After years of lobbying on the part of international education leaders, the Department of State posted a proposed change  to its J-1 exchange visitor regulations Tuesday that would create a new subcategory specifically for student interns.
“The question is, what happens if a student who is enrolled in a foreign institution of higher education wants to pursue an internship at a U.S. institution of higher education or an affiliated organization like a research institute as part of their studies," said Victor C. Johnson, associate executive director for public policy at NAFSA: Association of International Educators, which has advocated for such a change for six or seven years now.
"At the current time, it’s not that it’s impossible to do that, but there’s no category in the regulations that applies to those people. So they’ve had to be shoehorned in under other regulatory categories that weren’t created to apply to interns.”
Under the proposed change, foreign students enrolled in accredited postsecondary institutions outside of the United States, or graduates who have completed a program of study within 12 months of starting an exchange, would be eligible to participate in one year-long internship program per degree level. Potential international interns must be able to describe how the internship -- which can be paid or unpaid -- would enhance their educational programs in their home institutions. The regulations prohibit sponsoring institutions from placing interns in unskilled or casual labor positions, or in those that involve aviation, child or elder care, and patient care or contact (including dentistry, early childhood education, nursing, psychological counseling, social work, speech therapy, sports or physical therapy, and veterinary medicine).
Several international educators said they were still reviewing the proposed rules Tuesday. But overall they were pleased to see that a proposal -- long delayed after September 11, Johnson said -- was finally in play. "[I]n general this is an extremely positive and significant addition to the college and university student category of the J1 exchange visitor program," Ann Kuhlman, director of Yale University's Office of International Students and Scholars, said via e-mail Tuesday. "U.S. institutions of higher education have suggested this addition for the past few years -- as we began to see an increase in requests from students, particularly from Europe and Asia, who were seeking internships in their fields at U.S. colleges and universities."
While likewise expressing pleasure that the proposed regulations have been introduced, Catheryn Cotten, director of the International Office at Duke University & Medical Center, also expressed some concern that internships involving patient care or contact, child and elder care – areas with ties to legitimate academic programs at many institutions – are among those areas excluded from internships under the rule. “What they’re trying to prevent is someone misusing this to bring in baby-sitters and housekeepers," Cotten said -- a laudable goal. But in seeking to prevent abuse, the regulations are "far more exclusionary than is necessary," Cotten said.
“To say that you can’t do internships in areas that would be specific academic areas at some institutions seems unreasonable and unfair to some of the students at those programs."
"I’m sure we’ll probably have some comment on the details," said Johnson of NAFSA. (The comment period for the proposed rule lasts until August 6). "But overall, it is the kind of thing that we have been asking for for quite some time."