Returning Fulbrighters launch petition for more flexibility about J1 Visa Post-Degree Academic Training

A group of Fulbrighters returning to the US have launched a petition requesting that – due to the exceptional circumstances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic – greater flexibility is added to the Post-Degree Academic Training requirements. In this article, Silvio Buchmeier (Switzerland, 2018/19) summarises the petition and discusses subsequent developments which have granted greater flexibility to Fulbrighters who currently seek academic training. You can sign the petition and follow the group on Twitter.

As a Fulbright scholar from Switzerland, I have been very fortunate to pursue my passion for music and storytelling to study Film Music Composition in New York City. Being part of the Fulbright program has given me the opportunity of not only studying in one of the music capitals of the world, it also allowed me to get an inside view of the most influential Film and TV industry.

In light of COVID-19, extraordinary measures have already been implemented so that Fulbright scholars can continue or finish their academic pursuits. Since the outset of this situation, the Fulbright scholars have been granted accommodations to cope with exceptional circumstances.

But initially there were gaps and a lack of clarity in these measures. This led us to create a petition asking for an increase in flexibility for the Post-Degree Academic Training (PDAT) requirements. The lack of flexibility around document submission deadlines and the necessity of “in-person work”, jeopardises the program’s mission and puts scholars in a precarious state.

The petition asked that the Institute of International Education (IIE), the Fulbright Program Sponsors and the US Department of State take into account the unprecedented circumstances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and grant exceptional permission for two specific requirements:

  1. Allow authorized positions to be performed remotely until it is safe to resume in-person work.
  2. Allow extending the document submission deadlines up to 2 weeks prior to the program completion.

Since launching the petition, we have already had close to 2000 signers and are grateful for the support and encouragement we have received. We are happy to report that as of this morning, IIE has signalled willingness to allow temporary remote work if the position is intended to be performed in-person in the future. This is encouraging and we are thankful to everyone who advocated on our behalf!

According to the new guidelines, prospective employers need to provide additional details as to how the remote work is going to be supervised among other things. Given the fact that a lot of companies currently put a hold on hirings or are faced with other internal challenges, the insistence on the 6-week deadline still puts many of us in a difficult situation. With less than a week to go until the 6-week submission deadline for some Fulbrighters, this might just not be enough time and more explicit flexibility is needed.

To continue advocating for our Fulbright family, we encourage you to join us in signing the petition and follow us on Twitter.

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