MODERATOR: Good morning and thank you all for joining us. This is – this briefing is off the record, it’s on – well, it’s on background, and we have representatives from the ECA and the Bureau of Consular Affairs with us to speak. And I’m going to turn it over to them without further ado. I just ask that if you all have any electronic devices that you please turn them – either mute them or turn them off. All right.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, I’m [State Department Official]. I’m with the Educational and Consular Affairs – excuse me – the Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau. We’re here to talk to you today about the new J-1 Visa website that will be going live tomorrow. I assume, since you’re here, that you’re all very familiar with what the J-1 Visa is and why people get it. And what we want to do is explain to you why we’ve decided to enhance our website to make it easier for people to use the site.
And here today is [State Department Official]. [State Department Official] is the [title withheld]. [State Department Official] is the [title withheld]. And [State Department Official] here is the [title withheld]. He does visas. They have some information that they want to present to you. [State Department Official] will be first out of the chute here. She’s going to walk you through what the site is, why it’s important, why we’ve decided to upgrade it. Afterwards, you can ask as many questions as you feel. With that, [State Department Official], over to you.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Great. Thank you, [State Department Official]. Okay. Let me just get this queued up for you. So what we see here – it’s a little bit blurry on the screen, but what you see here is a – this is a screenshot of our old website. So this is what the old information or the information about the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program used to look like on our website.
As you can see, it’s very text-heavy. For a non-native speaker of English, it’s very hard to access, very dense, no visuals. And so the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program does mostly – most of the time, require that you know some English to go on the program. But still, even for a non-native speaker, even if they have very good English, or a native speaker, this is very difficult to access, very dense and heavy, and so not very user friendly.
So in the Bureau, we are committed, under the leadership of [State Department Official], to have our web presence be customer centric and user-friendly. And so this J-1 Exchange Visitor Program website is the first step to revamping our entire Bureau’s web presence to be customer centric and user friendly. So in this first step, we did a great deal of audience research to learn how people want to access information about the J-1 Program. The result is our new homepage.
So the new site projects – the goal is that it projects an authoritative feel. It’s still a state.gov website. It has the State Department seal at the top. But at the same it, it’s approachable. So for the prospective participant, it is more approachable design, more intuitive, and it addresses the top audiences of the site, all of them, participants, perspective and current, program sponsors, the American organizations that sponsor J-1 participants, and also the American host families and employers who also host J-1 participants.
So through our research, we indentified two top questions that people have on their minds when they seek information about the J-1 Program. One is: How do I apply? How can I get onto this program? And the second is: What is the program like? Is it for me? And so with that in mind, we’ve created content stories about J-1 participants, as well as given people top tasks that they can accomplish on the site: study, work, teach – very straightforward.
At the same time, we’re still providing all of that dense material that you saw before that is required for the American sponsoring organizations. They have to deal with a great deal of regulation in order to administer their programs. So that is all still there; it’s just not the very first thing you see. Also we – the high-quality visuals send a message about the quality of the program itself, that this is a high-quality experience that people can expect.
So with that, I’ll go to the actual site. It’s at j1visa.state.gov. It is live right now. You can go browse it on your own after this. Let’s see. I’ll make it a little closer to the – we had a soft launch about a week ago and then the official launch, the big announcement, is tomorrow, June 1st. So I’ll walk you through some of the features on the site.
On the top nav here you will see a thing – two items that aim at people’s top tasks, so they want to know the basics about the J-1 Visa and they also want to know what are the different programs within the J-1 Visa. So this takes people to summary information from which they can delve deeper. They can go to common questions, facts and figures, and learn about other visas and the J-2 Visa, which is for people accompanying people on the J-1 Visa.
On the programs – I don't know if you all are familiar with the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, but there are several categories within the J-1 Visa Program. So things that look familiar like au pair – so what we have here is a nice visual at the top that reflects the audience, and then you have plain language – plain English writing that is accessible to the non-native speaker. You also have summary information. So you have bullets that allow people to get the information by scanning, which is what people like to do on the web. But then you also are able to delve into much more detailed information if you want to.
So the idea is that you start people out with very general bullets, things that they can scan, and you go to very in depth information if they want to get into that.
QUESTION: Is it possible to make the slide bigger?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would hesitate to mess with the settings right at the moment. Are you all having trouble seeing as the monitor is a little bit washed out? Are you okay? You’re okay? Okay.
