Sunday, July 1, 2012

J-1 Visa Health Insurance Coverage

Health-insurance coverage requirements of the J1 Teacher Exchange Visa were increased as of May 15, 2015:
  -  Medical Benefits of at least $100,000 per accident or illness
  -  Deductible not exceeding $500 per accident /illness  
  -  Repatriation of Remains up to $25,000  (CHF covers you)
  -  Medical Evacuation expense to home country up to $50,000  (CHF covers you)


The type of coverage required by J-1 regulations is satisfied by the Plan E Plus health plan offered by Visit International Health Insurance.  The cost of the insurance is approximately $69 per month (ages 30-39). You can charge to a credit card and must obtain this insurance before arriving in the U.S if not immediately covered by the school plan.  If you buy it, repatriation and medical evacuation is included even though CHF covers you for those two planks.


Please be advised that this coverage is designed to be a temporary solution; special coverage for J-1 visaholders is extremely inexpensive, but it does not cover basic checkups that might be required by your school and probably not shots or immunizations.  You must try to enroll in the school group health insurance policy as soon as practicable if you think you will need health insurance for anything but a serious accident or dire emergency.  You can search the Internet and find many other companies that offer this insurance.

The Cordell Hull Foundation covers every teacher and immediately family dependent (spouse or child) for:

1.  Repatriation - transport of body back to home country in the event of death
2.  Medical Evacuation - transport of body back to home country in the event of severe illness or injury

IMPORTANT:  Each J-1 teacher must be insured at the point that s/he first steps foot on US soil throughout the full length of the J-1 tenure in Section 3 of form DS-2019. You must choose a plan with a deductible no higher than $500 and no less than the $100,000 maximum limit.
Do not inscribe until the school /district /state receives confirmation that the teacher has paid the embassy fees to apply for their J-1 visa passport stamps ($160 + $180).

For further information on the J-1 visa, see the Cordell Hull Foundation website:  http://www.cordellhull.com/ and click on Teacher Exchange at the top of the page.

You can find links to a large number of instruction videos narrated by native speakers of English, French, Spanish and Mandarin on http://www.cordellhull.com/instruction-videos

Read the other CHF blog articles below that interest you!

Marianne Mason, President
Cordell Hull Foundation for International Education, New York

45 Rockefeller Plaza, Floor 20, NY, NY  10111 (by appointment only)

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Relocation Guide for Schools to host Foreign Teachers

BUDDY TEACHER CHECKLIST

Most established international, immersion, and public schools with foreign language /immersion programs offer some or all of the services described here.  This article is geared toward new schools accepting their first foreign teacher into the fold. 

Providing relocation orientation and direct support to new foreign hires is essential to help quickly familiarize themselves with the new community, school, and feel welcome, softening the severity of Culture Shock.  The importance of creating an atmosphere of good will and support for a smooth and successful exchange experience cannot be underestimated.  School staffs may not realize that the challenges ahead for the teacher may be overwhelming.  A few simple steps can help avoid bewilderment and do much to help orient a new hire not familiar with the area to life in the United States in general.

Successful employers usually appoint 1-2 buddy or mentor teachers for each new foreign exchange teacher before and immediately after the foreign exchange teacher’s arrival.  Much of the following information is covered in the Cordell Hull Foundation Pre-Arrival and Orientation Manual.  A few important points are summarized briefly in this checklist.

1. Social Security Card
Provide practical assistance and transportation.  Applying for a SSN should be one of the first tasks for the foreign teacher.  The nearest Social Security office is easily identified via Internet by going to http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ and inputting the school zip code.  Immediately after the teacher arrives, s/he must inform the Cordell Hull Foundation immediately to “validate” the arrival in the SEVIS database.  

2. State Driver’s License
Ensure the foreign national is familiar with your state’s driver’s license rules and laws which may be accessed on DMV (Department of Motor Vehicle) websites.  The template is www.dmv.__.gov/  Insert the two-letter abbreviation for the state to find the driving laws that pertain to your state, i.e. California: www.dmv.ca.gov/.  Explain that a driver’s license serves as the main ID in the US for opening bank accounts, renting housing, and other tasks that are difficult or impossible without it.  If you do not plan to drive, you can also apply for a US ID card at the same DMV location.

