Language Immersion Programs Qualify as a Q-1 International Cultural Exchange Program

November 2, 2016 | Corporate

United States immigration laws permit a foreign national to enter and work in the United States in an international cultural exchange program that is approved by the Department of Homeland Security.  If the foreign national and the program qualify, the foreign national will be classified as a Q-1 cultural exchange visitor.

To qualify for the Q-1 classification, the program must (1) be accessible to the public, (2) have a cultural component and (3) have a work component.  To be accessible to the public, the program must take place in a school, museum, business, or other establishment where the American public, or a segment of the public sharing a common cultural interest, is exposed to the aspects of a foreign culture as part of a structured program. The cultural component must be an essential and integral part of the internal cultural exchange visitor’s employment or training.  The work component must serve as the vehicle to achieve the objectives of the cultural component.

A foreign national in a Q-1 visa classification can be admitted for up to 15 months to participate in the international cultural exchange program.  Upon completion of the program, a foreign national must reside abroad for one full year before returning the United States in the Q-1 classification. Congress has not limited the number of Q-1 visas issued each year. Thus, the foreign national will not face waiting time beyond the time it takes to process the application.

United States schools with language immersion programs have received inconsistent treatment when seeking to be approved as a Q-1 international cultural exchange program.  But recently, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) confirmed that a language immersion program can qualify as a Q-1 international cultural exchange program.  USCIS adopted an Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) decision in Matter of R-C-C-S-D, Adopted Decision 2016-04 (AAO Oct. 24, 2016).  The full decision can be found here:

In this case, a Delaware public school sought to employ four foreign nationals as elementary school teachers at the William C. Lewis Dual Language Magnet School in Wilmington, a Spanish immersion program.  The purpose of the program is to provide an opportunity for our American students to learn Spanish language through lessons on Spanish culture, history, literature, cinema, fiesta, dance and geography.  To that end, the teachers provide instruction in Spanish and through Spanish literature, gastronomy, history, and traditions.  They also develop lesson plans in reading writing, social studies, personal development, science, and math.  Accordingly, the AAO determined that the program satisfied the requirements for Q-1 classification.

Although language immersion schools become more popular over the last decade, schools have had difficulty finding qualified teachers, and USCIS adjudications have been inconsistent.  This decision confirms that language immersion schools can satisfy the requirements for Q-1 classification and should pave the way for language immersion schools and similar programs to hire qualified teachers in the Q-1 classification.

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