A Department of State Bureau of Educational Exchange Exchange Visitor Program page links to the latest guidance for Exchange Visitor Program sponsors and participants, and includes a Frequently Asked Questions section as well.

Go to DOS ECA Exchange Visitor Program Resources on COVID-19

EVP Guidance Documents for Sponsors

Frequently Asked Questions for Sponsors

EVP presents its regularly updated Frequently Asked Questions in 7 groupings:

  • Current Programs
  • Future Programs
  • Guidance for Exchange Visitors Returning to their Country of Origin
  • Visa and SEVIS Questions
  • Program Disruption
  • Secondary School Student Program
  • 3/27/2020 COVID-19 EVP Sponsor Call Q&As

Reproduced below are several key FAQs and communications from the ECA COVID-19 page. Visit that page to read all FAQs and communications.

August 4, 2020 FAQ Update. EVP updated the Current Programs FAQ on the ECA COVID-19 page with the following new FAQs:

Current Programs

NO WAIVER OF REDESIGNATION OBLIGATION: Does the Department of State plan to postpone or waive the requirement to apply for redesignation or to pay the associated redesignation fee due to the financial hardship that sponsors may face due to COVID-19 or due to the suspension of certain programs pursuant to the recent Presidential Proclamation?

No. The regulations do not allow for the Department of State to waive the requirement for sponsors to submit a complete application for redesignation (see 22 CFR §62.7). As per §62.7(a), sponsors must file for redesignation no more than six months and no fewer than three months before the designation expiration date set forth in the sponsor’s most recent letter of designation or redesignation. A complete application includes confirmation of payment of the required non-refundable application fee through pay.gov (see 22 CFR §62.17).

OPERATION WITH FEWER THAN FIVE PARTICIPANTS: Can sponsors pause their exchange programs due to this financial hardship?

Yes, the Department expects to look favorably upon requests submitted by sponsors pursuant to 22 C.F.R. §62.8(a) seeking Department waiver, for up to one year, of the requirement that sponsors have no fewer than five actively participating exchange visitors during the annual reporting cycle. Please note, however, that sponsors must keep their designations current throughout any such a pause in program. Please contact the Office of Private Sector Exchange Designation to discuss this option.

July 25 FAQ Update. EVP updated the Current Programs FAQ on the ECA COVID-19 page with the following new FAQ:

Current Programs

REMOTE ACADEMIC TRAINING FOR CONTINUING PARTICIPANTS: What is the policy regarding College and University Students who are currently on Academic Training and have been since the spring – do we allow them to continue their Academic Training remotely? And, what do we do with those participants who are graduating in August and might be requesting a new Academic Training opportunity? Is in-person Academic Training their only option?

Sponsors may continue to temporarily allow active students to continue their Academic Training remotely to prevent unnecessary exposure to COVID-19. In the case of graduating students, sponsors may temporarily allow them to begin their Academic Training remotely to prevent unnecessary exposure to COVID-19 as long as the host organization is open and able to provide the training remotely. This policy reflects sponsor obligations to promote the health, safety and welfare of Exchange Visitor Program participants while at the same time meeting program objectives. Other conditions, criteria and requirements under the regulations remain in effect. In the case of a College or University Student participating in Academic Training, for example, the regulations require that the student be primarily in the United States to study rather than to participate in Academic Training, that the Academic Training be directly related to his or her major field of study, that the student be in good academic standing with the post-secondary accredited academic institution; and the student receive written approval in advance from the responsible officer for the duration and type of academic training (22 CFR 62.23(f)).

June 25 FAQ Update. EVP updated the Future Programs FAQ on the ECA COVID-19 page with the following new FAQ:

Future Programs

ONLINE VS. IN-PERSON CLASSES: Can exchange visitors participating in the Teacher, Professor, and College/University Student categories of the Exchange Visitor Program teach/take online/hybrid classes in the academic session starting this fall or must all courses be in person?

The purpose of the Exchange Visitor Program is to facilitate in-person exchanges. Any potential new exchange visitors (i.e., individuals currently in “initial” status in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)) may start their exchanges only if their programs and host academic institutions will be able to comply with regulatory requirements. For example, college/university student programs must generally take place "at a degree-granting post-secondary accredited academic institution" (2 CFR 62.23(a)); Teachers must teach "in an accredited primary or secondary school" (22 CFR 62.24(d)(5)); and Professors "must conduct their exchange activity at the site(s) of activity" although occasional lectures or consultations are allowable at other locations (22 CFR 62.20(f)). While these regulations do allow ECA to provide some flexibility in permitting a limited amount of distance learning, ECA reminds sponsors that the Exchange Visitor Program generally requires programs to foster the exchange of ideas between foreign teachers and students and American counterparts. Thus, host academic institutions should have reinstated partial to full-time classroom participation or be able to meet other formal in-person requirements before hosting new participants.

