The “Q” Visa for Cultural Exchange Programs Certified by USCIS
Individuals cannot self-petition for a Q visa – a qualifying employer must petition on behalf of a foreign national. The employer must administer a cultural exchange program that provides U.S. employment opportunities which have public, cultural, and work components; foreign nationals must be at least eighteen years old with a demonstrated ability to communicate their culture to the American public.
To petition for an exchange worker in Q status, the employer must file a Form I-129 with USCIS with evidence that shows it is operating an established international cultural exchange program. The employer’s eligibility as a cultural exchange program and designation by USCIS is a prerequisite to the issuance of any Q visa or status to an individual. The public component dictates that program activities take place in the U.S.’ public sphere to reinforce the transmission of cultural ideas, such as a school, museum, or business. The cultural component of the program is critical and should facilitate the exchange of attitudes, customs, history heritage, philosophies, and traditions of the sending country or countries. The employment or training opportunity must serve as a vehicle to achieve the program’s cultural objectives. The employer will also need a designated representative to liaison with USCIS as needed and must demonstrate the ability to pay comparable wages to the Q visa recipient.
One example of cultural exchange programs typically eligible for Q status are language immersion schools. See Matter of R-C-C-S-D-, Adopted Decision 2016-04 (AAO Oct. 24, 2016). The Q visa beneficiaries for those programs are often teachers who will be providing language instruction as well as assistance in preparing cultural demonstrations that include exposure to holidays, music, art, cuisine, crafts, history, and other aspects of foreign culture. Certain museums may also be able to bring temporary workers on the Q visa as well.
Multiple individuals may be included in a single petition for Q designation. The employer must give the date of birth, country of nationality, level of education, position title, and a brief job description for each international cultural exchange visitor included in the petition, as well as what consulate that will process their Q visa application. It must verify and certify that the prospective participants are qualified to perform the service or labor, or receive the type of training, described in the petition.
The Q visa is valid for the duration of the program (with a maximum of fifteen months), after which the individual is afforded 30 additional days to depart the United States. Unlike several variations for the J visa, the Q visa does not carry a home residency requirement. But the Q visa is not available for back-to-back programs – any beneficiary of a Q visa must remain outside the United States for one year before they can return in Q status for additional cultural exchange programs. The Q-1 visa does not have a dependent visa options for spouses and children as cultural exchange programs are primarily intended for young, unmarried adults; the Q-2 visa for participants in the Irish Peace Process Cultural & Training Program was the only Q status that permitted dependents to accompany the principal visa holder but that classification has expired.