On March 27, 2020, the Department of State hosted a teleconference for J-1 exchange program sponsors. Reproduced below for convenience are the questions and answers arising out of that call, which are now posted on the Exchange Vistior Program's COVID-19 page. DOS divided the Q and A into five themes:
Q1: When do you expect US Embassies and Consulates to open for J1 interviews? Will there be refunds available for the applicants if they cannot attend because the US Embassies and Consulates are not open?
- (A) Routine visa services will resume as soon as possible, but a specific date cannot be provided at this time. A visa fee is valid to make an appointment one year from the date of payment. No visa fee refunds are available at this time for those applicants who have not been able to schedule or cannot attend a visa interview due to a COVID-19-related closure.
Q2: Once nonimmigrant visa interviews start happening again, will priority be given to those whose visa eligibility deadline would be coming up soon in terms of an interview slot?
- (A) At the appropriate time, the Visa Office will provide guidance to our visa sections worldwide on the resumption of routine visa services. As a matter of general operating procedure, most visa sections worldwide schedule visa interviews for students and exchange visitors separately from regular B1/B2 visa applicants (visitors for business and tourism). Therefore, the wait time for a student or exchange visitor is generally much shorter than the wait time for a B1/B2 applicant. In addition, our visa sections worldwide routinely expedite visa interviews for students and exchange visitors upon request if there is a compelling need to expedite visa processing.
Q3: Is the Department considering a visa application process that substitutes video interviews for in-person interviews in order to expedite the process when consular sections reopen?
- (A) The Department of State has no plans to substitute video interviews for the in-person visa interview.
Q4: Could the Consulates and Embassies especially in China and India where we have high student populations consider issuing student and scholar visas (F & J) via mail in documents and interviews via skype or face time, instead of in person?
- (A) The Department of State has no plans to substitute video interviews for the in-person visa interview. Consular officers may grant interview waivers for those renewing a visa in the same visa classification. To be eligible for a potential interview waiver, the F, M, or J visa applicant's application must have been filed within 12 months of the expiration of his or her prior visa in the same category.
Reporting and Program Duration
Q5: Sponsor in California asked: Has ECA considered waving / suspending / postponing program re-designation fees or management audits?
- (A) Please know that we are fully aware of how this situation is causing financial distress on many sponsors. The Department is assessing the situation for both redesignation fees and management audits and will provide further guidance at a later time. If your designation is up for renewal in the next couple months, please apply in SEVIS online before expiration. We will work with you on collection of supporting materials. There is no plan at this time to postpone management audits, but again will notify sponsors with any deadline changes.
Q6: Sponsor in New York asked: Will the Department consider extending certain categories beyond the maximum duration?
- (A) This is a very common question and one we are looking at very closely. At this time the Department is not extending categories beyond the maximum duration but is continuing to monitor the situation. The Department is updating FAQs this week to provide an updated link for any exchange visitor whose program has reached maximum duration and wishes to apply for change of status through the Department of Homeland Security. https://www.uscis.gov/i-539
Q7: Sponsor in Texas wrote: Teachers needing to file extension requests are having difficulty getting admin letter in time for the filing deadline 3 months before the beginning of their extension period. What should we advise them?
- (A) ECA understands that this is a difficult situation. Sponsors should submit as much of a complete package as they can in support of an extension request, and ECA will work with them from there.
Q8: Sponsor in Utah wrote: We have multiple Au Pairs who already have visas in hand, who are now not able to arrive until May (or longer). They will be turning 27 before they are able to arrive now. How can we validate their arrival in SEVIS to allow them to fully participate in the Au Pair program as normal once arrivals are permitted?
- We received several similar questions from sponsors wondering if interns will still be eligible to participate if, for example, an intern will now be beyond one year of graduation when they are able to start their program.
- (A) Au pairs or interns with program start dates in the next few months who met the age requirements at the time of selection and have already received their visas have met the regulatory requirements. We recommend that you keep SEVIS program dates updated and document their files with the unique circumstances.
Q9: Sponsor from California wrote: Please clarify that the 32 hours mentioned on the J1visa website that states "What if an exchange visitor is unable to participate in his or her exchange program for the required minimum of 32 hours?" relates only to the Intern category.
- (A) Sponsors can reference the Frequently Asked Question on our website "What if an exchange visitor is unable to participate in his or her exchange program for the required minimum of 32 hours?". The guidance there applies to all categories that require a minimum of 32 hours, such as interns, trainees, and teachers. As that guidance states, current exchange visitors may continue on programs that, as designed, fully complied with the regulations – including with regard to the number of hours to be worked – as long as the deviation is not excessive for the circumstances. Of course, sponsors 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. Sponsors are strongly encouraged to document all such unique situations.
Q10: Sponsor from Washington DC wrote: What is the procedure for site visits with regard to limited travel and the outbreak of coronavirus? Is there protocol for virtual site visits?
