Stricter oversight of J-1 exchange visitor program coming in January

10 Oct 14

UNITED STATES

Exchange Visitor Program (J-1) sponsors should be aware of new rules calling for greater oversight that take effect Jan. 5, 2015.

The final rule, published Monday in the Federal Register, includes the following provisions concerning the obligations of program sponsors:

  • Independent audits. Private sector sponsors – which include the categories of Au Pairs, Alien Physicians, Camp Counselors, Interns, Secondary School Students, Summer Work Travel, Teachers and Trainees – will be required to submit annual reviews of their procedures in administering and complying with the program. The reviews must be conducted by an independent auditor who is not an employee or contractor of the sponsor. The State Department will roll out this requirement in phases, beginning with the Secondary School Student category.
  • Annual reports. Sponsors must file recently updated annual reports in theStudent Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS) database. The report must be printed out and signed by the sponsor’s CEO or responsible officer and must be mailed to the State Department until the next version of SEVIS is rolled out.
  • Criminal background checks. Responsible officers (ROs) and alternative responsible officers (AROs) must undergo criminal background checks that must be updated every four years. Sponsors who are redesignated for one year must obtain background checks for their next application.
  • Monitoring of exchange visitors. Sponsors must report in SEVIS any change to an exchange visitor’s address, phone number, email or site of activity within 10 days of being notified by the exchange visitor. Sponsors must also report the current U.S. address and email of accompanying spouses and dependents.
  • Notification requirements. Sponsors must validate an exchange visitor’s record in SEVIS within 30 days. For programs shorter than 30 days, the validation must be done before the program end date or the system will automatically record the visitor as “invalid” or a “no show.”Sponsors must inform the State Department of any “serious problem or controversy” on or before the next business day. In response to comments, the Department said examples of “serious problems” include death, serious illness, sexual abuse or “any other event that could bring the Department or the Exchange Visitor Program into notoriety or disrepute.”
  • Third-party agreements. Sponsors are required to enter into written agreements with all entities that act on behalf of sponsors in administering the program and keep a list of these entities for purposes of redesignation of sponsors or providing the information to the State Department if requested.
  • English language proficiency. The Department will expand its English language proficiency requirement to all program categories. Sponsors are reminded to maintain records of how they tested applicants’ language proficiency in case the Department requests it.
  • Duties of ROs and AROs. Responsible officers and alternative responsible officers must be familiar with all federal and state regulations related to the program. The Department has compiled information on a compliance webpage, but indicates that sponsors may need to research other federal, state and local laws.
  • Insurance coverage. Sponsors must ensure that exchange visitors are covered by insurance. The new rule raises the minimum to $100,000 per accident or illness. This provision will take effect May 15, 2015.

Earlier versions of the rule proposed in September 2009 contained some burdensome requirements that the Department has eliminated from the final rule. For example, it will not impose mandatory on-site inspections before a sponsor is designated, but will retain the discretion to conduct them and will continue to make on-site visits of existing sponsors. Also, the Department will not require sponsors to produce a Dun & Bradstreet report after deciding that the financial burden on sponsors outweighs the usefulness of such a report.

The Department will accept public comments on the final rule until Dec. 5.

BAL Analysis: The regulations will entail more paperwork for sponsors and greater internal and external oversight of sponsors in the Exchange Visitor Program. Hiring of independent auditors to produce annual reviews and training of ROs and AROs on federal, state and local laws and regulations will increase costs to program sponsors.

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