19 September 2010
A review of US Dept. of State insurance requirements for J1 & J2 visas. Contains minimum coverage requirements, details about DS2019 form and obligations of sponsors.
The J-1 visa is primarily an exchange visa for people interested in exchange visitor programs in the U.S. Through this exchange program, it is hoped that these individuals will return home at the end of their stay and help spread global understanding through educational and cultural exchanges. At any given time, there ar170,000 or more people who have travelled to the United States on work or study exchange programs!
Exchange visitors may stay in the U.S. for the duration of their program, with the minimum and maximum duration of the exchange visitor’s stay determined by the specific category of their J-1 visa program. Visa applicants must show their eligibility for a visa at an interview conducted by the consular officer at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their country of residence.
Who can travel on J-1 Visa
If you are looking forward to spending time in the U.S., then J-1 visa is the most popular category that allows you to work as well as study in the U.S. It gives you an opportunity to become an exchange visitor as a short term scholar, au pair or an intern, teaching, studying or getting on the job training ranging from a few weeks to a few years.
Au pairs, camp counselors, college and secondary students, research scholars, interns and teachers and professors can apply for a J1 visa to gain valuable education and experience in the U.S. All these categories of travelers offer both the exchange visitors and those that host them, with a rewarding, mutually beneficial, multi-cultural experience. Additionally, when you receive your J1 visa, you can also obtain a J2 visa for your spouse or dependent children who will be traveling with you.
Everyone in your party must be covered by health insurance for the full term of issuance for the visa. Make sure you have an insurance plan that conforms to the minimum requirements of the U.S. Department of State.
Role of sponsors
Before applying for a J-1 visa, one must be accepted into one of the certified exchange programs approved by the U.S. Department of State. The first step in applying for a J-1 visa is to find a sponsor who can guide you through the process. You can find a list of designated J-1 visa sponsors on the website of the U.S. State
Department. Sponsors are responsible for choosing participants for the exchange visitor programs, according to the eligibility criteria of each program category. All participants must have sufficient English language proficiency and also satisfy insurance requirements. Sponsors should give the participants specific information about the program and any contractual obligations before their departure from their home countries. Sponsors are also required to offer an orientation to the participants and their dependants after their arrival in the U.S. The orientation should provide information about the region and state where the participant is going to reside. The sponsoring organization is also entirely responsible for supporting and monitoring participants during their period of stay in the U.S.
Participants have to pay the fee for their exchange program to their sponsors; the fees vary depending on the exchange visitor category and also the duration of the program. It is good to check with your sponsor for a breakdown of all costs and fees of your program beforehand. After you are accepted into an exchange visitor program, you will be required to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee to the Department of Homeland Security. It could either be paid by your sponsor as part of your program fees or you may be needed to pay it. If the sponsor has paid the fees, he will provide you with a receipt confirming payment. Once you are accepted into an exchange program, your sponsor will issue a Form DS-2019 to you. Exchange visitors must pay the non-immigrant visa application processing fee too when they apply for a J-1 visa. At the time of their interview, applicants must show a receipt as proof that the visa processing fee has been paid. Sometimes an additional fee must be paid upon issuance of your visa. However, government sponsored exchange program applicants and their dependants are exempted from fee for visa application or visa issuance.
The Form DS2019
People interested in applying for a J1 visa must first get a DS2019 form completed by their sponsors. The sponsors are authorized to issue this form to prospective exchange visitors after screening and selecting them. They will ensure that the program you are applying for is in line with your experience and educational background. They also make sure that the program conforms to the U.S. State Department regulations.
The form DS2019 is the “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status” and is the basic document used in administering the J-1 exchange visitor program. All the necessary information in this form is completed by the sponsor before the participant gets it. This form permits an exchange visitor to seek an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate to obtain a J visa to visit the U.S. The form DS-2019 identifies the exchange visitor and their sponsor, giving a brief description of the exchange visitor’s program, the start and end date of the program, category of the exchange program and an estimate of the cost involved. In case of any questions or concerns about the Form DS-2019, exchange visitors can contact their designated sponsor on all related matters, so they can offer the required assistance and advice.
Once the DS-2019 form is given, the participant can apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate for the J-1 visa. Issuance of the J-1 visa will be at the discretion of consular officers even after you are accepted in the exchange visitor program and have received the DS-2019 form.
As part of the J1 visa application process, one needs to attend a J-1 visa interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy. An important thing to remember is that the J-1 visa is a short term visa, therefore during your interview you will most probably be asked about your plans while staying in the U.S. As part of your visa application, you will also need to show proof of your health insurance coverage. Remember that the wait time for the visa processing and your interview is different for different countries and also depends on your circumstances. To avoid unnecessary delays, apply as soon as possible; you can know more about visa processing time and interview time by visiting the official website.
Here is a list of documents you will need for your visa interview:
- The Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility) issued by your program sponsor
- Other supporting documents for which you can contact the specific embassy or consulate or check their website
- A valid Passport for travel to the United States
- Your completed online non-immigrant visa application, the Form DS-160
- Fee receipt showing the payment of your visa application fee of $160 (please check here for the latest fees)
- A 2×2 photograph, meeting specific format requirements
J-1 visa health insurance requirements
Besides getting the J1 visa through a sponsor, there are a few other requirements for those wishing to come to the U.S. as exchange visitors. According to U.S. Federal law, people visiting the U.S. on a J1 visa and their dependents are required to have medical insurance for the entire duration of their program. It is wise to make insurance arrangements before leaving one’s home country. It is good to look for a plan with good health insurance coverage for yourself and accompanying dependents; be sure to look for exclusions in the plan, where the insurance provider will not pay for certain conditions.
