Overview of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program
The Exchange Visitor Program is administered by the U.S. Department of State's (DOS) Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961, as amended. The purpose of the Exchange Visitor Program is "to promote international educational and cultural exchange in order to develop mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries."
The DOS has designated the University of New Hampshire to serve as Program Sponsor, thereby enabling us to issue Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility, to prospective Exchange Visitors. Although there are numerous categories of exchange visitors, UNH is only designated to sponsor exchange visitors in the categories of student, professor, research scholar, specialist and short-term scholar. These categories are defined as:
1. College and university students -- individuals admitted to a degree program at an accredited educational institution for a full course of study leading to, or culminating in, the award of a US degree, or an individual engaged full-time in a non-degree prescribed course of study. (Students may be enrolled in degree programs, English language training, and other non-degree study preparatory to entrance into a degree program or some other non-degree program with a predetermined educational objective.) Degree students are authorized to participate for as long as they are studying at the post-secondary institution listed on their Form DS-2019. Non- degree students are limited to a maximum stay of 24 months.
2. A Professor is an individual primarily engaged in teaching, lecturing, observing or consulting at post-secondary accredited institutions, museums, libraries or similar types of institutions. A Professor may also conduct research. The maximum length of stay is 3 years (an additional 6 month extension may be possible if it is critical to the project). By federal regulations, this visa category may NOT to be used for tenure-track positions. Other, more appropriate visa categories are available. Consult the OISS for more information.
3. A Research Scholar is an individual primarily conducting research, observing or consulting in connection with a research project at research institutions, corporate research facilities, museums, libraries, post-secondary accredited educational institutions, or similar types of institutions. The maximum length of stay is 3 years. (This visa category may NOT to be used for permanent research positions. Other, more appropriate visa categories are available. Consult the OISS for more information.)
4. A Specialist is defined as an individual who is an expert in a field of specialized knowledge or skill coming to the United States to observe, consult or demonstrate special skills. The exchange of specialists promotes mutual enrichment and furthers linkages among scientific institutions, government agencies, museums, corporations, libraries, and similar types of institutions. This category is intended for exchanges with experts in such areas, for example, as mass media communication, environmental science, youth leadership, international educational exchange, museum exhibitions, labor law, public administration, and library science. The length of stay may not exceed one year. No extension of stay beyond one year is permitted. The Specialist may not fill a permanent or long term position of employment in the US.
5. A Short-Term Scholar is defined as a professor, research scholar, specialist, or a person with similar education or accomplishments coming to the United States on a short-term visit for the purpose of lecturing, observing, consulting, training, or demonstrating special skills at research institutions, museums, libraries, post-secondary educational institutions, or similar types of institutions. There is no minimum stay for this category. However, six months is the maximum allowable stay and no extension beyond six months is permitted.
Applying for a J-1 Visa: Prospective exchange visitors are issued Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility, by the Program Sponsor. The exchange visitor must present Form DS-2019 to a US Embassy or Consulate overseas in order to apply for a J-1 visa with which to enter the US. The international visitor will be required to submit financial and other supporting documentation to the Consulate at the time of the visa application. The Consular Officer has sole authority on the decision to issue a visa based on the information provided by the prospective exchange visitor.
Program Objectives and Activities: Exchange Visitors enter the United States in J-1 visa classification to participate in an educational or cultural program in a specific program category such as a student, professor, researcher, specialist, or short-term scholar. The program category and activity are clearly delineated on Form DS-2019. Exchange visitors are only permitted to engage in the fields of activity listed on their Form DS-2019 and must comply with all federal program regulations.
Compensation: Exchange visitors may only be compensated as permitted by the regulations and are required to have a valid, unexpired Form DS-2019 and passport for the duration of the program.
Extension of Stay: A program extension may be granted by a Program Sponsor as permitted under federal regulations.
Transfers: Exchange visitors are permitted to transfer from one program sponsor to another only if the current program sponsor agrees to the transfer and releases its sponsorship via SEVIS.
Communication: Exchange visitors are required to maintain contact with the program sponsor's Responsible Officer and to notify the Responsible Officer if they withdraw from, or complete the program prior to the date listed on Form DS-2019.
Termination from the Program: Exchange visitors may have their program terminated for violating federal regulations which govern the program. Reasons for termination include;
- willful failure to maintain required medical insurance coverage;
- engaging in unauthorized employment;
- failing to pursue the activities listed on Form DS-2019; or,
- engaging in activities not authorized by the program category.
Federal regulations prohibit a Program Sponsor from issuing a DS-2019 in the professor or research scholar category to an individual who has been physically present in the US in J-1 visa status for six months or more of the twelve month period immediately preceding the start date of the new program. The only exception to this rule is if the exchange visitor is being transferred from one program sponsor to another.
Federal regulations require exchange visitors to carry
medical insurance for themselves and all accompanying dependents for the
duration of their J-1 Program. The DOS has mandated minimum criteria
for insurance coverage which must include repatriation of remains and
emergency medical evacuation expenses. Medical insurance policies must
also meet a minimum ranking system. The OISS maintains a list of those
insurance carriers which provide acceptable medical insurance. This
information is also provided to the scholar with his/her application
materials. See DOS requirements for insurance coverage for more detailed
Program Sponsors are required to verify insurance coverage on arrival in the U.S. and to monitor compliance with these regulations for the duration of the visitor's program. If an Exchange Visitor willfully fails to comply with DOS medical insurance requirements, the Program Sponsor is required by federal regulation to terminate the exchange visitor's program and inform DOS. In this case, the exchange visitor must depart the U.S. immediately.
Some Exchange Visitors and their family members may be required to return home for a period of two years after completing their program before they can change to other non-immigrant visa classifications from within the U.S., or immigrate to the U.S. as permanent residents.
This requirement applies to those Exchange Visitors whose:
- program is financed wholly or in part by the U.S. Government and/or the government of the home country;
- occupation or skill has been listed by the home country as in short supply and indicated on an Exchange Visitor Skills List maintained by the U.S. Department of State; or,
- purpose in coming to the United States is/was to receive graduate medical education or training.
It is possible in some cases to obtain a waiver of this requirement, especially if the requirement is due to the Skills List. However, even when successful, waiver approvals can take 6 months to one year. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain a waiver if the requirement is due to funding from the U.S. government or if graduate medical training was the objective. The waiver application is made to the DOS.
Federal regulations require that the Program Sponsor provide an orientation to Exchange Visitors. The OISS provides this service an all Exchange Visitors are required to check in with the OISS within one week of arrival and to attend an orientation session.
When an individual is invited to participate in the
Exchange Visitor Program at UNH, the department assumes certain
responsibilities for the international visitor. These responsibilities
begin when the visitor is offered the opportunity to become part of our
community and ends with his/her departure.
Although the OISS provides guidance, immigration assistance, advice and counseling, orientation materials and information, the department plays a critical role in helping the international visitor through the cultural adjustment process. In many cases, the exchange visitor is visiting the U.S. for the first time and is from a country whose culture is totally unlike our own. English language skills may be limited at first and it is likely that the visitor will experience "culture shock" along with communication difficulties. The department's ability to create a friendly, safe and secure environment during the visitor’s first few months is crucial to a successful cultural adjustment.
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