A final rule was recently published by the Department of State (DOS) that affects its J-1 Exchange Visitor Program. The J-1 visa category will go through some significant administrative and program compliance changes, including: J-1 Responsible Officers (ROs) and Alternate Responsible Officers (AROs) must have three years of relevant international experience and clear a criminal background check; J-1 sponsors must replace any departing RO and/or ARO within ten days; independent auditors will audit private sector J-1 sponsors to ensure their programs are compliant; minimum levels of insurance coverage for J-1 visitors and dependents will increase; among others.

Specific changes made pursuant to the rule are outlined as follows:

  1. Amendment to Subpart A to provide more specific filing requirements for entities seeking to become designated sponsors and for sponsors seeking to renew their designations, including requiring proposed and current RO and ARO to undergo criminal background checks. The DOS believes that three years of experience is the minimum necessary to develop a strong foundation for the conduct of an exchange visitor program, and therefore increases the minimum experience in international exchange that an entity seeking designation must show that it, or its proposed RO, has from one to three years. Applicants may demonstrate their experience in international exchange by providing staff resumes, as well as information about the applicant entity’s or individual’s experience and involvement with other cultural exchange programs. The DOS will not require sponsors who have been designated for fewer than three years to demonstrate now three years of experience.
  2. Adoption of requirement that private sector sponsors submit management reviews in a format and on a schedule determined by the DOS. This will involve an audit of a sponsor’s program records by an independent auditor. Programs that are fully funded by federal, state or local governments will be exempt.
  3. Enhancement of provisions governing the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) database that sponsors use to track the whereabouts of exchange visitors.
  4. Removal of Appendices A-D, which have been replaced by information collections through Forms DS-3036, DS-3037 and DS-3097.
  5. Revision of definitions of terms used throughout the regulations, and the inclusion of language to make explicit the discretion of the Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs to waive or modify regulations of the Exchange Visitor Program, with respect to programs that are established pursuant to arrangements between the United States and foreign governments.

Comments on this new rule will be accepted by the DOS until December 5, 2014.