The Trump Administration is evaluating potential reductions to U.S. cultural exchange programs that allow young people from across the world the opportunity to work temporarily in the US. The potential cuts would impact five programs that are part of the J-1 visa exchange visitor program.

The review of these cultural exchange programs is part of the President Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order issued in April. This order seeks to protect American workers by prioritizing their abilities in the U.S. labor market while directing the appropriate government agencies to review current U.S. immigration policies and procedures. The impacted J-1 programs include the Summer Work Travel Program, the au pair program, as well as programs geared towards camp counselors and interns.  Other J-1 visa programs are not under scrutiny such as those focused on educational exchange for college students.

This summer, bipartisan members of both the House and the Senate wrote to President Trump explaining the importance of the summer work travel program for both students and the small businesses that utilize these workers. Small businesses such as amusement parks, resorts, and restaurants across the country rely on the Summer Work Travel Program participants to adequately staff their seasonal job openings. Without the Summer Work Travel Program, these businesses would not have the necessary labor force to satisfy their consumer demand during the busy summer months. These businesses may be forced to shorten their hours or offer fewer services causing economic ramifications for many seasonal businesses.

While no decisions have been made on the future of these visa programs, some of the options include eliminating the programs or imposing new regulations on companies seeking to employ program participants.  Regarding the potential cuts, a White House official stated that “presently, we continue to implement the J-1 visa programs at the same levels we have for the past few years, and we appreciate the support that American businesses have shown for the program and its value to their local communities.”

Cuts to these programs could have economic implications and would eliminate a major facilitator of cross-culture exchange between U.S. citizens and those participating in the programs—the overriding policy goal of the J-1 program.  As we’ve seen with recent diplomatic issues between the U.S. and Russia, cuts in the eligibility of foreigners to enter the U.S. on this program could result in reciprocal cuts from other countries in the eligibility of U.S. citizens to participate in their counterpart programs.

In a continuation of the diplomatic tit-for-tat with Russia, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow announced on Monday, August 21, 2017, that it would suspend issuance of nonimmigrant visas for eight days starting August 23rd. Nonimmigrant visa issuance will resume at the Embassy on September 1st, but will be suspended indefinitely at other posts in Russia.

The Embassy’s statement cites the Russian government’s cap on personnel at the U.S. mission there as the reason for this decision. Nonimmigrant visa appointments already scheduled for this time are being cancelled and notifications sent to applicants. Applicants with cancelled appointments will have to reschedule at the Embassy in Moscow for a future date regardless of their location in Russia. For incoming university students, the Embassy plans to release a block of appointments to apply for F-1 and J-1 visas in early September.

This suspension of nonimmigrant visa issuance does not directly impact immigrant visa processing, but staffing issues may dictate the need to reschedule some of these appointments. Impacted immigrant visa applicants will be notified of any changes to their scheduled appointment times.

The Department of State issued an updated Form DS-7002, Training/ Internship Placement Plan for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), a web-based information system maintained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  The form will now have additional and better organized information about the participant’s training, and this information will be immediately available to U.S. consular posts via the SEVIS database. Form DS-7002 officially outlines the intern/trainee’s training program in the U.S. and is signed by both the intern/ trainee and the program supervisor.

The updated Form DS-7002 should make it easier for host companies to outline a multi-phase training plan with various supervisors.  The previous DS-7002 only allowed for one supervisor to oversee and sign-off on the entire training program.  In the updated version of the form, the direct supervisor will now need to sign after each phase of the training plan. If different supervisors are responsible for different phases of training, each individual will sign following that phase of the training program.

The second big change is that J-1 program sponsors must enter ALL content on the Form DS-7002 directly into the intern/trainee’s SEVIS record. Consular officials will now be able to view all of the content directly in the SEVIS database, making this information readily available, and accessible for all stages of the adjudicatory process.

While these changes are welcomed to increase the flexibility, depth, and accuracy of the training program outlined in Form DS-7002, every stakeholder, including the trainee/ intern, host company, and sponsor must make sure that all of the information is accurate, as U.S. Consulates/ Embassies will directly check all details from the SEVIS database when adjudicating cases during the J-1 visa interview.

