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The ABCs of Immigration - Q-1 Visas for International Cultural Exchange Visitors
by Greg Siskind and Amy Ballentine

The Q-1 nonimmigrant visa is designed for foreign nationals who are coming to the US to participate in an international cultural exchange program. The Q-1 visa was created in 1990, mainly because of lobbying efforts by the Walt Disney Company and similar businesses. They feared that the J programs they were using would be revoked because their foreign employees were working in generally unskilled positions, even though they were participating in cultural exchanges. Under the Q-1 visa, the foreign national can engage in practical training and employment so long as they are also sharing the history, culture and traditions of their home country.

The first requirement in obtaining a Q-1 visa is for the employer to obtain approval of their international cultural exchange program from the Attorney General. To obtain approval, the program must meet the following requirements:

  • It must take place in a school, museum, business, or similar location where the public, or at least the interested public, can be exposed to aspects of a foreign culture as part of a structured program;
  • The program must include a cultural component as an essential and integral part of the cultural visitorís employment or training; and
  • The program cannot provide for employment or training independent of the cultural component.
Program approval is sought by filing Form I-129 with the Q Supplement. The application must be accompanied by documentation of the program. There must also be evidence that the employer has designated a management level employee to administer the program and act as a liaison to the INS. The application can be filed with either the INS Service Center with jurisdiction over the petitionerís headquarters, or the Service Center with jurisdiction over where the employee will be located.

The employer must also meet a number of other requirements. It must be engaged in the active conduct of business in the US. It must also attest that it will pay the foreign national the same wages it would pay a US worker in the area, as well as demonstrate that it has the financial ability to pay the offered wage, and that it will provide the same working conditions US workers in the area would have. However, there is no need to file the attestation with the Department of Labor.

The application for Q-1 visa classification is made at the same time as the request for program designation. After the program is approved, however, subsequent applications can be made with only the copy of the original program approval. More that one person can be included on the same petition. Also, substitutions can be made during the program, but the new personís period of stay is limited to the terms of the originally approved petition. A substitution does not need to be filed with the INS, but can be done by a letter to the consular office where the replacement will apply for a visa. The letter must provide all of the information on the foreign national listed below, and must include a copy of the original approval notice.

The person who will receive Q-1 status must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old;
  • Be qualified to perform the service of receive the type of training listed in the application; and
  • Be able to communicate with the US public about the cultural aspects of their home country.
Also, applicants who have previously been granted Q-1 status must remain outside the US for one year before again being granted Q-1 status.

The petition must include the following information about each person to be given Q-1 status:

  • Date of birth;
  • Country of nationality;
  • Educational level;
  • The position, title and job description they will occupy; and
  • The wages offered.
If the cultural program involves multiple locations, a complete itinerary must be provided. The Q-1 program designation is approved either for the length of the program, or 15 months, whichever is shorter. The person is also given 30 days after the expiration of the visa in which to make travel plans for their departure from the US.

People in Q-1 status are allowed to apply for a change of status within the US. They can also, while remaining in Q-1 status, switch employers. However, the total stay in the US is still limited to 15 months.

Finally, while there is no derivative status for dependents of people in Q-1 status, the State Department Foreign Affairs Manual states that dependents should be granted B-2 visas for the duration of the Q-1 visa holderís stay in the US, up to 12 months at one time.


About The Author

Gregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.

After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, Gregory Siskind went on to receive his law degree from the University of Chicago. For the past several years, he has been an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and he currently serves as a member of the organization's Technology Committee. He is the current committee chair for the Nashville Bar Association's International Section. Greg is a member of the American Bar Association where he serves on the LPM PublishGregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.

Greg regularly writes on the subject of immigration law. He has written several hundred articles on the subject and is also the author of the new book The J Visa Guidebook, published by Matthew Bender and Company, one of the nation's leading legal publishers. He is working on another book for Matthew Bender on entertainment and sports immigration.

Greg is also, in many ways, a pioneer in the use of the Internet in the legal profession. He was one of the first lawyers in the country (and the very first immigration lawyer) to set up a web site for his practice. And he was the first attorney in the world to distribute a firm newsletter via e-mail listserv. Mr. Siskind is the author of the American Bar Association's best selling book, The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. He has been interviewed and profiled in a number of leading publications and media including USA Today, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Lawyers Weekly, the ABA Journal, the National Law Journal, American Lawyer, Law Practice Management Magazine, National Public Radio's All Things Considered and the Washington Post. As one of the leading experts in the country on the use of the Internet in a legal practice, Greg speaks regularly at forums across the United States, Canada and Europe.

In his personal life, Greg is the husband of Audrey Siskind and the proud father of Eden Shoshana and Lily Jordana. He also enjoys collecting rare newspapers and running in marathons and triathlons. He can be reached by email at GSiskind@visalaw.com

Amy Ballentine is an associate in Siskind, Susser & Haas's Memphis, Tennessee office. She graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Rhodes College in 1994. While in law school at the University of Memphis she was a member of the law review staff as well as a published author. She also worked with the local public defenderís office in death penalty cases. In May 1999, she graduated Cum Laude from the University of Memphis Law School. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She can be reached by email at aballentine@visalaw.com


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