With respect to exchange visitors who are currently in “active” status in SEVIS and are continuing programs that were underway in a manner compliant with regulations when the pandemic reached the United States, ECA understands that program sponsors have adjusted program activities to meet their obligations to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of their exchange participants. In keeping with ECA's message on March 11, 2020 (https://j1visa.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/3.11.2020_Exchange-Visitor-Program-Sponsor-Guidance.pdf), ECA continues to ask sponsors and exchange visitors to consult with host organizations to find alternative ways to maintain program objectives, including online classes or other arrangements, while preventing unnecessary exposure to COVID-19. A temporary modification along these lines of a current exchange participant's program due to exigent circumstances beyond a sponsor’s or host entity’s control does not undermine the program’s original consistency with the regulations.

June 11 FAQ Updates. EVP updated the ECA COVID-19 page with the following new FAQs:

Guidance for Exchange Visitors Returning to Their Country of Origin

EXCHANGE VISITORS WHO WANT TO RETURN HOME: What should exchange visitors do if they are unable to return home within the 30-day grace period following their program end dates due to lack of commercial air flights or border closures?

First, exchange visitors experiencing difficulty returning home should remain in contact with their sponsors (and sponsors should document exchange visitor records to reflect these contacts and the exchange visitors’ efforts to leave the United States.). Second, they should consult the Office of Private Sector Exchange’s website at https://j1visa.state.gov/covid-19/ to review its list of potential contacts at foreign countries’ U.S.-based consulates or embassies. If the exchange visitors’ home countries are not listed on the site, they should review their home countries’ websites and search social media to try to identify points of contact who can offer assistance. Exchange visitors are also encouraged to retain documentation of their efforts to exit the United States before the end of their grace period.

For additional guidance, refer to ECA communication dated February 7, 2020, specifically the section on exchange visitors currently inside the United States. Sponsors and their exchange visitors are also encouraged to review the following 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:  https://www.uscis.gov/i-539.

Current Programs

ANNUAL REPORTS FOR ACADEMIC INSTITUTION SPONSORS: Are 2019/2020 academic year annual reports still due July 31, 2020?

Yes. Sponsors must submit annual reports by the regulatory mandated due dates. Annual report narratives should explain program highlights as well as difficulties, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sponsors are encouraged to provide data and/or narratives on the number of exchange visitors that had to shorten their programs or those who had difficulties with repatriation.

Future Programs

OPERATING WITH FEWER THAN FIVE EXCHANGE VISITORS: Will the Department of State (Department) allow sponsors to operate with fewer than five exchange visitors? If so, what is the process?

Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) regulations at 22 § CFR 62.8(a) require sponsors (other than federal government agencies) to have at least five active exchange visitors during the annual reporting cycle (e.g., academic, calendar, or fiscal year) stated in their individual letters of designation or redesignation. The Department understands that conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic may make it difficult for some sponsors to meet this minimum program size requirement. The regulations at 22 CFR § 62.8(a) give the Department the sole discretion to waive this requirement. Sponsors who seek waiver of the five-participant minimum should cite the Covid-19 pandemic in requests for waiver and submit them to the Office of Private Sector Exchange Designation at [email protected]

Visa and SEVIS Questions

ELECTRONIC FORMS DS-2019: Will the Department of State (Department) allow exchange visitors to use electronic copies of Forms DS-2019 for formal processing (e.g., visa interview, admission to the United States at the port of entry)?

No. As noted during the conference call with sponsors on March 27th, sponsors are advised to print Forms DS-2019, fully execute them with original signatures in blue ink, and transmit them in accordance with regulatory requirements if exchange visitors need Forms DS-2019 for formal processing.

However, the Department continues to permit sponsors to email copies of fully executed Forms DS-2019 to exchange visitors to reflect updated information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (e.g., extended program end date, change of address). Sponsors must advise exchange visitors that electronic versions of Form-DS-2019 cannot be used for formal processing. Exchange visitors anticipating formal processing requirements should request their sponsors send them original Forms DS-2019.

SEVIS STATUS FOR STUDENTS WHO RETURN HOME: For exchange visitors who return home but continue to be enrolled in U.S. academic institutions, what actions should sponsors take in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)?

For exchange visitors who will complete programs online and not return to the United States for the next semester, sponsors should shorten their programs and their status will revert to “inactive.” For exchange visitors who are continuing programs online and intend to return to the United States this fall, sponsors should leave their SEVIS records in “active” status. The sites of activity will remain the same (since they will continue to be enrolled at the same institutions), but sponsors should note in remarks that the exchange visitors have returned to their home countries due to the COVID 19 pandemic.

Update to "Program Disruption" FAQs. (April 13, 2020) EVP updated its "Program Disruption" FAQs on the ECA COVID-19 page with the following:

What should a sponsor do if the Exchange Visitor cannot meet the cross-cultural activity requirements in the regulations?

