Integrity Legal

13th December 2009

J-1 visas are meant for those who are entering an exchange visitor program or traveling to the USA for the purpose of doing specific types of work (most notably: Au pair child care). This visa has been in existence for many years and the rules regarding issuance have not be modified in a long while.

Recently the American State Department has proposed making changes to the system whereby foreign nationals obtain the J1 Exchange visitor visa. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has recently promulgated comments on the proposed changes in an effort to provide a different perspective to those who will ultimately pass these rules. In a recent press release AILA stated:

“We commend the United States Department of State (the Department) for acting on its goals to update and improve the Exchange Visitor Program through the first significant proposed rulemaking since 1993. We also recognize and applaud the Department’s efforts to increase overall program oversight, but we urge the Department not to do so at the risk of weakening the very foundation on which the J-1 program rests.”

Not everything in this press release was laudatory as the Association also noted that some of the proposed rule changes might actually undermine the original intent of the J1 visa legislation:

“[W]hile we recognize that the Department [of State] must demand accountability on the part of sponsors of the J-1 program, we fear that it has used the medium of this proposed regulation as a means of eroding the range and number of opportunities for young men and women to learn about our culture and return to share important skills and insights with their compatriots. AILA recognizes the major role that the Fulbright-Hays Act has played for nearly 50 years to instill trust and promote understanding, education, and training among people of dramatically divergent cultures and for the mutual benefit of our people as well as the people of nations struggling to achieve financial and
cultural independence. It is crucial that the full range of these opportunities continues to exist.”

The J-1 visa is an example of a valuable method not only for providing advanced education to foreign nationals, but also for spreading American culture and American ideas to other countries. Undermining this system of cross-cultural exchange would indeed be detrimental. However, the US State Department does have an obligation to investigate candidates and sponsors for J-1 Exchange Visitor visas in an effort to be certain that the visa is being issued for appropriate reasons and to appropriate applicants. Hopefully, the American State Department can find a proper balance whereby the security needs of American Citizens are protected while cross-cultural exchange is still facilitated. As with many non-immigrant visas, both the US Embassy in Bangkok and the US Consulate in Chiang Mai can issue such travel documents to applicants in Thailand.


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