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U.S. Department of State Announces Updated Options for Form DS-2019

Posted on Thursday, May 11th, 2023 at 3:42 pm.

The Biden Administration’s effort to provide a simplified and seamless customer experience for the public took a great step forward today when the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), published an Interim Final Rule in the Federal Register that permits designated sponsors for the Exchange Visitor Program to digitally sign and electronically transmit the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status (J-Nonimmigrant) (Form DS-2019). The new rule is effective as of April 27, 2023. “We’re thrilled that sponsors can now digitally sign and electronically transmit the DS-2019 form,” said Director for the Office of Private Sector Exchange Designation, Karen Ward. “The new regulation will reduce costs, improve efficiencies for exchange program sponsors and streamline Department of State exchange visitor visa processing.”

Until now, sponsors had to mail paper copies of Form DS-2019 to prospective exchange visitors. With this updated change, sponsors may continue to mail paper copies or take advantage of two new options:

· Sponsors may print and physically sign paper forms in ink, scan and save them (e.g., as portable document format (PDF) files), and electronically transmit them (e.g., via email). The new rule eliminates the requirement that sponsors sign the Form DS-2019 in blue ink.

· Sponsors may use digital signature software to sign Forms DS-2019 and then electronically transmit them.

Once a sponsor issues a Form DS-2019 to a prospective exchange visitor, the exchange visitor and their spouse or children can apply for a J-1 or J-2 nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate. If approved for a J-1 and J-2 visa, the exchange visitor and their spouse or children must carry their Form DS-2019 to the U.S. border, where the U.S. Department of Homeland

Security will review this form as part of the exchange visitor’s application for admission into the United States.

The Form DS-2019 is the controlled document used by the Department of State to administer the Exchange Visitor Program. The Form DS-2019 identifies the exchange visitor and their designated sponsor and provides a brief description of the exchange visitor’s program, including the start and end date, category of exchange, and a cost estimate of the exchange program. Designated sponsors are authorized to issue Forms DS-2019 to prospective exchange visitors that are screened and selected for participation in a sponsor’s exchange program. The information in this form is completed by the sponsor prior to issuing it to the prospective exchange visitor. For more information, please click here.

This update to the regulation reinforces the second priority of President Biden’s Management Agenda—centered around improving customer services through technology—and demonstrates the commitment to reducing customer burden, addressing inequities, and streamlining processes. For more information about the Exchange Visitor Program, please visit or follow @ExchangeOurWorld on Instagram.

Categories: Program Spotlight

10th Anniversary of BridgeUSA’s Office of Private Sector Exchange Program Administration

Posted on Thursday, May 11th, 2023 at 2:52 pm.

May 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of the Exchange Visitor Program’s Office of Private Sector Exchange Program Administration (OPA)

The J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program has undergone many changes since its creation through the Fulbright-Hays Act in September 1961.  At its core, the Exchange Visitor Program seeks to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange. All foreign nationals that participate in the Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA)  inbound exchange programs travel on J-1 exchange visitor visas.  Over 90% of the approximately 300,000 annual J-1 exchange visitors participate in private sector programming spanning the J-1 visa categories of: Au Pair, Camp Counselor, College and University Student, Government Visitor, International Visitor, Intern, Physician, Professor, Research Scholar, Secondary School Student, Short-Term Scholar, Specialist, Summer Work Travel, Teacher, and Trainee.  Each year, ECA programs provide opportunities for visitors from roughly 200 countries and territories to experience U.S. culture and engage with Americans with the goal of increasing mutual understanding between the peoples of the United States and other countries.

In 2013, ECA Offices of Exchange  Designation, Compliance, and Policy  oversaw the Exchange Visitor Program and its growth to hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals coming to the U.S. each year to learn, share their culture, and build an international network.  As a public diplomacy program, ensuring exchange visitors’ health, safety, and welfare is paramount to the Department, so much so that as the program grew, the Department dedicated resources to create the Office of  Program Administration (OPA).

Program Analyst Joy Proctor is one of OPA’s original staff members and helped with its creation and development. “OPA works to assist sponsors with any concerns and help to interpret regulations and policies. OPA also assists   helping sponsors course correct to ensure the various programs run smoothly.”

Now with nearly 300,000 exchange visitors and 1,450 private sector and academic sponsor organizations, OPA is more important than ever. On any given day, the staff is investigating incidents and complaints received; working with sponsors to resolve issues; monitoring the health, safety, and welfare of exchange visitors; conducting routine and investigatory site visits; analyzing incident and complaint data to identify areas of need; consulting with sponsors on health, safety, and welfare policies; and compiling and sharing best practices with individual sponsors and as larger groups.

