In the past hours, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs (“ECA”) has granted additional Forms DS-2019 to a few J-1 sponsors wishing to expand their programs for trainees and interns. This is welcome news. Until now, these sponsors had been in limbo without sufficient DS-2019s to meet the demand by potential J-1 exchange visitors. For those of us monitoring these developments closely, it is clear that public discussion on the issue in the past days is having a positive impact.
Today, ECA stated informally that there will be no “J-1 cap” on intern and trainee visas. This is also a wonderful development. But the State Department should now put this policy into writing, resolving any questions about the agency making sub-regulatory moves to place numerical limitations on J-1 trainees and interns next year. Private sector exchange sponsors, host employers, interns and trainees should have predictability about the ongoing and continuous availability of J-1 visas. No informal caps should be imposed without open public discussion with all stakeholders in the J-1 process, including a notice and comment period that is part of a normative rulemaking process.
Keeping the flow of J-1 interns and trainees into the United States is an important part of the Exchange Visitor Program. This program should be a priority of the State Department. It is a resounding success, resulting in young professionals experiencing and taking American values and ideals back to their home countries.
Despite today’s positive developments, many J-1 program sponsors continue to face shortages of Forms DS-2019. I have received several e-mails in the past week from potential host employers who have been told that the sponsors they have approached have no remaining Forms DS-2019 for interns and trainees. ECA should work with sponsors now to remedy this.
The opportunity to participate in cultural exchange should not be reduced to a system where J-1 visas are rationed. This is counter to the core value of cultural exchange. While we welcome today’s developments, more work needs to be done to make the J-1 process more transparent and predictable.