Okay. Let’s see. I’ll look at one more. There’s just – a secondary school student is – that’s a category that in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs we use quite a bit with the FLEX Program or the Fulbright Program – or not the Fulbright Program, but all of our high school exchange programs. This is a category that’s used quite a bit for ECA participants. And again, you have summary information and a quick way to look up a sponsor. So this is new on the new website. On the current website, we do have a big list of sponsors, but there’s no way you can click through to the sponsor’s website. So what we have here is an authoritative listing of the sponsors. So if an individual who wants to go on a secondary school student program, for instance, or an au pair program, they know that the Department of State, this is the authoritative list. They can look it up here to make sure that these organizations are legit.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Just to put it in a little perspective, the State Department works with about 1,400 different private sector organizations across the United States who run the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program for us, and we designate them as a Department as a bona fide organization to enable them to use the J-1 Visa to bring students or participants, I should say, into the United States.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So on the current site we do – or the old website, we did list them, but there was no way to click through and get to the sponsor’s website quickly. So we’re hoping that this is a good efficient gateway for people to get through to the sponsoring organizations. So all 1,400-some organizations are listed here with their web addresses.
Okay. Really quickly I’ll go back to the home page. So we have three main target audiences: participants, sponsors, and host families or employers. So if you click on participant, you’ll see – again, we’re looking at the top tasks that the audience research showed us that people are interested in – what’s it like, is this for me, is this person’s experience the kind of experience I would like to have. And then also we have summary information here, where you can click on key words that might catch your eye, the 20-19 form that you need to go get your visa for instance.
Okay. And then for sponsors, you’ll see it’s different for the sponsors. These are the American organizations that need all of the legal information to run the programs. So it’s not – it’s much more utilitarian. We get much more to the point with the regulations. They don’t need a lot of stories about what it’s like. And let’s see. So I was mentioning earlier all the big regulations. So this is what we have here – rulemaking documents and guidance directives. So this is the very – it’s a little bit blurry, but this is the very dense legal language that sponsors require. So that information is still all there for that American audience.
Host families and employers – this is targeted at Americans who might be interested in hosting an exchange visitor participant. So again, they want to know how to apply, and they want to know what it’s like, also. It’s a similar set of questions. So we do have stories from host families.
Okay. And then I talked about the top tasks – study, work, and teach – and that will take a prospective participant to the visa category where you can study, if you click on study for instance. And so that takes them very quickly to those categories where you can work.
So let’s see, just really quickly – a new feature we have on the site also is to help communicate the impact of the program mainly to American audiences, but it could be to anyone. So we have a facts and figures map that will show you at any one time – we’ll keep this updated on a monthly basis – but how many J-1 exchange visitor participants are in each state at any time, and you’re going to see these numbers go way up in the summer with Summer Work Travel. So we’ll have those updated soon. You can also see how many sponsors are headquartered in each state. These sponsors may work in several states, but they have their headquarters, obviously, in one place. You can also download this data if you really want to delve into it.
We developed brand new common questions. This is something in the United States we often call “frequently asked” questions, but we’re calling them common questions to help keep the term more simple, and you can get to them straight from the homepage here. We picked out some of the top ones. So where do I get my 2019? You get it from your sponsor. So we have common questions straight off the homepage, another quick gateway to the information.
Okay. And then I’ll show you these stories that we have developed that help people understand prospective participants or host families or employers, help them understand the benefits of the program and learn if it’s for them. So this is one, and we’ll be continuously developing these, but these are participants’ experiences.
So you’ll see, for instance – oops, sorry – we do have them either in text or video, and I will show you both. So you learn from Camilla (ph) what her experience has been to be an au pair in the United States. So you have the text version, and then for most all of these we will also have the video. And if the sound is cooperating, I will play this for you right now.
[Audio is aired]
I heard about the au pair program because of my sister, and she told me about a program and I was looking around, I was trying to go to the United States, and I decided to come. The first and most important thing was because of my English, and I decided to come here. I can interact very well with kids and it’s a very wonderful opportunity to help them and to grow together because they are like perfect teachers of a new language.
My role here has been like a big sister, so I like that because I have a full house in Colombia. I have four siblings, so I like to be in contact with kids. Taking classes in Georgetown University – I’ve been taking a lot of classes during the year.