Program Analyst Lauren Grimes has been with OPA from 2014. “Since I have been working in OPA, the feedback I have seen from my colleagues and our BridgeUSA stakeholders is clearly indicative of the various J-1 visa programs being much more efficient with their mission to promote the Department’s foreign policy and mutual understanding initiatives,” she said. “Exchange visitors are safer, programs are well-monitored, and the accountability measures enacted by OPA have greatly benefitted the programs’ successes. We work closely with sponsors to keep a pulse on the program so that we can collaboratively find ways to make the program stronger and safer, while protecting the integrity, spirit, and intent of BridgeUSA.”

Grimes noted two particularly notable successes: the Summer Work Travel/Camp Counselor team’s work on supporting the creation of dozens of Community Support Groups around the country. These are volunteer organizations in areas including  Door County, Wis., Branson, Mo.,, Cape Cod, Mass., and Galveston, Texas, which provide support and assistance in providing safe and successful experiences for exchange visitors who live and work in their local communities. Whether it’s picking up exchange visitors from the airport, fixing up and donating bicycles for transportation, organizing potluck dinners, or arranging cultural excursions, they build a sense of comfort and belonging. Community Support Groups can identify systemic issues and concerns in their area, find solutions, and coordinate forums to educate the community and local businesses regarding the programs.

The other accomplishment Grimes is proud of is OPA’s ability to pivot and continue to monitor programs virtually and support exchange visitors during the  . While other exchange programs went virtual or were cancelled outright, the Exchange Visitor Program continued its mission of people-to-people exchanges and OPA didn’t miss a beat in keeping up with the status of those on their cultural exchange programs.

OPA Director, Mark Howard, sees a bright future for his office.  “Over its ten-year history, OPA has grown to an office of 24 staff, covering all 15 categories of the Exchange Visitor Program and we have worked hard to develop a partnership with our sponsor community,” he said. “At the end of the day, we all want the same thing—more exchanges. We achieve that by making sure our exchanges are safe, compliant, and meaningful for our exchange visitors.  Exchange visitors who have a productive and authentic exchange experience in the U.S. go home to tell their friends, colleagues, and family members about it and that ultimately encourages more people to participate in exchanges.”

Howard also pointed out that there is an important “protection and promotion” aspect of OPA’s work.  “First and foremost, OPA is here to ensure exchange visitor health, safety, and welfare.  At the same time, because of our on-the-ground perspective and regular engagement with communities who support these exchanges, staff are in a unique position to identify opportunities that further promote exchanges. For example, we are one year into the Early Career STEM Research Initiative, started in collaboration with the White House Office and Science Technology Policy. The initiative encourages Department-designated sponsors and U.S.-based STEM business to host STEM-focused exchange visitors.”  Howard noted that OPA’s regular discussions with sponsors and current host organizations were the catalyst to the STEM Initiative’s creation.

What will happen in the next ten years for OPA? “We are at an exciting stage for OPA and our work with the community that supports exchanges directly and indirectly,” Howard said.“With the adoption of new virtual monitoring tools OPA implemented during the pandemic, its monitoring has become more effective and efficient.”  This is the first year that OPA has conducted virtual monitoring with all current BridgeUSA exchange visitors.  Reaching over 250,000 exchange visitors with virtual surveys   in their application – with the goal of identifying and engaging exchange visitors most in need of support.  This provides OPA with more staff time to engage on sponsor, and inter-bureau, -Department, and –agency efforts that will ultimately serve to ensure the safe and continued growth of the Exchange Visitor Program.

Categories: Program Spotlight

Women in STEM

Posted on Wednesday, March 1st, 2023 at 8:50 pm.

By: Abigail Graszl of InterExchange

From researching cell cytotoxicity in a molecular biology lab to having technical discussions with electrical engineers, Career Training USA interns and trainees are completing amazing programs in STEM (that’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics)!

InterExchange is a proud partner of the BridgeUSA Early Career STEM Research Initiative, and these programs strengthen international connections and contribute to the flow of ideas across continents. We recently caught up with some of our female participants to see how their time in the U.S. helped further their careers in these traditionally male-dominated fields.

Eva K.

Molecular Biology

Eva K. from Germany spent six months expanding her skills in molecular biology at Neurona Therapeutics in San Francisco, CA.

Eva had the opportunity to bond with colleagues in San Francsico
Image courtesy of Eva K.

Read More ›

Categories: Participants, Program Spotlight

Friendship for a Lifetime

Posted on Wednesday, September 28th, 2022 at 11:55 am.

There is a Nigerian proverb that says, “The day on which one starts out is not the time to start one’s preparations,” but in the case of BridgeUSA exchange visitors Daniel Enebe and Samuel Eze, the day they met they unknowingly set their international exchange plans in motion. Read More ›

Categories: Participants, Program Spotlight

Bonfire Bonding

Posted on Monday, September 12th, 2022 at 8:24 pm.

