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J-1 Cap on Visas for Interns and Trainees

Guess what’s right around the corner in the world of J-1 visas?

The “J-1 Cap.”

If you are an intern or trainee wishing to come to the United States on a J-1 exchange visitor visa, or an employer seeking to assist prospective employees with securing J-1 visas, the window to act is closing soon. The “J-1 Cap” will soon be reached. New visas will not be available until January 2013.

Every year, thousands of professionals, recent university graduates and students from abroad come to the United States under the umbrella of the State Department’s J-1 Intern and Trainee visa programs. These programs offer exchange visitors an opportunity to live and work in the United States for a year to 18 months. Participants in these programs receive a short but meaningful glimpse into America. And they gain practical work experience at American companies. United States employers benefit from hosting J-1 exchange visitors, because they foster a cross-cultural exchange of ideas in the workplace. J-1 exchange visitors also take back to their home countries an appreciation for American business culture. The program is a resounding success.

Despite the benefits of cultural exchange, the State Department has arbitrarily imposed a limit on the number of visas issued to J-1 interns and trainees. This “J-1 Cap” is about to be reached. According to our best information, the private sector program sponsors administering J-1 Trainee and Intern programs will be unable to sponsor more people for visas as of this coming August, or even sooner. Unlike the annual limit on H-1B work visas, which Congress has established through legislation subject to public debate, the State Department created the “J-1 Cap” with no public discussion and without a vote.

Intercultural exchange is an important purpose of the J-1 visa program. In a world that is increasingly global and interconnected, the State Department should be expanding the reach of our business culture. The J-1 visa program for interns and trainees is one way to do this. An arbitrary “J-1 Cap” may be a response to some J-1 sponsors violating State Department rules, or to protectionist concerns about American jobs. But this is not the right response, especially when promoting international commerce is so strongly linked to our national interest.

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Douglas Hauer is a Mintz attorney and noted authority on the EB-5 investor visa program, which gives developers a path for securing capital for real estate, hospitality, and infrastructure projects. He's an essential resource for companies looking for financing from offshore sources.