When responsibility for the J-1 visa program shifts from the State Department to the Department of Homeland Security at the end of the year, the fate of the program—and the flight schools that depend on it—is still uncertain. General aviation organizations are urging DHS to move forward with a program to allow J-1 flight schools to continue their businesses.
AOPA, the Helicopter Association International, the National Air Transportation Association, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and the National Business Aviation Association met with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Oct. 30 to discuss the J-1 visa program for pilot training and its pending termination on Dec. 31. The DHS has not yet indicated whether it will continue the program, which 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.
“As the deadline nears, J-1 flight schools have fewer and fewer options,” said AOPA Manager of Aviation Security Brittney Miculka. “Some of those schools may have to close their doors if no equivalent visa program is in place for the new year. The DHS must act now to establish an alternative for J-1 schools and flight students.”
The associations met with Lou Farrell, director of the office of investigations of ICE’s Student Exchange Visitor Program, who explained that DHS legal staff is currently debating which visa program would most resemble the J-1 opportunities. AOPA supports extending flight school opportunities through the F visa program, which would allow flight students to remain in the United States and gain professional experience as flight instructors.
Eight flight schools are currently operating under the J-1 program; they could be forced to close if the program is not renewed in some form. While the J-1 program is extended to a limited number of schools and students, F visas are not capped. If the F visa option is chosen, other accredited flights schools may be able to take advantage of a new visa program.
The GA stakeholders have drafted a letter to ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton requesting a meeting within the next two weeks to prevent nationally accredited flight training facilities from suffering further economic damage and the possibility of terminating operations in early 2010.