The Trump administration is reportedly reviewing the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, a popular cultural exchange program run by the U.S. Department of State, with the intention of making major reductions in the visa program. Following President Donald Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, issued April 18, 2017, the administration has been reviewing U.S. immigration laws and policy with a view towards protecting American workers from foreign competition. The administration is reportedly leading an interagency review of the J-1 visa program focusing on possibly making significant cuts to five program categories, including the summer work travel program, the au pair program, and programs designed for camp counselors, interns, and trainees. The other categories which do not involve “work” are reportedly not affected.
J-1 visa exchange programs are intended to allow foreign nationals to come to the United States temporarily to benefit from experiences with American people and culture, which they can then share with their compatriots upon returning abroad. The programs under review also provide childcare services for American host families and seasonal labor for the hospitality industry and vacation destinations such as ski resorts, campgrounds, amusement parts, and resorts.
This exchange visa program was established by law, but the changes the administration is looking at affect how the program is implemented, and could be put into effect through administrative action since the individual categories at issue were created by regulation rather than by statute. Specifically, the administration is considering either imposing new requirements, such as requiring employers to show that Americans cannot be found to fill the jobs taken by J-1 exchange visitors, or eliminating certain program categories entirely.
It has been suggested that the regulations may be rewritten in such a way as to eliminate the five programs under review, though the administration and the U.S. Department of State, which administers the programs, have not confirmed this and the Department of State reports that it is currently implementing the program without any changes. Significant modifications to the underlying regulations by the administration should normally go through an extended period of public comment and regulatory review before going into effect. The question as to whether this process will be followed or not, may depend upon the ultimate nature of the changes put forward by the administration.
While no action on the part of employers is yet necessary given the speculative nature and timing of any potential changes, employers using the exchange program may nevertheless want to consider other visa options for J-1 employees and other immigration programs and contingency plans in case the J-1 program becomes unavailable or unworkable. Pursuant to the “Buy American and Hire American” order, other immigration programs popular with U.S. employers, such as the H-1B skilled worker program, are also subject to review and are already experiencing increased scrutiny.