Following last night’s Presidential election outcome, we want to take a moment to address several concerns that affect international cultural exchange programs and the U.S. Department of State’s J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program.
First, we at InterExchange firmly believe that international exchange programs are – and will continue to be in the new presidential administration – vitally important elements of U.S. diplomatic engagement with the world, and key tools to prepare our young people to be successful leaders and global citizens. Our mission of promoting international understanding and engagement continues to be as necessary as it’s ever been, and we are committed to boldly pushing our programs forward like the cultural exchange champions we are.
Second, in immigration policy documents released during the campaign, President-elect Trump called for terminating the State Department’s J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program, as well as reforming visa rules in ways that would have the potential to significantly alter our programs. While these campaign statements pertaining to the J-1 program are very concerning to InterExchange and the whole exchange community, it’s important to take note of a few key points:
1) At present, nothing has changed about the J-1 visa program. There are no changes to the programs of J-1 participants currently in the U.S. All J-1 visas remain valid, and all J-1 programs can and will continue.
2) Any dramatic changes to federal programs like the Exchange Visitor Program would require significant time and effort to accomplish. J-1 exchange programs are part of U.S. federal law (specifically the Fulbright-Hays Act), and would need Congressional approval to significantly alter or abolish. Our partners at the State Department (including the new Secretary of State) would also have significant discretion over the J-1 visa and its program categories, and would ultimately be involved in any discussions or actions that affect our programs.
3) All newly elected Presidents enter with a constrained ability to enact their agenda unilaterally. The inability of a President to swiftly change policies is a strength of our political system. While we take any potential threat to exchange programs seriously, we will also move forward with optimism, strength, and motivation. The Exchange Visitor Program has many strong supporters throughout the country and government, including from bi-partisan groups of members of both the Senate and the House. We will work with these Senators and Representatives, and all of our partners – exchange visitors, hosts, international cooperators, the State Department, foreign governments, and our colleague exchange organizations – to advocate for the continued growth of the Exchange Visitor Program and other exchanges.
Together, we look forward to continuing our work facilitating exchange programs and serving our participants and hosts. We are committed to the idea that grassroots, person-to-person exchanges help all involved push their personal boundaries, learn critical language and cultural skills, and grow into the successful global citizens they strive to be.
After studying in France and teaching in China, Mark was hooked on cultural exchange. He's worked in the field of international education and exchange for 15 years, and is InterExchange's Vice President of External Affairs.