3.  Accommodations
Think about options to house the exchange visitor for the first few days after arrival.  Simple, inexpensive motels are one option.  Extended stay hotel/apartments may be worth considering if finding a suitable apartment is expected to take some time.  Some former exchange teachers receive excellent help from their schools or hiring districts such as a current list of nearby apartment offices (with respective business hours), lease range and deposit amount or real estate offices.  It is helpful to point out and write down convenient neighborhoods as far as prices, distance to your institution, transportation routes, plus also possible areas to avoid.

It is crucial to help the foreign teacher in locating decent living space.  Schools and districts must understand that, while finding a place to live seems like the teacher's sole personal business, it will backfire on the school's work and success if it remains unsolved for too long.  Inform the new hire about possible furniture leasing businesses, inexpensive furniture stores (i.e. IKEA), and explain garage sales as one alternative.

4.  Phone, Cable, Internet options as well as other utilities
Provide the address and business hours of Public Utilities Boards where the new teacher can apply for gas, water, and electricity hookup.  It is extremely helpful to give your new colleague an overview of existing carriers in your area, price plans, and inexpensive alternatives.  While most exchange teachers are familiar with Skype for long-distance calling, you may have to point out the benefits (and possible implications) of cell-phone contracts and pay-as-you-go options (Net10 offering international calling). 

5. Car and transportation alternatives
A list of trustworthy second-hand dealers is incredibly valuable.  Some school districts work with their local teachers’ credit unions to help foreign exchange teachers finance cars.  Explain all transportation alternatives, especially during the first few days and weeks.

6. Bank account
Inform the foreign exchange visitors about options.  Some banks have special offers and packages and may even reward you for bringing in new customers.  Not all foreign teachers are fully familiar with the U.S. system of debit vs. credit cards, personal checks, and online banking.  Let teachers know that establishing credit in the US can take up to six months, and advise them of local department stores or businesses that may give them credit to start the ball rolling.  Ensure that direct deposit is an option for bank accounts.

7. Tax exemption
Exchange teachers should know whether or not they are tax exempt.  Make sure they complete Form 8233 and give it to the school when they first arrive, then in January of each subsequent year, in order to qualify for a J-1 visa tax exemption.  All new J-1 teachers are eligible for exemption from Social Security and Medicare taxes for the first two years in the US.  Some countries have tax treaties with the US exempting J-1 visaholders for 2-3 years from federal (not state) income tax.  Detailed charts are provided in the Cordell Hull Foundation Orientation and Pre-Arrival Manual link provided in your initial J-1 visa instruction letter.  Also see CHF's FAQs page:  http://www.cordellhull.org/english/FAQ/Default.asp#Tax-exempt 

8. Health Insurance
J-1 visa Federal regulations require all exchange teachers to be insured.  See the first article in this blog on how to obtain this insurance and the specific requirements. Some teachers are from countries that offer free medical coverage to all citizens, but teachers must buy an international rider for this insurance to be valid in the U.S.

9.  Social Security, Teacher Retirement System, other deductions
Please make sure that the foreign teacher understands all of these.  In many cases, contributions to state teacher systems can be refunded at the end of the exchange (after the three-year J-1 visa tenure).

10. Paychecks
Provide information on cut-off days, and, most importantly, the new employee’s first pay day.  Be prepared to answer questions regarding your school’s relocation assistance if a stipend is offered as part of the contract.

11. Sick Days / Personal Business Days
Ensure that your new colleague understands your school and/or district policies on absences and tardiness.  Be sure to give the employee handbook to the foreign teachers when they first arrive or during orientation.

12. Clubs, Pastime options, Ways to get involved in the community
CHF asks foreign exchange teachers to participate actively, get to know the U.S., its way of life, and people.  Try to put yourself in the foreign visitor’s place and come up with some interesting offers of clubs, inside and outside the school community, and invite them to activities giving them a chance to mingle with American people.  Most foreign exchange visitors are eager to share with others information on their home countries and schools, beyond the scope of your school.  They realize it is one of the purposes of the teacher exchange program but need your support and guidance on venues to share this valuable and enriching information.

13. Setup of school work
Buddy teachers should also introduce the foreign national to important aspects of school life:  School administration hierarchy, school districts, unions, role of the principal, daily routines, paperwork, professional development, classroom management rules, and grading system.  While this info is usually provided in an official manner by the institution's administrators, it is not necessarily easy to follow and understand for speakers of other languages.  When the appointed buddy teacher revisits these facts and regulations on a more casual, informal level through personal stories, explanations, and examples, it proves extremely helpful.

