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October 29th 2019

A complete guide to health insurance for J-1 visa holders

There are several requirements for a J-1 visa, one of which is health insurance to cover your stay while you complete a U.S.-based program.

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The  J-1 exchange visitor program is meant for individuals who hope to enhance their skills and expertise to contribute to the betterment of their home country and foster positive ties with the United States. There are several requirements for a J-1 visa, one of which is health insurance to cover your stay while you complete a U.S.-based program.

Below, we share information about the health insurance requirements tied to J-1 visa and other information that may help interested applicants.

What is J-1 visa?

A J-1 visa is a type of nonimmigrant visa that was first established in 1961 with the passage of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act. The primary goal was to encourage the development of relationships between the U.S. and other nations. Originally administered by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), the program is now overseen by the U.S. Department of State (DOS). Visitors who participate in the J-1 exchange visitor program can travel to the U.S. for the duration of their programs. Numerous government-approved sponsors offer programs across fifteen different categories:

  • Trainee

  • Teacher

  • International travel for summer work

  • Specialist

  • Short-term scholar

  • Secondary school student

  • Research scholar

  • Professor

  • Physician

  • International visitor

  • Intern

  • Government visitor

  • College and university international student

  • Camp counselor

  • Au pair

Each of these categories has different rules, with some J-1 visa types allowing the spouse and minor children of J-1 visa holders to travel to the U.S. with J-2 visas.

You can find more information about the program categories and their respective requirements on the Exchange Visitor Program website by the DOS. 

Once you’ve identified your preferred program category, you can begin looking an approved sponsor and apply for the relevant program. After your application accepted, the responsible officer may then issue a Form DS-2019, otherwise known as a Certificate of Eligibility. The applicant may bring this form to a U.S. consulate in his or her home country to obtain a J-1 visa.

If the applicant has applied for a program that allows family members to travel with the visa holder, J-2 visas may also be secured for the spouse and minor children.

J-1 and J-2 visa holders usually have to meet several requirements before they can travel to the U.S. One of these requirements is that they must have medical insurance that meets specific minimum requirements to cover them for the duration of their stay in the U.S.

Insurance requirements for J-1 visa holders

Before 2015, J-1 visa exchange visitors had to prove that they had medical insurance to during their stage, but these minimums have recently been raised. Under 22 CFR § 62.14, exchange visitors with J-1 visas now must typically prove that they have medical insurance with the following minimum coverage amounts:

  • Minimum coverage of $100,000

  • Minimum coverage for medical evacuation of $50,000

  • Minimum coverage for repatriation of remains of $25,000

  • Maximum deductible of $500

  • Proof that the coverage will remain in effect for the duration of the J-1 visa holder's stay in the U.S.

The insurance may be purchased as a standalone policy or be provided through the sponsor by payroll deduction or through the sponsor's insurance program. Typically, universities will offer visiting J-1 scholars student health insurance, but the student insurance must comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and meet certain ratings.

Insurance requirements for J-2 visa holders

J-2 visa holders who intend to travel to the U.S. during the J-1 exchange visitor's program may likewise provide proof of visitor insurance to cover them during the duration of their stays. The insurance requirements for J-2 visa holders are the same as for J-1 visa holders.

Insurance ratings requirements

Recent changes to the law mean that J-1 and J-2 visa holders must have valid health insurance plans with minimum coverage thresholds and certain ratings. The plans must be underwritten by an insurance company with one of the following minimum ratings:

  • A.M. Best of A- or higher

  • McGraw-Hill Financial / Standard & Poor Claims-Paying Ability of A- or higher

  • A Weiss Research, Inc Insurance of B+ or higher

  • Fitch Ratings of A- or higher

  • Moody's Investor Services of A3 or higher

The exchange visitor's home country may underwrite the policy. The health insurance plan may also be part of the group health insurance that the sponsoring program offers to employees or fall under a federally approved Health Maintenance Organization (HMO).

Ability of programs to self-insure J-1 visa participants

Sponsors may be allowed to self-insure their J-1 visa holders. For this, sponsors must demonstrate to the U.S. State Department that they have sufficient funds available to pay for any medical costs that might be incurred by the exchange visitor. In its discretion, the State Department may require the sponsor to secure a payment bond to self-insure.

Mandatory compliance with the ACA

The medical insurance for exchange visitors, their spouses, and their dependent children must also comply with the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. This law, passed in 2010, states the essential coverage requirements for health insurance. To comply with the provisions of the law, an insurance policy must have an actuarial value of at least 60% as well as the following coverages:

  • Laboratory services

  • Emergency services

  • Prescription drugs

  • Mental health and substance abuse treatment

  • Maternity and newborn services

  • Pediatric services, including vision and dental care

  • Rehabilitative services and devices

  • Ambulatory patient services

  • Chronic disease management and preventive and wellness services

  • Hospitalization

These essential medical benefits are mandatory in order to ensure that most medical issues will be covered should they arise. Under the ACA, health insurance cannot be denied based on a pre-existing medical condition.

What happens if you fail to maintain your coverage?

If you allow your insurance, your spouse's insurance, or your dependent child's insurance to lapse while you are in the U.S. you violate the regulations that govern your J-1 program. Telling a program sponsor that you may coverage even though it has lapsed is also considered a violation. Either of these actions may result in termination of your exchange visitor visa status.

Preparing for your arrival in the U.S.

If you plan to live and work or study in the U.S. for a long period of time, you should think about your credit. Having good credit is crucial to your ability to find an apartment, buy a car, get a credit card, and to complete other transactions that will enable you to live comfortably. 

Nova Credit creates a global Credit Passport that can help people bring their credit history with them when they move to the U.S. While your credit history won’t be transferred to the U.S. bureaus’ databases, creditors and lenders can use your Credit Passport to evaluate your application for a loan, apartment, or another type of credit account.

Nova Credit currently connects to international credit bureaus in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, South Korea and the UK. Today, several large housing companies, credit card companies, loan companies, and others rely on the Nova Score to make credit decisions for international applicants in the U.S. You can learn more about providers that use Nova Credit as part of their decision-making process by reading this list of credit products that can serve people who have moved to the United States in the last five years.

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More from Nova Credit:

The ultimate guide to the J-1 visa

Everything J-1 visa holders need to know about taxes

Everything you need to know about the J-1 visa waiver for physicians

J-1 to H-1B: A guide to changing your J-1 visa status

J-1 visa employment options: Do you need work authorization?

What is a J-1 Advisory Opinion? Why it matters to J-1 visa holders

Is it possible to transition from a J-1 to a Green Card in the U.S.?

What is a J-1 visa waiver, and what does it take to get one?

Guide: How to obtain a J-1 visa extension

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