Subpart A And SEVIS II - Will Your J-1 Program Sponsor Clients Be Ready?
by Darra Klein
As evidenced in recent speeches given by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Obama Administration considers citizen exchanges a powerful tool in its public diplomacy arsenal. Focus on "smart" power has been a hallmark of the Administration, which has resulted in increased emphasis on engagement with other countries through citizen exchanges. Along with the push for increased exchanges, however, comes an equally vigorous push for increased restrictions and tightened scrutiny of J-1 exchange programs falling under the purview of the Private Sector Programs Division of the Office of Designation at Department of State. These J-1 categories include Trainee, Intern, Au Pair, Camp Counselor, Summer Work/Travel, Alien Physician, Secondary School Student, and Teacher.
Citing the need for tougher measures to ensure participant safety and proper usage of program categories, Department of State published a notice in the Federal Register on September 22, 2009 proposing drastic changes to Subpart A (the general provisions) of the Exchange Visitor Program Regulations [74 Fed. Reg 48177]. Among other requirements, the proposed rule would institute annual management audits of program sponsors (which are anticipated to cost $10,000 per program per year), criminal background checks for personnel working with exchange programs, and Department of State site visits to all organizations seeking new program designation and of existing sponsors on an as-needed basis. Collection of more in-depth information on potential host employers would also be required. The proposal also seeks to increase the minimum insurance coverage requirements for participants that have been in place since 1993. In yet another new provision, sponsors would be tasked with tracking the employment activities of accompanying J-2 dependents. This requirement will add significant reporting burden to sponsors, requiring them to divert scarce resources away from core program goals and objectives. Comments on these proposed changes are due November 23, 2009.
Aside from these significant proposed policy changes, sponsors can expect sweeping new changes to the way they administer their programs with the forthcoming launch of SEVIS II. Created in response to the events of 9/11, SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) is a Department of Homeland Security database which program sponsors are required to use to provide information on participants and program activity. Since its inception in 2003 the database has gone through six major release versions but next year a brand new version known as "SEVIS II" is scheduled to be implemented. The new database, which is slated to be rolled out over two phases in 2010, will move program administration to a paperless platform and will establish a "one person one account" system, similar to the e-filing accounts that have been proposed by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Foreign nationals seeking a J-1 visa, as well as sponsor program personnel, will be required to create customer accounts which will result in establishment of a unique Immigration Identification Number (IIN) to be used for program administration and visa application. Once assigned, this number will be used for all programs in the visa categories of F, M, and J over the course of an individual's lifetime. Also new with SEVIS II is that the exchange visitor will have online access to his or her SEVIS II record, the goal of which is to provide greater transparency and to charge the exchange visitor with increased responsibility for ensuring his or her legal status.
While there are still many questions about the mechanics of SEVIS II, there are equally as many eagerly anticipated improvements. The move to a paperless system and assignment of a unique Immigration Identification Number should help to ensure the integrity of an individual's personal immigration record. SEVIS II will also offer more robust reporting capabilities which will help sponsors with program administration and the Department of Homeland Security in monitoring exchange visitor activity. To ensure a smooth transition to SEVIS II the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has dedicated a section of its website http://www.ice.gov/sevis/sevisii/index.htm to the project. New information is added as it becomes available. The site offers resources for users of SEVIS and showcases anticipated system changes and mock-ups of screens from the new database. As with any new technology, there will undoubtedly be bumps in the road ahead, but the long term goal of putting the United States in a better position than ever to engage the world through meaningful, high-impact, and secure exchanges should be worth the effort.
Darra Klein is the Director of Exchange Visitor Programs with the American Council on International Personnel (ACIP). A non-profit association formed in 1972, the ACIP is the only employer network dedicated to employment-based immigration, bridging the private and public sectors to promote sensible, forward-thinking immigration policies. ACIP's members are companies, universities, research institutions and organizations throughout the world striving to ensure compliance with immigration policies so that they can employ the critical talent they need, when and where they need it. ACIP is also designated by the U.S. Department of State as a J-1 visa program sponsor for the categories of Trainee and Intern. These programs make it possible for organizations to bring international employees and students to the United States for on-site professional training. ACIP is online at www.acip.com
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