14. Contact with the Cordell Hull Foundation
The new exchange teacher must know how to contact the J-1 visa sponsor, the Cordell Hull Foundation, and requirements for keeping J-1 visa status in good standing.  The email address is:  pro@cordellhull.org    After they participate in the CHF Equilibration seminar, encourage teachers to talk about their adjustment to life in the U.S.
 
Taking these steps involves additional work but will pay off.  New teachers can almost immediately focus attention on their work for the school rather than feel overwhelmed by tasks connected to relocating and not understanding how to take the necessary steps.
                                                                                     
Hiring a foreign national teacher to join your staff offers several advantages for your institution, including opportunities:

  - for local educators to enrich their teaching expertise by learning about education in other countries;

  - for local students to have direct experiences with teachers from other cultures and countries, thus widening their horizons and boosting their appreciation for global affairs;

  - for other local districts and institutions to follow your example, diversify and enrich their programs by including teachers from other countries and cultures to their staffs.

The Cordell Hull Foundation (CHF) has vast experience in providing support to teachers and hiring institutions, sponsoring thousands of teacher State Department exchange visitor programs since the creation of the J-1 visa in 1962. 

J1VisaTeachExc blog is a forum for expressing and sharing school and teachers experiences, or write directly to pro@cordellhull.org.

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Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Famous 515-A - Missing DS-2019 form

All J-1 visa exchange teachers sponsored by the Cordell Hull Foundation know that CHF stresses the importance of folding and stapling the DS-2019 form into the passport. Most teachers remember and follow these instructions from our cultural workshop at the beginning of their first visa term.
Form DS-2019 for J-1 teachers
Sometimes they forget to pass on this important step to family dependents. Teachers are responsible to explain to spouses and dependent children the importance of stapling the DS-2019 form in the passport every year they receive a renewal.

If the family member leaves the US without a DS-2019 form, scanning, faxing, or emailing the DS-2019 form left behind is in violation of the J-1 visa regulations. If a teacher has done that, it is a good idea to go to the airport on the day that the family member is scheduled to arrive in the US - making sure that the family member knows you are waiting outside with the original DS-2019 form in case the inspector demands it. If s/he does not know you are there, it will not help, of course.

Teachers, please ... do not forget to instruct, then watch your family fold and staple both new and renewal DS-2019 forms in their passports. It is your responsibility to make sure they do it. They have no idea why it is so important unless you explain it to them and make them perform the task in front of you. That is why we make such an elaborate ceremony of doing the deed in front of you at the orientation.

Possible Consequences ...
If you arrive at the airport and find that you do not have your DS-2019 form, you will probably not be allowed access to the US, and you may be held in a side waiting room for questioning by the US immigration officer before being allowed to cross the border.
Permission to enter the US is left up to the discretion of the individual USCIS (Homeland Security) immigration officer.  If you are respectful, professional and presentable and can show good cause, most likely you will be admitted after being reprimanded and given Form I-515A.  This may seem obvious, but some foreign nationals do not realize that a J-1 visa is a privilege, not a right.  You are asking permission to enter - vs. exerting your right to enter.  Hearing about democracy in the US, they may feel free to make demands that an American citizen might exercise.
Most Exchange Visitors (J-1 or J-2 visaholders) will be given a Form I-515A to fill out and return to the address in Washington, DC on the form along with the original DS-2019 document. See:
In this explanation, the word "student" is used, but it also applies to J-1 teachers and holders of J-1 visas in the other 13 categories:
  • Elementary and Secondary Teachers
  • Trainees, Interns
  • College and university students, Secondary school students, and Short-term scholars
  • Professors and research scholars
  • Alien physicians
  • International and government visitors, Specialists
  • Camp counselors
  • Summer work/travel students
  • Au pairs
Marianne Mason, Executive Director, Cordell Hull Foundation
http://www.cordellhull.org/


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Monday, August 1, 2011

Cross-Cultural Workshop Schedule for SY 2015-16

Part of the Cordell Hull Foundation's responsibility to the State Department as J-1 visa sponsor is providing pre-arrival info to new teachers plus training on J-1 visa regulations and cultural adjustment.

