New J Visa Category Available to Undergraduate Students
A final rule which became effective in July of 2008 established a new Student Intern subcategory under the J Exchange visitor classification. The rule was intended to expand possibilities for sponsoring international interns to American colleges and universities. However, the new J student intern designation could not become available for use before the SEVIS system allowed it. Only with the release of SEVIS 6.0 in February of 2009 did "Student intern" begin appearing in the Exchange visitor category drop down box.
The new J student intern category provides an opportunity for undergraduate students currently in a degree program at a foreign institution to enter paid internships that "fulfill the educational objectives of his or her degree program at his or her home institution."
This fills a gap in the J category: most J student interns will not meet the requirements for either the Short Term Scholar or Research Scholar categories. Both these are intended for specialized academics at the post-graduate level, and the J non-degree student category is similarly not pointed at undergraduates. Further, the new J student intern category differs from the J-1 trainee and internship programs in that the last two are field-specific. The new category does not limit the internship to the student's field; however it is limited to 12 months for each degree or major the student is pursuing and to employment approved by the student's home university.
In addition to the basics noted above, requirements for the category include that the student be in good standing at the home university, have verifiable English language skills appropriate to the internship; and have finances sufficient for full support of self and any dependents. All internships must be full time (minimum 32 hours a week).
As one might expect, there are many regulations intended to prevent J student interns from becoming an alternate labor pool. Among them are prohibitions on "displacing American workers," on filling a "labor need," and specifically on placing an intern in any position involving unskilled labor, child or elder care, or more than 20% clerical duties. No staffing or employment agency may be involved, and the internship may not "duplicate" the student's prior experience. Third-party management of sponsorship and/or placement is permitted, but significantly adds to the sponsor's regulatory burden.
Schools intending to take advantage of the new option in the J drop down box also face challenges from training hosting departments in the use of new forms and procedures to meeting the needs of an intern population younger than the traditional to working with the foreign institution sending the student intern.
The new J student intern category offers significant new opportunities in hosting foreign undergraduates. However, it is one of several categories that might be used for this purpose. The question for a university assessing its options is how strong an interest its various departments have in hosting foreign undergraduates specifically as interns, and whether those interested are willing to do the recordkeeping and evaluation necessary.