My host family, they’re amazing. I love them. They are like my real family. They give me everything that I need and are – like at home. This is a very nice opportunity to know another country and to meet wonderful people. And my experience has been awesome. I love this. Take a chance and come here.
[End of aired audio]
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m going to let our [Senior State Department Official] have the last word. This is a video that we’re going to release tomorrow of her explaining the significance and demonstrating the new website.
[Audio is aired]
Hello, [Senior State Department Official] Welcome to the J-1 Visa website. Everything you need to know about the J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program can be found right here. The site is designed to be extremely easy to use. Great new features include our interactive maps, participant and sponsor information, and firsthand stories about our programs. Each J-1 Visa Program page contains eligibility information, common questions, and next steps. If you want to take part in one of our programs, be a sponsor or a host, our homepage can point you in the right direction. Applicants can find a sponsor organization and learn about the J-1 Visa process. Current J-1 Visa holders can find answers to their questions and sponsors can find regulations. Host families and employers can learn more about the program.
Find out more about the J-1 Visa site at j1visa.state.gov.
[End of aired audio]
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. So that’s – that is my walkthrough of the website. If there any questions, I’m happy to answer them.
QUESTION: The – so the au pairs are under J-1.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Correct.
MODERATOR: Excuse me, could you please state your name and news organization --
QUESTION: Okay. Betty Lin of the World Journal. And is it, like, one-year program? Is it only limited to female, and how about those, like, lifeguards coming to pools over the summer?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Lifeguards fall under Summer Work Travel. For the au pair program, they do have a cap that can extend for an additional year and it is open to males as well. So it’s not just – (laughter) – traditionally, it’s been more females that have applied for the program; it’s certainly not biased on that. Summer Work Travel is actually a three-month program for the summertime --
QUESTION: It’s called Work Travel?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Summer Work Travel --
QUESTION: Here it is.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- on the screen, and that’s where you see the lifeguards, you see people that come and work in restaurants, at resorts. Even in the wintertime they might come, some of the South American students, because they’re coming from – their summer break is in the winter, they come and work in the ski resorts or other things in the wintertime to help fill jobs where there’s a need for it, like in these resort communities where there isn’t enough of the population of American citizens to fill some of those jobs. So it really fills up a gap that’s needed and it’s --
QUESTION: So it’s either, like, three months or it --
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s three months and then they have a 30-day extension period of time. So it’s no more than four months total.
QUESTION: But au pair is longer?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. An au pair program’s a year, and you can extend for a year, and then that’s it.
QUESTION: Any quotas work for Summer Work Travel or au pairs?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Any quotas, like, how many numbers?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s very much driven by the --
QUESTION: The need?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- the market. The need, exactly. So, as I mentioned before – I’m not sure if you were here – but we work with 1,400 different private sector organizations, and they have representatives overseas and they decide what the demand is and then they come to us saying this is what the demand is. So it balances out on the – with the need in the market.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But there are no quotas.
QUESTION: So, like, average, like, how many J-1 Visas do you give out a year?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right now we’re balancing at about 350,000, but that’s – again, there’s no quota.
QUESTION: Then you have the breakdown of countries?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can get you a breakdown of countries.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t have one with me right now, but we do monitor that periodically.
QUESTION: And categories, like, how many are for, like, scholars or other --
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. Yes, we do have a breakdown of that. Again, I didn’t bring that with me.
QUESTION: -- career?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But I could get that for you if you give me your information.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
QUESTION: Hi. Liming Yang with China Youth Daily. And all the sponsors that have the exchange visitor program included in – on the website?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.
QUESTION: So if a foreign student, like, applied for the J Visa, they could just check the sponsors directly.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Exactly. And I think it’s a really good safeguard so that you can make sure you’re working with a bona fide organization. So because we do regulate and monitor the program and make sure that people are abiding by the regulatory structure that we have in place – so it’s good for an international participant to actually look at our site and make sure that they – the organization that they’re interested in is actually listed on our site.
QUESTION: But how about the sponsor that is not list on the website?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Then if they’re not on the website then they’re not a J-1 sponsor.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. We stay on top of this list. So you’ll see there are 3,400-some-odd listings here – I mean, that’s because a sponsor might sponsor more than one category.