This coming fall, Ulrich Kolbe, William Arthur and Marianne Mason will moderate a series of cross-cultural workshops in New York, Washington, Austin, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon and Santa Rosa, California in addition to guest principals using videos, written and interactive video quizzes.

All written materials for these workshops may be accessed in my book, J1 Visa Uncloaked--Complete Cultural Training Guide - Volume II which has just been updated in May 2015, available through Amazon.com, translated into six languages.

The Cordell Hull Foundation New Program Guide on http://www.cordell-hull.org/ details the simple steps for a school, state or district to become a partner in sponsoring J-1 visas for international teachers to work in US primary or secondary schools.  Participation in the yearly CHF "equilibration sessions" is for exchange teachers and school principals and Education Consuls from foreign governments, in groups of 10-50 teachers. 

We are grateful for the valuable participation and input of numerous talented, experienced, knowledgeable educators to the Cordell Hull Foundation's Cultural Orientation workshops each year.  Tom Gilbert, a British CHF Exchange Teacher from Bath, England, designed an interactive PowerPoint session on Culture Shock, including 5 animations depicting each step--Honeymoon, Rejection, Adjustment, Biculturalism, and Reverse--that have been enormously popular with teachers.  CHF also produced a 45-minute video presentation with Tom expressing his unique take on how foreign-national teachers can cope with cultural adjustments that can be more of a strain than expected when they first arrive in the US and find it different from just visiting.

Tom shares, "Like many people, I suspect, when I was told of the stages of culture shock I was convinced it wouldn’t happen to me.   The whole thing sounded way to simplistic, surely an intelligent person’s reactions to a new culture couldn’t be so easily codified?"
 
Tom, being British, really believed he would not be affected by culture shock.  But he went through every phase like clockwork.  He says that
"Culture Shock is a documented phenomenon.
Accept it, plan for it, but don't believe you can avoid it."

Marianne Mason, President, Cordell Hull Foundation for International Education
http://www.cordellhull.org/
http://www.cordellhull.net/
http://www.cordell-hull.org/
45 Rockefeller Plaza, Floor 20 - By Appointment Only
New York, NY  10111

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Greek-teacher 2-yr J1 visa extension

In March 2010, I met with the State Department and obtained a special 2-year extension for Greek government-paid teachers in J1 visa status to continue teaching in the US to fulfill their five-year Greek government contracts, quoting humorist Bill Maher in my pitch:

Besides democracy, philosophy, geometry,  poetry, architecture and drama, what have the Greeks ever given us?

The Greek exchange teacher program has been a special project for the Cordell Hull Foundation (CHF) over the past several years.   Working closely with Georgios Vlikidis, Greek Government Education Director, and Greek Consulate General Aglaia Balta, we have advocated for talented, highly intelligent Greek teachers to work in expanded educational venues.  Most teach in New York area schools, where CHF can offer additional workshops and training during the year, primarily in teaching Greek as a Second Language.  CHF also works closely with Greek-school principals in Florida and Chicago to sponsor J-1 visas.

I was privileged to meet Deputy Greek Minister of Education Fofi Gennimata on her visit to New York City on February 21, 2011, who fully expects third-year teachers would continue being supported, and replacements sent for departing educators.  Greek government teachers are hand-picked by the Greek government to meet rigorous criteria.  They are experienced, well-educated, generous and cheerful.  Most belong to the Greek Orthodox Church.  Orthodox Priests have a hand in running some parochial schools.  They usually wear black robes and are colorful, brilliant, charismatic personalities.  They are allowed to marry and have families.

To extend Greek teachers now in their third year of J-1 visa status for 2 additional years, copies of the following are needed for each J-1 teacher:
 (1) DS-2019 form - original signed by American Embassy Consular Officer
 (2) I-94 card (both front and back sides of the card, even if the back has no writing)
 (3) Name page of passport (enlarged and light enough to read)
 (4) J-1 visa stamp in passport 

Please Xerox and enlarge the 3 passport documents, on a light setting, and fax to: 646-349-3455 - all right side up in the same direction. 

