In this blog we will go over the State Department’s recommendations for sponsors and host companies assisting Exchange Visitor J1 visa participants during these tough times. Always make sure to refer to the State Department’s Exchange Visitor Program webpage for official statements regarding the J1 Visa.
First off, it is always important to understand where the most up-to-date information is regarding travel and entry restrictions. The State Department provides travel updates via their Embassy information webpage.
The State Department has advised all sponsors and host companies, that due to the impact of COVID-19 on travel, “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.” For all of those host companies with J1 participants currently, it is important that you follow the CDC COVID-19 health guidelines, and you reduce possibility for transmission via methods such as telecommuting, online collaborative platforms, etc. The State Department has stated previously that, “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…”
All sponsors and host companies should continue documenting any unique circumstances brought on by COVID-19, and continue monitoring the health, safety and welfare of each exchange visitor.
If the circumstances allow for the J1 participant to continue working as previously planned, but their Visa is nearing its end date, the State Department has highlighted special exceptions be ing made to allow exchange visitors to renew their J-1 visas without traveling back to their home country. If the J1 participant 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 State Department for updated Embassy information.
Due to the extraordinary circumstances, J1 participants are allowed to go back to their home country during their visa, and eventually return to the United States to continue with his or her original program objectives.
Exchange visitors should keep in mind the validity dates of their J-1 visas; you may need to renew your visas before returning. Sponsors are expected to keep the J1 participant’s SEVIS record active during this time that the J1 is back in their home country, and until they are able to return.
In the case that the intended and designed work can not continue due to the current circumstances, the State Department highlights the options host companies and participants have to return to their home country. Due to the restricted travel and the nature of the pandemic a visa extension may be necessary. Please visit the 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.
In some extreme situations where commercial flights are unavailable or travel to a country is suspended, the State Department refers, “…exchange visitors and sponsors to the websites of the embassy in the United States of the exchange visitor’s home country. Some foreign governments are using such sites to provide assistance, including registering citizens who are seeking flights home.”
We recommend that reducing time spent in heavily trafficked areas is the safest option, and if possible, telecommuting from home is most advised. Please reduce your time outside to combat this virus, and lower the probability of spread to others who are weaker and have compromised immune systems. We must fight this common enemy together by helping one another, and staying at home. Practice social distancing and wash your hands!
Stay safe and healthy and thank you from the Architect-US family!