- (A) Sponsors should consult with the host placements to seek alternative ways to maintain program objectives, while preventing unnecessary exposure to the disease and its spread. A reasonable, temporary modification for exigent circumstances beyond a sponsor's control would not undermine a program's consistency with the regulations. Again, sponsors are strongly encouraged to document their decisions throughout this situation.
EV Safety and Security
Q11: Sponsor in Connecticut asked: Should we report EVs under quarantine or only those with confirmed positive COVID-19 cases?
- (A) Yes, we have had a lot of questions about COVID diagnoses and quarantines. Please submit incident reports for BOTH quarantined (voluntary and imposed) and confirmed COVID-19 positive cases to OPA. Please review the guidance emailed to sponsors by the OPA teams for incident reporting criteria regarding COVID-19-related cases for specific categories.
Q12: Sponsor in California wrote: Some exchange visitors with long programs may have to return to their home country this summer in order to renew their J-1 visas. If the Covid-19 situation worsens, and they are not able to travel to renew their visa, what would be the alternative?
- (A) This concern has been voiced to us by many. An exchange visitor currently on an exchange program whose visa has expired and who does not plan to travel outside of the U.S. does not need to renew his or her visa.
- The President has issued several proclamations suspending entry of non-U.S. citizens and legal residents into the United States who have been physically present China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau), Iran, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, or Ireland within 14 days of their entry or attempted entry into the United States. Exchange visitors who return to renew their visas will generally not be permitted to return to the United States from one of these countries. The Department of State has also temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide. As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services.
- Due to changing travel restrictions, exchange visitors should keep apprised of the latest travel restrictions before making a decision to travel. Visit travel.state.gov for up-to-date embassy information and travel restrictions.
Q13: Sponsor in Washington wrote: How do we report/handle J-1 visitors who might not be able to safely travel at the end of their visa, because of airline disruption or border closures?
- (A) Updates to OPA containing summaries of these incidents are helpful as we gather information on the impact to the programs. Due to the number of exchange visitors affected by airline disruptions and border closures, individual incident reports are unnecessary.
- Where commercial flights are unavailable or travel to a country is suspended, ECA refers all sponsors and exchange visitors to the websites and social media sites of the embassy in the United States of the exchange visitor's home country. Some foreign governments are using these sites to provide information about assistance, including registering citizens who are seeking flights home
Q14: A host school in Washington wrote: Most, if not all, institutions of higher learning have moved to online operations for faculty and instruction for students. Could you explain how we should report this using the Exchange Visitor Incident Report form.
- If your institution has moved to an online environment, please send to [email protected] a completed Incident Report Form, if you have not already done so. 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, if any of that information does change. And please update SEVIS to reflect accurate and up-to-date U.S. address and site(s) of activity.
Q15: Sponsor in New York City wrote: Several of our EVs have decided, at our recommendation, to cut their programs short and return home due to the coronavirus crisis. I'd like to check your guidance on updating their status in SEVIS, and any other steps we should take. Is there a way to ensure they can return to the US at a later date when the situation has improved?
- (A) We refer you to ECA website guidance to sponsors dated March 16, 2020. If the exchange visitor is no longer pursuing program objectives, the sponsor should use the shorten program function in This ends the exchange visitor's program and the SEVIS status will be "inactive." You may keep the SEVIS record active if the exchange visitor plans to return to the United States after the travel restrictions and quarantine period are lifted, to complete his/her exchange program. Sponsors should be mindful of the program end date and can extend the program end date in SEVIS if the exchange visitor returns to complete the program.
Q16: Sponsor in California wrote: Are there any options to temporarily "freeze" the status of those who state they need to return to their home country now due to COVID-19 but who otherwise would not want to end or shorten their program? There are individuals who are choosing to shorten their program and go home, but who wish to return after things settle. For the Research Scholar, that will not be possible due to the 24 month bar. Any options, if we are not using Out of Country?
- (A) Yes, you can keep the SEVIS record in "active" status while the exchange visitor is back at home. As noted previously, you should review the program end date. You can extend the end date in SEVIS if the exchange visitor returns to complete the program.
Q17: Sponsor in Florida asked: Are we going to just adjust program start and end dates in SEVIS only, or do we need to generate and mail new DS-2019's to our participants once we have an official date? Since some program end dates could be shortened due to the official dates provided from the DOS by country, if the cultural exchange visitors decide to cancel, is their SEVIS fee going to be refunded due to the circumstances?
- (A) First, review the regulations at 22 CFR 62.12 and the SEVIS RO/ARO Manuals for specific details on when to print a new Form DS-2019. The exchange visitor needs to have an accurate DS-2019 that reflects his/her exchange program at all times. Any decisions you are making that are related to COVID-19 should be included as a remark to the record. If you adjusted the dates, to include shortening the program, we are recommending as a best practice that you issue a new DS-2019. If the SEVIS record is still active, you can amend the program end date and issue a new DS-2019. In response to the last question on refunds, you can pursue SEVIS fee refunds with SEVP
Q18: Sponsor in Connecticut asked: For those EV candidates who had DS-2019 issued but were not able to obtain an appointment or travel would the SEVIS fee be carried over?