QUESTION: 3,400? The sponsors?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. Unique sponsors on the site, there are about 1,400.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But some of them do Summer Work Travel and intern programs.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So they would be listed twice there.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Because we break it out by category.
QUESTION: Yeah. And I know, right now, many Chinese high school students or middle school students come to United States to study. So they should apply for the F-1 Visa or the J Visa?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It depends on what kind of exchange program they’re doing. There’s also F programs, but that’s more – maybe you can describe the F. That’s a different – it’s not a public diplomacy program where you’re working with a sponsor organization and coming to do a true mutual exchange; you might be coming over to pay a university, to study in the school or pay – go to a private high school or something like that.
QUESTION: That would be F-1?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That would be an F-1.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: An F-1 is a student visa. And in order to – for a school to participate in F-1, there’s a form that has to be issued for somebody to be in the program. So for the J-1 programs, it’s the DS-2019 form. For students there’s a form called I-20, and in order to issue that the schools must be certified with Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Student and Exchange Visitor Program. And they oversee that for students who come to the United States.
QUESTION: So with J-1 usually it’s just a short-term program? By the summer – during the summer vacation or, like, three or four months?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. It can be longer. It can be much longer.
QUESTION: It can be longer.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We have positions that come over: interns, researchers that do long term contracts. The Fulbright Program actually, that the U.S. Government does, where you can come over and do your PhD, that could be a three, four-year program and that would also fall under J-1.
QUESTION: So is it adjustable? Like, if one comes in with F-1 can he or she adjust the status to J-1? How --
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. But adjustments to status are handled by Department of Homeland Security, in the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
QUESTION: But they still need the visa from the State though, right?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. Okay. Visas in the United States work differently than a lot of countries. The visa gets you into the United States, and so as long as you’re applying --
QUESTION: No, once you’re in?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Once you’re in, you don’t – the visa no longer matters, because you get admitted at the port of entry by an immigration official. And then --
QUESTION: So they just ask the number from the State?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And so if you change status, you do that with USCIS, which is part of Department of Homeland Security. Once you leave the United States, then – we’re talking about a visa again, and we’ll be seeing you, but that’s something different.
QUESTION: So if someone needs to adjust, they need to apply from the DHS instead?
SECRETARY CLINTON: If you adjust inside the United States, then that’s through DHS or USCIS, or Citizenship and Immigration Services. Does that make sense?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Because it doesn’t look like it does. (Laughter.) It’s complicated. We don’t do it the way everybody else does.
QUESTION: Is the main goal of this side visa, all these efficient way to deliver information (inaudible) expect to that is number of participants by this visa (inaudible)?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s really the – that’s not our overarching goal. I think we want to make the information more accessible to someone who’s thinking about going on a J-1 program. That’s not (inaudible) we’ve never communicated with, at least through our office before. Before we were just talking to the United States sponsor saying here’s all the regulations that you need to know so you can run your (inaudible) run your program. Now we want to use it as a tool so that a young person from Bulgaria can look on the site and say I’m really thinking about going on a summer work-travel program or I’m really thinking about being an au pair, and they can find the information, the very basic information they need, so they can go to the right people and get into a bona fide program and really understand what the program is all about.
QUESTION: Could we see on this site, like a pilot for some –other kind to visas?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Other types of visas? We do have links to Consular Affairs.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Maybe in the future. But the J-Visa is owned by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, because they work with all the sponsors and they make the exchange programs available. They oversee the exchange programs, so this is their initiative.
For our consular officers overseas, they’re going to see all sorts of things. But we spend a lot of our time explaining to people because it’s complicated what visa category – and there’s lots of questions all the time. And I think this new website does a wonderful job of demystifying, of explaining to prospective visa applicants, what it is that they need to do. It clears up some common questions, and they can do that from their home or apartment over the internet without having to contact us directly. And they can see the information and it’s authoritative and it’s clear, and it makes it – I think things much easier for the potential applicants to understand.
And of course, from the selfish viewpoint of somebody overseas who sees all these questions, if we don’t see so many of those, that’s good too because it – people will be able to get the information and understand it the first time without having to ask us again.
QUESTION: If the –
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We do – we do --
QUESTION: Is there a possibility of feedback on this site with somebody who have some specific issue and want to write ?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a Contact Us section. So we have – I mean, just to back up one step, we have – our office here in ECA in Washington does literally get hundreds of questions about the J-Visa every month, and so we have analyzed those questions to make sure that we’re answering them on the new site.
