On October 6, 2014, the Department of State (“DOS”) announced newly enacted amendments to Subpart A of the J-1 visa exchange visitor program rules and regulations. The new rules applicable to J-1 visa exchange visitor programs and program participants require: (1) independent annual audits; (2) annual reports; (3) criminal background checks of responsible officers and alternate responsible officers; (4) increased duties of responsible officers and alternate responsible officers; (5) increased monitoring of exchange visitors; (6) increased notification requirements; (7) increased monitoring of, and requirements pertaining to, third-party service providers; and (8) objective requirements to determine exchange visitors are proficient in English. Most importantly, effective May 15, 2015, the new rules require increased minimum insurance requirements that specifically mandate that exchange visitors have: (1) medical insurance coverage of at least $100,000 per accident or illness; (2) repatriation of remains coverage in the amount of $25,000; (3) medical evacuation coverage in the amount of $50,000; and (4) a $500 ceiling on deductibles.
Due to the inherent nature of how the J-1 visa program operates, however, a few of these requirements cannot be applicable, from a practical standpoint, if the effective date occurred after an exchange visitor had entered the US and begun participating in a program. For example, the new rules surrounding the English proficiency requirement would likely not apply to current exchange visitors as the previous English proficiency rule required sponsors to make an “english proficiency determination” prior to an exchange visitor's arrival in the US. Accordingly, there has been some unavoidable confusion from the viewpoints of both visa sponsors and exchange visitors. The Department of State has compounded this confusion, in several instances, by providing inconsistent guidance pertaining to the applicability of the rules to exchange visitors who had already begun a J-1 visa exchange visitor program prior to the effective date of the amendments.
The vast majority of the rules and requirements, however, are undoubtedly applicable to both exchange visitors and sponsor programs regardless of whether the exchange visitor entered the U.S. and began a program prior to the date that the rule became effective.
If you have any questions surrounding the new exchange visitor program rules, guidance you received from DOS, or any of the content written in this article, please contact us at (703)-595-2836 or firstname.lastname@example.org