J-1 Visa Students: When to Seek Attorney Advice

The J1 Visa Program is a non-immigrant category of U.S. visa, also sometimes referred to as the Exchange Visitor visa. As noted by the U.S. Department of State, the J-1 visa includes things like summer work travel, camp counselor, intern/trainees, au pair and short-term physician and scholar programs. As Orlando immigration attorneys can explain, those seeking J-1 visas or who have already secured one will want to keep the number of a lawyer handy.

That’s because not only has the current federal administration made it tougher to secure J-1 visas, it is also cracking down J-1 visa overstays. Others face significant difficulty if they leave the country, sometimes requiring that they begin the process all over again. Orlando immigration attorneys know the reason many overstay a J-1 visa is because of the bureaucratic red tape involved in renewing them.

What is the J-1 Visa Program?

The J-1 Visa Program was launched by the State Department in the early 1960s for the purposes of:

  • Bringing students form overseas to the U.S. to study, learn English and be exposed to American culture;
  • Supplementing the American workforce during peak business seasons (especially in sectors like hospitality and tourism);
  • To forge positive cross-cultural relationships worldwide.

The program is privately-funded and aims to build alliances that are lasting among future leaders in the academic, business and diplomatic sectors.

The State Department reports an estimated 300,000 people are granted J-1 visas annually. Last year in Florida, there were more than 14,540 J-1 visa holders. Eighty-six percent of J-1 visa holders are younger than 30 and 55 percent are women – all hailing from more than 200 countries worldwide.

The majority of J-1 visa holders in Florida are students, interns, summer work travelers, trainees, research scholars, teachers and au pairs.

It’s worth noting that half of all Fortune 500 companies were founded by a first- or second-generation immigrant.

Why J-1 Visa Holders Now Face More Challenges

For a long time, the process of getting a J-1 visa was fairly easy and straightforward. The program is funded by “sponsors,” which can be found all over, especially in Europe, for a marginal fee. One simply connected with a sponsor, paid the fee and presented the required paperwork to the American embassy.

Visa holders would be required throughout their stay to communicate with sponsors if there were any changes of employment or address. For students, J-1 visas are generally awarded with the understanding the student will land some form of employment, traineeship or internship. Failure to do so could result in revocation of the license, which is why it’s critical for J-1 visa holders to maintain regular contact with their sponsors.

Beyond this, though, visa application and use was historically pretty flexible, with students allowed to choose where they wanted to stay and enjoying a fair amount of freedom on when and what kind of job they landed.

The Trump administration has taken a hard line stance on immigration, with the first real impact on the J-1 visa program being the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order in 2017. Many resorts and other businesses especially became concerned, as they rely heavily on seasonal student workers (primarily from Europe) to maintain their workforce. Some expressed fear about whether they could stay afloat without these workers.

J-1 visa eligibility factors and regulation updated in the last two years now require. One of the biggest changes is that students seeking J-1 visas are now required to lock down their employment before coming to the U.S. (Previously, it wasn’t uncommon for students to arrive in the country, begin their search for work/accommodation.) The Trump administration’s stance is that by requiring students to work from Day 1, any risk of lapsed sponsor communication or deliberate misrepresentation is minimized. Opponents argue this places an undue burden on students because employers are less apt to hire someone they are unable to interview in person or who doesn’t have an American address.

The Future of the J-1 Visa Program

Although the U.S. government has continued to insist the J-1 visa program is here to stay, foreign students and U.S. businesses have expressed grave concerns, particularly in light of more recent executive action on H-1B visas.

As Orlando immigration attorneys can explain, H-1B visa, for those unfamiliar, is the primary way in which companies in the U.S. hire highly-skilled workers from overseas. The program started in 1990 and brings a large number of Indian workers with advanced degrees in fields like computer programming, engineering and medicine. (Of the 420,000 petitions received last year, 75 percent were from India and 11 percent from China.) The government cap on H-1B visas is 85,000, 65,000 of which require a bachelor’s and 20,000 of which much have a master’s degree. Those slots fill up within days.

In addition to Trump’s executive order, the administration also axed premium processing for the H-1B program, and a soaring number of denials has reportedly resulted in American companies losing millions of dollars in project delays and contract penalties, assisting competitors who operate wholly outside the U.S.

Reduced availability of H-1B visas increases the demand for J-1 visas. Plus, administrative delays with regard to processing and renewing J-1 visas, as reported by The Colombia Spectator, has left more students at risk of overstaying their J-1 visas. The uncertainty surrounding both programs has left many students with J-1 visas in limbo, unsure if they’ll be able to finish their degrees or their work, particularly if the J-1 visa program is axed altogether, as some in the administration have pondered.

Industries impacted would run the gamut. Our Orlando immigration attorneys are available to help answer your questions on securing a J-1 visa and advise you of the rules necessary to ensure you keep it.

Contact the Orlando, Florida immigration attorneys at The Chidolue Law Firm, serving Orlando and Lake Mary, by calling (407) 995-6567 or email us.

Additional Resources:

Exchange Visitor Program, J-1 Visa, U.S. Department of State

More Blog Entries:

NEED AN E-1 OR E-2 U.S. VISA? HIRING ORLANDO IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY MAKES IT EASIER, March 22, 2019, Orlando Immigration Attorney Blog

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