In March, the State Department issued a cable to all consular posts, providing updated guidance on exchange visitor visas (“J” visas). The guidance addressed the following points:

  • The “residence abroad” requirement: Consular officers must be satisfied that a J visa applicant possesses an intent to depart the United States at the conclusion of the exchange program before a visa may be issued. This requirement must be reconciled with the fact that exchange programs may require J visa applicants to seek extended absences from their home countries. 
  • Language ability: Program participants must possess sufficient proficiency in the English language; the amount of language ability required will vary by the type of exchange program. 
  • Bars for professors and research scholars: An applicant for a J research scholar or professor visa will not qualify if he or she has been present in the United States on a J visa for longer than six of the 12 months preceding the program’s start date. (Participants in the short-term scholar category are exempt from this bar.) In addition, persons who have previously participated in 5-year J professor and research scholar programs are not eligible to return to the United States in that category for a period of two years immediately following completion of the program. Dependent family members are also subject to these bars. 
  • Program length, end date, and visa expiration date: Summer Work Travel (SWT) programs for final-year post-secondary students may be no longer than 4 months and can take place only during a student’s summer vacation. Consular officers may issue visas prior to the program start date, but SWT participants may not enter the U.S. more than 30 days before the program start date and visas must expire on the program end date. SWT participants may remain in the United States for 30 days past the end of their program, but they are not permitted to work during this period.