UPDATE August 7, 2023: Emergency Message from the Social Security Administration
In late April, the U.S. Department of State permitted designate sponsors to digitally sign and electronically transmit the DS-2019 form. However, some exchange visitors have experienced difficulties with the Social Security Administration (SSA) denying Social Security Number (SSN) applications with digitally signed Forms DS-2019. As a result, the SSA recently issued this Emergency Message to all its offices instructing Social Security field offices to accept digital signatures on Forms DS-2019 as part of exchange visitors’ SSN applications. Please read this Emergency Message if you are applying for SSNs or are experiencing difficulties with the SSA related to a digital signature on Form DS-2019.
The Department of State has just updated the requirements of DS-2019 forms, and it is a win for the exchange community! Here’s the update:
“The U.S. Department of State is pleased to announce the publication of an Interim Final Rule in the Federal Register on March 28, 2023, that permits designated sponsors for the Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) to digitally sign and electronically transmit the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status (J-Nonimmigrant) (Form DS-2019), effective April 27, 2023. The new regulation will reduce costs, improve efficiencies for exchange program sponsors, and streamline Department of State exchange visitor visa processing.”
A DS-2019 form is the all-important document that prospective exchange visitors need (amongst other documentation) in order to apply and attend a visa appointment at their local American consulate. Without this document, anyone coming on a BridgeUSA (J-1) program cannot attend an appointment, receive a visa, arrive to the United States, nor complete an exchange program.
Up until now, DS-2019 forms had to be signed on paper (and only in blue ink) by a Responsible Officer at the sponsor agency, in this case Greenheart Exchange. The document was then sent internationally via courier post to the prospective exchange visitor or their sending agency in their home country. If all goes well, the form can arrive to the exchange visitor within 2-3 business days of being sent. However, this was not usually the case. It could take a week to arrive, maybe even more than 2 weeks with some of the supply issues that have effected transit and efficient delivery of posts.
Time is of the essence for prospective exchange visitors. Prior to the pandemic, there were often concerns about finding visa appointments. Depending on the post, there may have only been a certain amount of appointments available, within a specific timeframe. However, the pandemic exacerbated this concern as embassies and consulates dealt with staffing issues, closures, local public health mandates and requirements from the Department of State overall. The sooner that an exchange visitor receives a DS-2019 form, the sooner they can make an appointment and the more likely they are to travel to the U.S. for their program.
Costs are a concern for sponsors and sending agents. Courier fees have historically been built into program fees for participants. However, there have always been outliers (shipping mistakes, etc.) that have financially burdened sponsors and agents. As was mentioned, supply chain issues have delayed deliveries, forcing shipments to be expedited, increasing costs. In the last year, worldwide inflation has increased the cost of everything, including courier fees.
Now that DS-2019 forms can be electronically signed and sent electronically, time and costs concerns will be significantly reduced, supporting more efficient operational procedures and minimizing errors.
American hosts may be wondering “how does this affect me?” Your exchange visitors will be able to schedule a visa appointment and get their visa earlier, allowing you to prepare for their arrival and your season or year. If you are an American employer, previously, you may have found out about a visa denial much too late in the season, making it harder to replace this hire. Or perhaps it was hard to plan arrival orientations or housing accommodations because you did not have the set hires for your season until late. This change will help to prevent these frustrations.
With this barrier eliminated, Greenheart is excited to support our agents, hosts and exchange visitors more so they can take more time to prepare for a successful program.
Have questions about what is a proper electronic signature? Reach out to your Greenheart contact. They will be happy to help!
If you are a business who would like to host international seasonal staff for a cultural exchange, please visit HirewithGreenheart.org to learn more.