Frank Vessia

How does COVID-19 impact the J1 Exchange Visitor Visa Program?

As the global cases of COVID-19 steadily increase, we have seen an outpouring of support and collaboration all across the world. Both governments and companies have slowed, and in some cases halted, the movement of people across country borders in a bid to slow the virus. With such sudden change in country’s border crossing rules comes uncertainty and concern regarding visa approval and administration during these times.

We have received many requests from our partners and members asking for clarity regarding the status of J1 visas and the adjustments in processing. In this blog we will go over some of the key changes to the J1 visa processing during these trying times. To start, you should always make sure you refer to the State Department’s Exchange Visitor Program webpage for official statements regarding the J1 Visa.


Visa Passport

The State Department has recommended that due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, “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.” The State Department recently issued a Global Level 4 Travel Advisory, a suspension that applies to ALL countries. They also specifically mention that all J-1 exchange visitors currently outside of the USA (from all countries) whose start date is between 03/12/2020 and 05/12/2020 should refer to the ECA guidelines, “…and 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.” Please remember that in the case your J1 program is ending soon, you have a 30 day grace period after the end date, but the State Department again recommends you follow the CDC COVID-19 health guidelines.

All Exchange Visitor Program private sector program sponsors must follow ECA COVID-19 guidance, including postponing ALL program start dates for 60 days after March 12, 2020.

For more info on travel advisories

Within the Frequently Asked Questions of the State Department’s Exchange Visitor Program webpage there are many very important questions answered. We have selected some of the more crucial information, but we highly recommend you visit their webpage as well.

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?

“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?

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 State Department for updated Embassy information. 

Remote Work
Andrew Neel

As for host companies that currently have a J1 exchange visitor it is recommended that you follow the guidelines set out for businesses, and try your best to telecommute to reduce contact and possibility for transmission. In some cases the host company and the J1 participant may view their return to their home country as necessary, but 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. Go to the following two webpages: https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/special-situations and https://www.uscis.gov/visit-united-states/extend-your-stay.

Please stay inside and reduce possibility for transmission of COVID-19! We must fight this common enemy together by helping one another, and thinking about how your actions impacts the lives of others. Practice social distancing and wash your hands! 

Stay safe and healthy and thank you from the Architect-US family!



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