U.S. companies that offer appropriate internships or traineeships to junior-level foreign employees who come to the U.S. to gain on-the-job training often utilize J-1 exchange visitor visa programs for interns and trainees. This program is administered by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (“BECA”) within the Department of State (DOS). There are several different categories of J-1 visas, but for each of the categories an underlying requirement in the law is that the exchange visitor be afforded opportunities to meet Americans and be exposed to the culture of the United States. Cultural exchange as a value underpins the J-1 visa and is a policy driver behind the existence of the visa. Continue Reading Monitoring Evolving Changes in the Department of State’s Administration of the J-1 Trainee and Intern Visa Programs

The following notice has appeared on the web site of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. See http://israel.usembassy.gov/visas.html for the latest information. We strongly encourage our clients applying for visas in Tel Aviv to plan carefully given the limited number of appointments available in the coming month. Continue Reading Visa Services Limited in Tel Aviv in December 2012

A recent Wall Street Journal article appeared about J-1 interns and trainees who had been placed at Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort for what appeared to be bona fide internships in hotel and restaurant management. The young interns and trainees claim that they were unexpectedly relegated to the kitchen or to cleaning jobs, that there was no real internship or professional training, and that they had each paid an agent for placement in these non-skilled jobs. The price to work in Wyndham’s kitchen? Or to clean rooms at Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort? Continue Reading J-1 Interns and Trainees: What happened at Wyndham should stay at Wyndham

In the past hours, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs (“ECA”) has granted additional Forms DS-2019 to a few J-1 sponsors wishing to expand their programs for trainees and interns. This is welcome news. Until now, these sponsors had been in limbo without sufficient DS-2019s to meet the demand by potential J-1 exchange visitors. For those of us monitoring these developments closely, it is clear that public discussion on the issue in the past days is having a positive impact. Continue Reading Late-breaking news on shortage of Forms DS-2019 for J-1 interns and trainees

In the coming weeks, we expect employers to have a very difficult time locating private sector J-1 sponsors to issue new Forms DS-2019 for interns and trainees. In order to apply for a J-1 visa, an individual must secure a valid Form DS-2019 from a qualified program sponsor that meets the requirements of the Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Program. An individual must also have a host employer that agrees to provide an internship or training opportunity. J-1 exchange program sponsors are typically nonprofit organizations in the private sector. These sponsors work in close collaboration with employers wishing to host J-1 interns and trainees. Every year, thousands of recent graduates and university students from abroad apply for J-1 visas to gain experience working briefly in the United States.  We may imminently see a cap reached on the number of J-1 visitors admitted for internship and training opportunities for this calendar year. Continue Reading Supply of J-1 Visas Nearly Capped

Guess what’s right around the corner in the world of J-1 visas?

The “J-1 Cap.”

If you are an intern or trainee wishing to come to the United States on a J-1 exchange visitor visa, or an employer seeking to assist prospective employees with securing J-1 visas, the window to act is closing soon. The “J-1 Cap” will soon be reached. New visas will not be available until January 2013.

Every year, thousands of professionals, recent university graduates and students from abroad come to the United States under the umbrella of the State Department’s J-1 Intern and Trainee visa programs. These programs offer exchange visitors an opportunity to live and work in the United States for a year to 18 months. Participants in these programs receive a short but meaningful glimpse into America. And they gain practical work experience at American companies. United States employers benefit from hosting J-1 exchange visitors, because they foster a cross-cultural exchange of ideas in the workplace. J-1 exchange visitors also take back to their home countries an appreciation for American business culture. The program is a resounding success.

Despite the benefits of cultural exchange, the State Department has arbitrarily imposed a limit on the number of visas issued to J-1 interns and trainees. This “J-1 Cap” is about to be reached. According to our best information, the private sector program sponsors administering J-1 Trainee and Intern programs will be unable to sponsor more people for visas as of this coming August, or even sooner. Unlike the annual limit on H-1B work visas, which Congress has established through legislation subject to public debate, the State Department created the “J-1 Cap” with no public discussion and without a vote.

Intercultural exchange is an important purpose of the J-1 visa program. In a world that is increasingly global and interconnected, the State Department should be expanding the reach of our business culture. The J-1 visa program for interns and trainees is one way to do this. An arbitrary “J-1 Cap” may be a response to some J-1 sponsors violating State Department rules, or to protectionist concerns about American jobs. But this is not the right response, especially when promoting international commerce is so strongly linked to our national interest.