreign countries’ consulates or embassies in the United States.If exchange visitors continue to experience difficulties returning home, sponsors should contact the appropriate OPA branch for the exchange visitors’ categories:
Exchange visitors are also encouraged to retain documentation of their efforts to exit the United States before the end of their grace periods. 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.
COVID-19 TRAVEL RELATED TO PRESIDENTIAL PROCLAMATIONS: How should sponsors advise exchange visitors to determine whether they qualify for national interest exceptions to the presidential proclamations suspending entry of travelers from certain regions or countries?Exchange visitors who are seeking to apply for a J-1 visa and believe they may qualify for an NIE with respect to a geographic specific suspension of entry should contact their nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate before they attempt to travel to and enter the United States. If an NIE is approved, they may travel on either a valid visa or ESTA authorization, as appropriate. For the latest information related to Presidential Proclamations on the Novel Coronavirus, please refer to the following website:https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/presidential-proclamation-coronavirus.html.More information on NIEs can be found at the following websites:
Otherwise, exchange visitors should contact their sponsors directly with program specific questions and to keep sponsors apprised of their travel plans.
RESUMPTION OF ROUTINE VISA SERVICES: On March 20, 2020, U.S. embassies and consulates suspended all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa services. When will such services be restored?
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.