- (A) This is not within the State Department's control, so of course we would defer to DHS for any definitive statements. That said, I looked at the I-901 Fee Frequently Asked Questions at the SEVP I-901 Fee website, and per the website, The SEVIS fee is paid for an individual's opportunity to participate on an exchange program and remains valid for one year after payment.
- If needed, the individual can re-apply for a visa within the 12-month period without paying a new SEVIS fee. In certain circumstances, a fee payment can be transferred to another SEVIS ID
Q19: Sponsor in Atlanta wrote: For the teacher exchange program, when a k-12 school implements remote teaching but the "site of activity" where the teacher officially reports remains unchanged, are there any SEVIS updates required to notify the government that the teacher is temporarily teaching remotely from home due to COVID-19? The expectation is that the teacher will return to the official site of activity as soon as it is safe to do so and is only teaching remotely for a limited period of time.
- (A) This question perfectly hits what needs to be accurate in SEVIS. If there's been no change in the two addresses - they are still reporting to the same host placement, and the home address has not changed - then no changes need to be made in SEVIS. I do suggest you record or document this event in the exchange visitor's file. I'll call it a "note to file" but you should maintain this change in the exchange visitor's program for future reference.
Q20: Sponsor in Washington, DC asked: How will original signatures on documents be handled with regard to coronavirus?
- (A) The most important thing to remember is the purpose of the DS-2019. If the document is needed for either visa issuance or port of entry, the exchange visitor must have the original form - with your original signature in blue ink - on hand to apply for the visa or entry to the United States.
Q21: Sponsor in Pennsylvania wrote: With the impact that the virus has had on the timeline for nominations and pushing everything back, our fear is that visa paperwork (form DS-2019s) will not be able to make it to the students in time for fall. In case this does come to fruition, would an exception possibly be put in place for us to email the form to the student? Ordinarily this is not permitted, but would a one-time exception be an acceptable solution, in case the restrictions are lifted very close to the fall? Email would shave off a good week at least in mailing time.
- (A) We recognize this is a stressful, ever changing situation and we understand your concern. So we are closely reviewing this question. Generally, we are not in a position to waive the regulations or other laws that govern the Exchange Visitor Program, and further many of the requirements at issue are imposed separately by other agencies. It is also early to tell what the long-term impacts of the travel restrictions and quarantine period will have on the Program. As previously noted, if the exchange visitor needs the original form with signature in order to participate on the Program - perhaps due to a separate requirement for original documents for a visa interview or the DHS requirement for entry to the United States - then the sponsor needs to transmit documents to exchange visitors that meet that regulatory requirement.
Q22: Sponsor on the west coast asked: What plans are being considered to get exchange visitors home to closed border countries before their visa expiration date?
- (A) We are aware that this is a growing issue. To try to respond to this we in ECA have stood up a Repatriation Working Group to try to assist sponsors with this difficult situation. We are already engaging with the rest of the Department, including our Regional bureaus, in order to explore options to assist. As we work through this process we will keep you informed and work with you to try to resolve matters as they arise.
Q23: Sponsor in Chicago asked: Will the Department consider releasing a unified statement from ECA and sponsors that recognizes the need to ensure that J-1 participants are united with their natural families in their home countries before the pandemic worsens? Are sponsors putting exchange visitors in danger by not sending secondary school students home now?
- (A) As mentioned in my opening comments these are very complex decisions that need to be made on a case by case basis. There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question that is apparent to us at this time. For the privately funded programs we are asking sponsors of these programs to follow published ECA guidance for the ECA-funded programs and to make decisions based upon what best serves the health, safety, and welfare of exchange visitors, the interests of natural parents or legal guardians, and those of the Americans with whom they interact. As previously mentioned, if you make responsible decisions that keep the exchange visitors' health, safety and welfare, as well as U.S. national security and foreign policy implications, at the forefront of your decision-making, then you can expect the Department's support. Also, as previously noted please do check our website at J1Visa.state.gov for the most up-to-date information on all of our programs.
Q24: Sponsor in California asked: Is there any possibility the SWT and Camp Counselor programs will be shut down for the 2020 summer season? What about programs starting in the fall?
- (A) The COVID-19 situation continues to evolve rapidly and its potential impact remains impossible to predict. We are reviewing this on a daily basis. The longer this situation remains, the greater the risk to these programs, but we are not yet at a point where a decision would be made by the Department. Of course, sponsors can make their own decisions based upon the needs of their organizations. When we have more definitive information we will share it with you.