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New J-1 Visa Provisions Effective January 5, 2015

In October 2014, the Department of State (“DOS”) amended Subpart A of the J exchange visitor regulations. These new regulations go into effect in 2015 and apply to all exchange visitor programs and program categories. There are two primary changes that will directly affect J-1 applicants:

  1. New testing and documentation requirements for English language proficiency (effective January 5, 2015)
  2. Increased insurance coverage amounts (effective May 15, 2015)

Additional rule changes will affect the sponsor organizations and their management of J-1 programs.

English Language Proficiency

Currently, J-1 exchange program sponsors are required to determine that participants possess “sufficient proficiency in the English language to participate in his or her program.” However, the rule did not previously specify how this evaluation should or would be accomplished. The amended rule added language stating that “an objective measurement” must be used to evaluate English proficiency. In addition, the participant’s English language proficiency must be at a level to allow the participant “to function on a day-to-day basis.”

The Department of State clarified that the objective measurements accepted include:

  • Recognized English test
  • Signed documentation from an academic institution or English language school; or
  • A documented interview conducted by the sponsor either in-person or by videoconferencing, or by telephone if videoconferencing is not a viable option

Sponsors must also retain documentation regarding how they determined English language proficiency for potential review by the DOS.

Increased Insurance Coverage

The Department of State increased the amount of insurance coverage program participants are required to maintain per the current rule at 22 CFR 62.14. This rule change does not come into effect until May 15, 2015. The old and new amounts are as follows:


Current Amount

Final Rule Amount (5/15/15)

Medical benefits



Repatriation of remains



Medical evacuation



Deductible per accident or illness



Should you have any questions regarding these new J-1 visa rules, please contact your Mintz Levin attorney.

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Susan J. Cohen

Member / Founder and Chair Emeritus, Immigration Practice

Susan J. Cohen is Chair of Mintz's Immigration Practice and a nationally recognized Immigration lawyer. She helps corporate clients manage immigration challenges. Susan is an American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) member and she's contributed to state and federal immigration regulations.

Danielle Lifrieri