And also, I would point out that we do link to Consular and to DHS when there are questions about other types of visas or the question you were bringing up about adjusting status. So we do – in our common questions, we’ve analyzed what users ask most frequently, and we answer it when it’s our authority to answer. But when it’s not, we link straight to the people who really know what they’re saying in Consular or at DHS when we need to.
If we want feedback about the site, they can contact any of the people here. We have an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, or they can contact the webmaster if there are any problems with the website, if there’s something the website isn’t doing right. And there’s a link to this contact page on every page of the site. So we love feedback. It helps us make the site better. We will – we’re launching this, but we’re going to be constantly adjusting it to make sure that we’re answering people’s questions.
Just really quickly, an example of where we link off, for instance, to Consular is we do have summary – high-level summary information on the F and M-1 Visas, but then we do link to Consular’s website at travel.state.gov for the real granular detail.
QUESTION: Do you have links to the 1,400 sponsors?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, we do.
QUESTION: So people can just go to the sponsors and ask them to apply visas for them?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: J-1 Visa.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They can apply for a program and then –
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: For a program.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And then if they’re accepted in the program, then they work with that sponsor to get their 2019 Form, which they then take through the normal visa application process.
QUESTION: It’s called 2019 Form?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s a DS-2019. They then take that to the embassy and they work with Consular Affairs through the visa processing system, which is not a guaranteed that you’re going to –
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. The DS-2019 Form allows one to apply for the J Visa. Whether somebody is eligible for the visa or not, they have to demonstrate to a consular officer in a visa interview. But they can’t even apply until they have the DS-2019 Form from the sponsor.
QUESTION: And how long does it usually take –
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well --
QUESTION: -- if someone wants to be here in the summer and – well, how much ahead of time that one has to start?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It varies significantly from post to post, because as you know, some places are just a lot busier than others because of the variances in visa demand. For a big program, like summer work and travel, because we know that so many people are going to be applying, we work it out in advance with the sponsors and they know that they have to get people there in advance. And so we plan for it, we allocate extra resources for it, but our overarching goal in the Bureau of Consular Affairs is to ensure that everybody gets issued a visa in time to participate in their program.
QUESTION: And the host families will be afterwards or –
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Host family – depends on the program. Not necessarily. Summer work and travel --
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, summer work-travel is not run with host families. But host families would, say, host a high school exchange student who might come, and so that that’s the American host family. So the American host family is also working with the sponsor organization, and the sponsor organization is making the matches when they – when the participant comes to the United States, they’re making the match here in the U.S. But there’s information on the website as well for –
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Prospective.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, prospective (inaudible) who are thinking about hosting a student either for a short or long-term program, and you can find basic information here on the site.
QUESTION: And what is the history of this J-1 Visa from year per year? You say that the – last year, for example, it’s 3,000 – 350,000?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Visas?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, between the J and the other visa programs?
QUESTION: From year per year.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s pretty consistent, I think. There’s been a little bit of a decline because of the economy, I think, but we’re seeing the numbers starting to come up again. It just really varies per year and it’s whatever the demand is overseas as to what the program ends up doing. As we mentioned before, there’s no cap per se on it. It’s – demand is about 350 each year.
QUESTION: Does exist some countries that are more active participant of this kind of –
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There are, and I can get you – I think you asked for similar lists before – some of the top sending countries. Brazil is a very big sending country. A lot of the Eastern and Western European countries are top sending countries. China is definitely growing. India is growing. There are countries that send a larger amount than others, definitely.
QUESTION: Is it possible to tell where all the hits come from?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you do a metric run and determine where the hits are?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, we are running metrics on this website in the background, so we’ll be able to see where the traffic is coming from. Right. Geographically.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL, QUESTION: This site gets the largest number of hits on any State Department website?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL, QUESTION: No?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Euro website.
QUESTION: Europe website?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think state.gov probably has us beat, but – the main department website. But this is --
QUESTION: Or the Visa Lottery? (Laughter.)
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. So far – I mean, we just turned it live about a week ago, but so far it’s outpacing our other sites in the bureau. So –
MODERATOR: Okay. If there are no other questions, we will conclude it there.
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