Future of J-1 visa training program up in air

October 15, 2009

As the Dec. 31 transition of the J-1 visa program from the State Department to the Department of Homeland Security nears, AOPA, the Helicopter Association International, the National Air Transportation Association, and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association have teamed to prevent the program from being terminated.

Currently, the fate of the J-1 visa program is uncertain because DHS has not decided whether to continue the program. The groups met earlier this month with the Small Business Administration, the Transportation Security Administration, and officials from eight flight schools and the DHS Student and Exchange Visitor Program to try to devise a solution.

The J-1 visa program allows foreign flight students to complete their professional training and then work as a flight instructor to build hours. Other visa programs require flight students to leave the United States once flight training is complete. Some of the eight flight schools at the meeting could be forced to close if the J-1 visa program is terminated.

“The J-1 schools have reached a critical juncture – if no decision is forthcoming by the end of this month, October 2009, the J-1 schools will likely cease operations in early 2010. Seven of the original eight J-1 schools have already begun to significantly downsize their operations,” the groups wrote in a joint letter Oct. 5. “It is imperative for DHS to recognize that continuation of a J-1 type flight training program to facilitate curricular practical training to build additional flight hours and proficiency is an integral part of professional flight training and must be preserved in order to properly train and educate quality pilots.”

The organizations requested that DHS make a decision about the program before the end of October so that all affected parties can work on the next steps for the program at a meeting set for Nov. 2. The groups have not yet ruled out requesting an extension for the program from the State Department if DHS does not make a timely decision.