Nothing says “summertime” like a good old-fashioned bonfire! In the U.S., this summertime tradition is as old as the nation itself. After all, there is no better time or place to connect with nature and with other people than around the warm flames of a blazing bonfire.

In June, AuPairCare au pairs and host families alike took advantage of the beautiful San Diego summer weather they were having and met at Leisure Lagoon Beach to gather around a bonfire! The fire, the perfect temperature, and the eventual sunset all combined to make for one unforgettable evening.

Like any good bonfire, the host families, host children, and au pairs gathered around the campfire to roast hot dogs and marshmallows, sing songs and warm their hands by the fire. Read More ›

Categories: Participants, Program Spotlight

Slava Ukraini

Posted on Thursday, August 25th, 2022 at 2:48 pm.

At a time when it is unsafe for Ukrainian youth to return home due to the Russian government’s unprovoked war, U.S. summer Camps Kenwood & Evergreen in coordination with the American Camp Association and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs have helped provide a degree of normalcy for BridgeUSA and Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) students in the United States. Check out the story of these Ukrainian youth.

Categories: J-1 Visa, Participants, Program Spotlight, Videos

Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Happy Songkran!

Posted on Wednesday, May 25th, 2022 at 5:10 pm.

Three Summer Work Travel participants from Thailand, pictured from left, Nattaporn Khonghana, Wannida Thongsripleng and Montatip Putawed, are spending their cultural exchange with jobs with the Davidson Hospitality Group at the DoubleTree by Hilton Park Vista in Gatlinburg, Tenn., this spring. In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, they shared information about the Thai new year holiday, Songkran, which took place April 13-15. Read More ›

Categories: Program Spotlight

Cultural Care Goes to the Boston Marathon

Posted on Wednesday, May 11th, 2022 at 1:38 pm.

By: Kristen McDonough of Cultural Care Au Pair.

It’s the kind of spring day that makes New Englanders giddy about the possibility of summer: sunny, low 50’s, with a crisp breeze and warm pockets of sun. In other words, a perfect day for running. The crowds are thick, buzzing with the excitement of returning events and Boston unity. Read More ›

Categories: Participants, Program Spotlight

Deputy Secretary McKeon Travels to Miami, Meets with BridgeUSA Exchange Visitors

Posted on Wednesday, April 6th, 2022 at 8:13 pm.

BridgeUSA exchange visitors at the University of Miami pictured above include interns, trainees, au pairs, and physicians. They are sponsored by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, the Council on International Educational Exchange, InterExchange, and Intrax. Photo credit: Elvir Klempic, Dept. of State.

Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian P. McKeon traveled to Miami, Florida, from March 29-30.  The Deputy Secretary visited State Department operations in South Florida, including the Miami Passport Agency and the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Miami Field Office.  Read More ›

Categories: Program Spotlight

Participant Spotlight: BridgeUSA Research Scholar is Re-thinking the Timing of the Earths’ Biggest Mass Extinction, and the Diversification of Early Mammal Relatives

Posted on Tuesday, February 1st, 2022 at 4:41 pm.

Pia Viglietti, a BridgeUSA research scholar at the Field Museum.

While “dinosaur” might be the first word that pops into peoples’ heads when they think of fossils, those big Jurassic beasts are not the only—or the most interesting—game in town for paleontologists. Case in point: Pia Viglietti, a BridgeUSA research scholar at the Field Museum, studies biostratigraphy and evolutionary change in southern Africa during and after the Permo-Triassic mass extinction. Pia joined the Field Museum in March of 2019, after completing her PhD and a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Since then she has been collaborating with Curator Ken Angielczyk and international colleagues, and already has 12 papers under her belt, including the description of several new species of the early mammal relatives known as dicynodonts, as well new species of crocodile and dinosaur ancestors. Read More ›

Categories: Participants, Program Spotlight

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About Rebecca Pasini

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange

Rebecca Pasini

Rebecca A. Pasini joined the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchanges in July 2023. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister - Counselor, Ms. Pasini has been an American diplomat since 1997.

Ms. Pasini previously served as the Director of Public and Congressional Affairs in the Bureau of Consular Affairs from 2021-2023. Other Washington assignments have included positions in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, the Office of Foreign Missions, and as a liaison to the Department of Homeland Security. She has also completed multiple overseas tours, including as Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs in Islamabad, Pakistan, and as the Consular Chief in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Belfast, Northern Ireland. Other tours included Mexico City and Kuwait.

A Maryland native, Ms. Pasini has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Indiana University, a master’s degree in National Security and Resource Strategy from the Eisenhower School, National Defense University, and an undergraduate degree from Mary Washington College.