J-1 Visiting Researcher Designation for International Entrepreneurs
For more than fifty (50) years, the J-1 exchange visitor visa program has facilitated the admission of foreign nationals from around the globe to the United States. Through engaging in academic pursuits, professional training, medical residencies, government-sponsored research, and many other activities, J-1 visa holders have come to the United States to gain valuable experiences that also enrich our country. In addition to the education and professional skills gained and shared, these J-1 exchanges foster cultural understanding during these temporary visits and build bonds between U.S. citizens and institutions and their counterparts abroad.
Over the past few years, some universities have applied to the U.S. State Department (DOS) for permission to include entrepreneurs in their J-1 research scholar designations. The J-1 program is carefully regulated, and requires narrowly tailored criteria and strict adherence to program requirements. For example, the law firm of Green & Spiegel (in Philadelphia and Toronto) has collaborated with the French American Chamber of Commerce, the European American Enterprise Council and several U.S. universities in applying to expand existing J-1 programs to include university-based business accelerator programs or incubators.
In so doing, J-1 research scholars who fall under this designation are granted lawful status in the United States and access to university resources, facilities, and networking opportunities that will enable them turn their business ideas into realities. Such J-1 exchanges also support the sponsoring institution to retain an active role in developing campus technologies, keeping job creation and economic growth in the United States.
The J-1 research scholar category allows a maximum of five years, and may lead to a two year home residence requirement for the participant. These issues should be discussed with an immigration attorney.
Legal Basis for J-1 Program Expansion to International Entrepreneurs
The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) defines a research scholar broadly as an individual “primarily conducting research, observing, or consulting in connection with a research project at research institutions, corporate research facilities, museums, libraries, post-secondary accredited educational institutions, or similar types of institutions.” 22 C.F.R. § 62.4(f).
According to the CFR, research scholars must conduct their activities at sites previously identified in SEVIS, including the location of the program sponsor, or at the site of a third party facilitating the exchange with permission of the program officer. 22 C.F.R. § 62.20(f). If permitted by the sponsor, research scholars may also participate in occasional lectures and short-term consultations as long as they are incidental to the exchange visitor’s primary program activities. 22 C.F.R. § 62.20(g).
Foreign nationals granted J-1 “research scholar” status can be well-suited for participation in a university based incubator setting because they will be engaged in research-driven entrepreneurial activities, performed under close university supervision, and located on university (designated SEVIS) facilities.
For examples of existing J-1 programs for international entrepreneurs, see: