A June 9, 2023 BridgeUSA Guidance Directive ends ECA's temporary COVID-19 flexibilities for J-1 exchange visitors and programs effective July 1, 2023, but introduces new interpretations on hybrid or virtual work and learning. BridgeUSA is the J Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) office within the Department of State's (DOS) Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

Read the Guidance Directive

Read Guidance Directive 2023-01: Clarifying guidance regarding exchange visitor participation in host organizations' remote policies or enrollment in online classes (June 8, 2023)

July 1, 2023 Effective Date and Transition

Guidance Directive 2023-01 supersedes any prior ECA COVID-19 guidance, and states that starting July 1, 2023, "all ECA exchange programs are expected to comply with category regulations of 22 CFR Part 62, as explained herein, and to return to predominantly in-person program activities."

Footnote 2 of the Guidance Directive provides a limited transitional period for exchange visitors who are in Active SEVIS status "on or before June 30, 2023:"

"2. Exchange visitors in active status on or before June 30, 2023, may continue hybrid programs up to December 31, 2023. New exchange visitors with a program begin date on July 1, 2023, or thereafter are expected to adhere to this Guidance Directive."

New Guidance on Hybrid or Virtual Work and Learning

The Guidance Directive "acknowledges that most of the current EVP regulations were promulgated prior to the widespread availability of remote learning or work. ECA recognizes that some host entities in recent years have shifted to hybrid work/school environments that are based on telework or virtual participation in addition to in-person activities." And so ECA also uses the Guidance Directive "to clarify how it will interpret the regulations in the context of hybrid or virtual work and learning," as follows:

"ECA will consider exchange visitor programs in the following categories as operating consistent with the purpose and requirements of the EVP if the exchange visitor participates remotely no more than 40% of the time (e.g., two days out of five) when their host organizations have instituted partial remote policies and their sponsor has approved their hybrid program participation:

  • Professors and Research Scholars
  • Short-term Scholars
  • Trainees and Interns
  • College and University Students who are participating in Academic Training or the Student Intern subcategory, and
  • Specialists."

* NAFSA applied a bullet-list style to this list of categories for readability purposes. The categories in the Guidance Directive document are not bulleted.

Note that for degree and non-degree students in the College and University Students category, only participation in Academic Training benefits from the "40% remote" rule, meaning that the "40% rule" does not apply to the coursework of degree and non-degree College and University Students. However, ECA does establish a new, clear allowance for one online course per semester for college and university students and au pairs to count towards the "full course of study" enrollment requirements of those categories:

"College and university students and au pairs may engage in a maximum of one online course per semester. Further, college and university students may take in-person classes with virtual components. Hybrid classes that predominantly require in-person student attendance would be considered in-person courses."

Although similar to the F-1 online coursework rule, the J-1 online coursework rule requires hybrid classes to "predominantly require in-person student attendance" to be "considered in-person courses" for purposes of the new one-course limit on online coursework.

NAFSA members have also begun reporting that in conversations with their DOS EVP Program Analyst, DOS intends their statement that a student "may engage in a maximum of one online course per semester" to mean that a J-1 student can count only one online course per semester towards meeting the full course of study requirement, but can take additional online courses if they are not needed to meet the full course of study requirement. For example, a J-1 graduate student who is registered for 2 in-person classes and 1 online class for a total of 9 credits that meets the school's full course of study requirement could, if they desire, take additional overload courses that are online. NAFSA will also seek to clarify this. Students who do register for an overload that includes additional online courses should be careful to not drop below the number of required in-person classes. For example, if an undergraduate student in a program that defines "full course of study" as 12 credits initially meets the online coursework limit by registering for a mix of 3-credit courses consisting of 3 in-person classes and 2 online classes for a total of 15 credits (3 more credits than necessary) later drops one of the in-person classes, they would not be maintaining valid J program status because even though they are still registered for 12-credits, their 12-credit enrollment now relies on more than one online course.

The Guidance Directive also implies that exchange program sponsors have an obligation to monitor compliance with the new online course limit, stating:

"As established in 22 CFR 62.10(d), sponsors are expected to monitor their exchange visitors’ progress to ensure they have the resources they need, adequate supervision, and that the objectives and educational and cultural requirements of the programs are being met in any hybrid environment."

Lastly, the Guidance Directive lists several specific "Sponsor Responsibilities" related to the new guidance, including an obligation to update the "sites of activity" in SEVIS with the exchange visitor's location while participating in the remote activity remote activity authorized by the Guidance Directive. For example, the Guidance requires sponsors to include the exchange visitor's U.S. home address as a site of activity in SEVIS if the exchange visitor will be engaged in remote activity at home.

"Sponsor Responsibilities

Sponsors must clearly indicate all applicable sites of activity of an exchange visitor while on program to include locations when an exchange visitor is engaged in remotely, e.g., the exchange visitor’s U.S. home address. Sponsors must continue to update SEVIS with any changes to an exchange visitor’s primary site of activity within 10 calendar days as required to be reported by exchange visitors in 22 CFR 62.10(d)(3) and within 10 business days as detailed for sponsors in 22 CFR 62.10(d)(4). Sponsors are expected to report to the Department any situations that require an exchange visitor to engage remotely beyond the 40% maximum threshold, consistent with 22 CFR 62.13(d).

At the time of recruitment and before exchange visitors enter into agreements, sponsors should clarify any site of activity telework policies that would apply to the exchange visitor’s program, as detailed in 22 CFR 62.9(d)(3).

In the event of temporary emergencies (e.g., inclement weather, public health threats, or facility closures), to ensure their health, safety, and welfare, all exchange visitors may temporarily avail themselves of virtual program options in the United States as required by their hosts at the sites of activity. Once an exchange visitor is safely in a remote location, they must notify and secure their sponsors’ approval."

There are several other conditions in the Guidance Directive covering the Secondary School Student and Au Pair categories.