In recent weeks, the U.S. Department of State’s (DOS) Office of Private Sector Exchange (OPSE), which designates, monitors, and partners with U.S. organizations to administer the Exchange Visitor Program, has been notifying sponsors within the Intern and Trainee categories about J-1 “discussion group events” and requesting contact information for exchange visitors. The objective of these discussion groups is to provide the DOS with the opportunity to meet face-to-face with exchange visitors and speak with them “about their programs and overall experiences.” Intern and Trainee meetings have already taken place at various public locations in Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and New York. Prior to these gatherings, J-1 participants are required to complete an Intern & Trainee Participant Questionnaire that requests, among other things, feedback about the exchange program experience and their participation in cultural activities, and inquires as to whether their programs are progressing according to the approved training plan.
These “meet and greet events” appear to go hand-in-hand with the DOS’ new enforcement and investigative initiatives, as reported in an article in the February/March 2014 issue of the Immigration eAuthority. We understand that, during these meetings, the DOS’ Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) representative will review each of the questions on the questionnaire with each participating J-1 visa holder and ask related follow-up questions. We have also been advised that, within about one week after the group discussion, ECA will visit the locations of the host organizations where J-1 visa holders, who participated in the group discussions, are interning or training. Note, however, that J-1 site visits may take place whether or not J-1 visa holders participate in these discussion groups.
Companies are advised to immediately contact experienced legal counsel in the event that you or your employees are contacted by ECA. Employers are reminded to be proactive in reviewing immigration compliance policies and practices, including ensuring and confirming compliance with J-1 programs. As part of our comprehensive immigration compliance services, Ogletree Deakins can assist employers in implementing proper procedures to avoid liability, examine options to bring them into compliance if needed, or, if not compliant, discuss the possibility of opting out of the J-1 discussion groups.