The Department understands that the COVID-19 situation has caused a major disruption in program participation. 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, and that it occurred due to factors (like the current COVID-19 situation) outside of the sponsors’, hosts’, and exchange participants control. Sponsors should document all such unique circumstances, and must continue to monitor exchange programs to ensure they meet program objectives to the fullest extent possible during this situation. Sponsors must also closely monitor the health, safety and welfare of each exchange visitor to determine if remaining on the exchange program is truly feasible.

Updates to "Current Programs" FAQs, Following Automatic 60-Day Extension of Program End Dates. (April 7, 2020) ECA updated its "Current Programs" FAQs on the ECA COVID-19 page with the following responses to questions arising out of its April 2, 2020 automatic 60-day extension of program end dates:

Yes, sponsors must extend the insurance coverage and fund it as they did during the exchange visitors' initial programs.

The Department recognized that its decision to extend all programs based on program end date criteria would result in the reactivation of the records of certain exchange visitors who are no longer pursuing program objectives. As always, sponsors should end the programs of exchange visitors who are no longer pursuing program activities or updating sponsors with their whereabouts. Sponsors are responsible for exchange visitors who are in Active status, and they are required to monitor programs and accurately update SEVIS daily, as necessary. The Department is working with sponsors to individually address situations that involve minors (on the Secondary School Student program) who remain in the United States either involuntarily or by choice.

As noted during the conference call with sponsors on March 27th, sponsors are advised to reprint Forms DS-2019, fully execute them with original signatures in blue ink, and transmit them in accordance with routine requirements if exchange visitors need Forms DS-2019 for formal processing (i.e., visa application issuance or application for entry to the United States). If exchange visitors do not need them for formal processing, sponsors may electronically transmit to exchange visitors updated and fully executed Forms DS-2019 reflecting last week's 60-day extension. This exception, that applies only to this unprecedented situation, will reduce the sponsors' burden of reprinting and transmitting original forms. Please note, however, that sponsors should inform exchange visitors that electronically transmitted forms will not be sufficient for formal processing, and exchange visitors anticipating formal processing requirements should request their sponsors send them original Forms DS-2019.

The health, safety, and welfare of exchange visitors continues to be the Department's primary concern. Sponsors must balance the needs of exchange visitors to have money to cover basic needs with the need for social distancing. Sponsors and exchange visitors must be aware of each jurisdiction's shelter-in-place (or similar) orders; working in violation of such orders is not acceptable.

In this situation, there is no need to wait another 60 days for the exchange visitors to go home. If the exchange visitors were prepared to end their programs early and their travel arrangements are in place with no anticipated delays or restrictions, they should leave as originally planned. The Department extended exchange visitor programs due to the volume of exchange visitors experiencing trouble making travel arrangements. Sponsors are responsible for exchange visitors who are in Active status, and they are required to monitor programs and accurately update SEVIS daily, as necessary.

DOS Implements Automatic J-1 Program Extensions for Some in Response to COVID-19. (April 2, 2020) ECA emailed exchange visitor program sponsors to inform them that DOS "will now push a two-month extension to program end dates in SEVIS on active records with a program end date between April 1 – May 31, 2020 in order to provide exchange visitors the opportunity to complete either their educational or training programs, or continue to finalize travel plans to return home." It appears from the message that this will happen automatically in SEVIS, and not require any action on the part of the sponsor or the participant. DOS also says that it will "work with sponsors to push a reinstatement and extension in SEVIS resulting in a program end date of May 31, 2020... for exchange visitors who completed their exchange programs in March but remain in the U.S. due to circumstances outside of their control (lack of flights home, etc.)." Sponsors would have to send DOS a list of participants to whom that action should be applied.

March 27, 2020 EVP Sponsor Call Questions and Answers. The Department of State Exchange Visitor Program posted the questions and answers arising out of their March 27, 2020 teleconference with Exchange Visitor Program sponsors. (March 27, 2020)

Moving Towards and Online Environment. (March 17, 2020) The Exchange Visitor Program's March 17, 2020 message states:

"In accordance with monitoring requirements, we ask that if your institution is moving towards an online environment, please report it to [email protected] using the Incident Report Form if you have not already done so. OPA is aware that as some sponsors move their operations to an online environment,their institutions are concurrently working on measures to decrease the density of their campuses (including moving exchange visitors out of university housing). If your institution is taking measures to relocate exchange visitors from campus housing, please detail this in your Incident Report and explain the options and/or resources you are providing to exchange visitors in terms of alternative housing. Please use this opportunity to remind your exchange visitors of the requirement for them to report to you within ten calendar days any changes in their telephone numbers, email addresses, actual and current U.S. addresses, and site of activity [22 CFR 62.10(d)(3)]. Please update SEVIS when necessary to reflect accurate program information including current U.S. address and site(s) of activity.

The Incident Report Form is available on the Academic Program Sponsors page on the j1visa.state.gov website.