The State Department's Exchange Visitor Program, which involves the issuance of J-1 visas, is off to a very slow start this year because of the virus crisis.
Perhaps the least attractive of the J-1 programs is the Summer Work Travel program (SWT), which draws many of its workers from Eastern Europe.
We decided to see how much the highly limited number of visa interviews had impacted the SWT program. Unfortunately, datasets on the J-1 programs lump all dozen or so exchange programs together, all of which are less harmful than SWT.
We looked at six Eastern European nations, which after WWII were under the Communist thumb, but have broken free since then, and Russia. The six are Moldova (formerly part of Romania), Montenegro (formerly part of Yugoslavia), Poland, Romania, Serbia (also ex-Yugoslavia), and Ukraine (once part of the Soviet Union.) Moldova also contains a segment of what used to be Ukraine.
What we found is that during the three months of March, April, and May, key months for SWT (if not other J-1 programs) these visas dropped from 19,903 last year to 1,723 this year, or by more than 90 percent. Most SWT visas are issued in these three months each year.
The follow-on impacts of these reductions will probably continue for some time to come, presumably making a larger impact on SWT than on other J-1 programs, most of which are not seasonal in nature.
SWT workers who have secured visas may come to the States, but at the moment there do not seem to be many of them.
J-1 visa issuances for these three months, for the seven nations, can be seen in the table below.
J-1 Visa Issuances, 2017-2020
Source: U.S. State Department.
The writer is grateful to CIS intern Joshua Timko for his research assistance.