Over the past year, sweeping orders have banned many non-immigrant visa holders from entering the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic gave many former Trump administration officials the opportunity to restrict immigration based on fears surrounding the spread of the coronavirus and U.S. unemployment and immigration.

The extended executive order—in effect until March 31—has consequently kept J-1 visa holders out of the country for almost an entire year.

What is the J-1 visa?

The J-1 visa, often referred to as the “exchange visitor visa,” allows for people from all over the world to gain crucial skills in the U.S. that they take back to their respective home countries.

This could mean learning specialty skills in everything from hospitality to finance to mental health training or law. Individuals train in these skills and return home with knowledge, insight into American culture, resources, and connections.

This return home is often enforced through a feature of the J-1 visa called the “home residency requirement,” which requires individuals in different categories to return home for at least two years.

Unlike other visa categories which require approval through the Department of Labor, the J-1 visa is approved through the Department of State. This allows for programs to be curated by host-employers, highlighting what the visa recipient can expect to learn and for how long and who will oversee the program. Unlike other visa categories, spouses and dependents can be approved along with the J-1’s application.  This means that extensions are approved through sponsoring organizations and not with other government agencies.

The point of the J-1 visa category isn’t to take American jobs—rather, it’s designed to help train and create a network within global industries and tie countries together with common experiences.

How has the J-1 visa ban impacted American companies?

When the Trump administration implemented these orders, it did not take into consideration the longstanding impact to the market nor the benefits of immigration to the economy.

The J-1 visa allows for recipients to enter under different approved categories impacting all markets: student, intern, scholar, trainee, teacher, professor, research, and summer work, among others. This allows for a diverse field of ideas, innovation, and skills within industries.

Unfortunately, the previous administration created a climate where these visa recipients are not welcomed.

The nonimmigrant visa ban has restricted American companies with international connections and ventures. Many are unable to relocate and train their own employees. Even if they have the means to do so, they first must present a compelling national interest reason to exempt their employees from the order.

If the Biden administration follows through on the promises delivered during its campaign, J-1 visa applicants will continue to help transform businesses by providing talent, innovation, and diversity to various fields. COVID-19 restrictions continue to change, and with the previous administration’s order expiring, we may begin to see visa processing resume on an adjusted timeline.

This may allow for the J-1 visa to regain traction and start promoting friendly cultural exchange across nations again.


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