Here are some of the requirements that one should keep in mind when buying health insurance and the coverage outlined below has been defined by U.S. federal regulations:
Your insurance plan must offer benefits of at least $50,000 for an accident or illness; this will include all eligible medical expenses such as emergency treatment of an illness or injury with no hospital stay, charges incurred at a hospital for in patient medical treatment or charges by a physician or a surgeon for medical services. The cost of medical expenses, that means the portion not covered by insurance that the insured has to pay should not be more than 25%.
For each instance of a medical emergency or an illness, the deductible should not be greater than $500. According to health insurance requirements, coverage of emergency evacuation expenses should be $10,000. In cases where necessary medical treatment cannot be provided locally or transportation by any other means puts the insured person’s life at risk, then the insurance company will provide coverage for emergency medical evacuation. The insured person will get emergency air transportation to the nearest medical facility, where he or she will receive medical treatment.
Some plans include medical evacuation that also covers air transportation to the insured person’s home country if that is his option. In case of a serious illness or injury, if one must be sent home on the advice of a doctor, the insurance policy must pay for the expenses of the travel. For repatriation of remains, the coverage should be $7,500. In case an illness or injury results in the death of the insured person, the insurance provider will reimburse the costs and expenses incurred to
send the person’s mortal remains to his or her home country.
The insurance guidelines for the exchange visitor program for scholars mention that the health insurance policy may establish a waiting period before it can cover pre-existing conditions, that is any health problems that you had before buying the insurance. However, the waiting period should be reasonable by current standards in the insurance business.
Once you have purchased your health insurance, you can get a letter of proof from your insurance provider. Collect and prepare all your visa documents well in advance, as there is nothing worse than knowing you were denied a visa because you did not have the correct paperwork.
Deductibles and Coinsurance
Everyone has unique needs when it comes to health insurance and it helps to understand what the usual insurance terms like deductibles and co insurance mean. Here is how they work together:
In a health insurance policy, a deductible means the amount of medical expenses that you must pay out of your pocket before your insurance company will start paying any expenses. Once the medical expenses exceed the amount of the deductible, the insurer is liable to pay the rest of the expenses for each illness or emergency. For example, if a person falls sick and his medical costs are $250. If his deductible is $100, then he has to pay $100 after which the rest of the medical costs of $150
are paid by the insurance company. But if there is coinsurance, the remaining health care costs of $150 are shared by the insurer and the insurance provider.
Coinsurance is a sharing of health care costs, with cost sharing ranging from 80/20 to 50/50. Typically in health insurance policies, an 80/20 is an effective provision where the insurance company pays 80 percent of the medical costs and the insured pays 20 percent. The 80/20 provision begins after the insured reaches the deductible. Until then, the insured is responsible for all his medical expenses.
Pay attention to the deductible amount when you buy a health plan. Some policies may offer a lower deductible rate but the premium may be higher. Deductibles are part of most policies to cover financial losses as a result of unexpected medical emergencies or illnesses. Think carefully about how much you can afford to pay each time you are ill or injured, weigh the deductible and the premium before you decide
Before getting your insurance, do ensure that your insurance company meets the minimum rating requirements established by the U.S. Department of State. Your insurance provider should have an AM best rating of “A-“or above, an Insurance Solvency International, Ltd(ISI) rating of “A-1” or better, a Standard & Poor’s Claims Paying ability of “A-“ or better, or a Weiss Research Inc. Rating of “B+” or better.
The rating is an important factor when buying health insurance and it is given to all insurance companies. It shows the financial strength and operating performance of your insurance provider. The rating provides consumers with all the information they need to make a good buying decision. An insurance company with a rating of “A” and above shows that the company is in excellent financial condition and that it can fulfil all your insurance policy requirements. In case the insurance carrier rating is not met, your insurance policy should be backed by the full faith and credit of the government of your home country. Before you get an insurance plan, remember that each state may have slightly different requirements on the amount of insurance, so you should verify the level of insurance required by the area of the country you will be traveling in. All these requirements apply to both J- visa exchange visitors and to their J-2 dependent visa spouses and children. Designate sponsors must inform exchange visitors of the health insurance requirement, in writing, in advance of the participant’s arrival in the U.S.
Benefits of health insurance
With a good insurance plan in place, you can be free from any financial worries caused by unexpected accidents or illnesses while you are visiting the US. They can help you cope with the prohibitive cost of health care in the U.S; covering medical expenses as well as evacuation or repatriation expenses. There are many types of health insurance available and your sponsor can help you find the right plan with good levels of coverage and benefit limits
Exchange visitors may have some questions regarding their program such as extending their program, joining a new program and so on. Exchange visitors beginning their programs cannot enter the U.S. more than 30 days before the starting date of their program. Remember that your sponsor may extend the length of your program and if an extension is granted, a new Form DS-2019 will be issued to you.
If you want to withdraw from an exchange program, you must contact your program sponsor who will enter this information into SEVIS and you must leave the country immediately. In such a case, you will not be entitled to the 30 day post completion period, as you did not complete your program. If you want to take up a second J-1 exchange program in a different category and with a different sponsor, you will have to apply for a new J-1 visa and a new sponsor to re-enter the U.S. for your new
As an exchange visitor, it is good to be aware of all issues related to your J-1 visa, so you can look forward to an exciting stay in the U.S.