Some of you may know that I've been a co-author of the annually published LexisNexis' J-1 Visa Guidebook for the last dozen years. J-1 visas are used by a variety of folks including students and researchers training in a lot of fields. For many decades, J-1s from developing countries have been required to comply with a requirement to return to their home countries for two years following their J-1 time in the US. The idea is that the J-1 program is a part of the US foreign aid system and the two year requirement is a way to ensure that needed skills learned in the US are transferred back to the J-1 visa holder's home country.

The State Department maintains something called the Exchange Visitor Skills List and it lists all of the countries in the world that it considers to be developing and the particular skills and occupations where the country needs help. If you're a J-1 visa holder from a country on the list and your skill area is included, you're very likely subject to the home residency requirement. The list has not been updated since 1997 and was sorely in need of updating. For example, Iran is on the list of countries we assist via the Skills List.

The State Department today finally released a 2009 Skills List which will become effective June 28th. Sure, Iran is off. But to my great surprise, China remains on the list and most of the math, science and technology skills are still listed. This basically means that we are training a lot of super smart math and science whizzes and then ordering them to leave the US with all of that new knowledge so that they can then help their country compete with us.

India is also on the list even though they are becoming a major economic competitor. At least the IT occupations for India were not included in this new version (though almost all of the other engineering, science, math and technology fields are still there).

Is the State Department completely asleep at the switch?

DOS J-1 skills list for 2009 - Free Legal Forms