Copies of the following are needed for each J-2 dependent(1) DS-2019 forms signed by the American Embassy Consular Officer, (2) I-94 cards (both sides), (3) Name pages of the passports, (4) J-2 visa stamp(s) in passport(s).
A second offering letter is required on letterhead signed by the school principal, requesting that the teacher be allowed to continue teaching in J-1 visa status for two additional years.

An additional $233 fee is due the State Department for extension of status.  CHF submits the supporting documents above via email.  After the approval is processed, CHF generates new DS-2019 form(s) and instruction letter(s).

I would like to express my deep appreciation, on behalf of CHF, to Greek journalists Despina Syriopoulou, correspondent for the United Nations, and Alexandros Stefanopoulos of the Greek-American News Agency, for their responsible reporting, professionalism and high ethical standards publishing the accurate story of how the Cordell Hull Foundation obtained permission for Greek teachers to extend J-1 visa terms to five years.

Greek teacher salaries are paid by their government.  They spend most of their earnings in the US in contrast to teachers from other countries, such as India and the Philippines, who send half their income back to the home country.  Thus, Greek teachers contribute to the US economy as well as greatly enhance the US educational system.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

J1 visa teachers for SY 2015-16 New & Renewals

The Cordell Hull Foundation (CHF) is currently accepting applications from public, private and charter schools to join our teacher exchange program, allowing CHF to sponsor foreign teachers to work for one to three years in US K-12 schools. 

We have sent out survey to current school programs to ask how many new teachers they anticipate inviting for School Year 2015-16 so that we can obtain the necessary capacity to serve their needs.  This figure must be calculated in January 2015.  We encourage all schools who are part of the CHF Teacher Exchange Program to at least estimate this information and inform us as soon as possible.

For an easy and concise synopsis of the process on how new schools can join, see http://www.cordell-hull.org/ and click on New Program Guide.  CHF works with schools, school districts, state departments of Education, and Conflucius Institutes directly, not through third parties.  Individual teachers or attorneys can refer the school principal or contact to CHF to explain the process directly.  The first step is to click here to complete the New Exchange Program Application Form:  http://www.cordellhull.net/new_program_app_08.html

Since 2010, CHF has annually increased the number of teachers in exchange J-1 visa teacher school programs.  The Chinese government "Han Ban" Education Bureau offers a teacher exchange through Confucius Institutes housed in many US universities:  http://www.chinese.cn/  which places teachers of Mandarin and Chinese culture in public and charter K-12 schools throughout the US and pays their salaries, living expenses, and round-trip transportation.  

 Han Ban Teacher Hui Li at post in Maryland
For Han Ban teachers who wish to stay in the US over the summer and not return to China, CHF can extend their visa term for an additional year without their having to obtain an updated visa stamp.  Hanban sometimes does not make decisions whether to renew US teachers' contracts until mid-summer, though starting in summer of 2015 we will not accept new applicants from Hanban after July 15, in order to allow them sufficient lead time to arrive at the beginning of the school year.

There are fifteen categories of J-1 visa.  See http://ukraine.usembassy.gov/exchange-visa.html#1 and click on the first link that takes you to the category list.  A Hanban teacher who comes to the US in J-1 teacher status cannot work in a university without the necessary permission from the university's Responsible Officer (RO) or Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO) overseeing J-1 visas.

One of the oft-misunderstood facts about J-1 visa renewal is that, if the J-1 visa in the passport is expiring in mid-June of the current year (for example, June 30, 2015), it is not necessary to update the passport visa IF the foreign teachers STAYS in the US.  The updated DS-2019 form issued by the visa designation sponsor (the Cordell Hull Foundation), which lengthens the term of the J-1 teacher visa or offers an updated travel validation, is sufficient to keep the J-1 visitor in status.

A J-1 visa passport stamp that expires before the beginning of the new school year (for example September 1, 2015) does not pose a problem for the 15 categories of J-1 visas (of which "teacher" is one category) UNLESS the teacher leaves the US and tries to return to the US less than 2 weeks before the expiration date.  Therefore, to stay in J-1 visa status, an updated stamp is only required to RE-ENTER the US (provided that the teacher has received a new DS-2019 form from the visa sponsor, the Cordell Hull Foundation).

You can also find a wealth of information about the J-1 teacher exchange program on our FAQs page:  http://www.cordellhull.org/english/FAQ/Default.asp

Marianne Mason, President,
Cordell Hull Foundation for International Education,
New York City

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