Exchange Visitor Program

Van Andel Institute’s (VAI) Exchange Visitor Program provides opportunities to study, conduct collaborative research, and participate in scientific training opportunities at Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) and Van Andel Institute Graduate School (VAIGS). 

Program Overview

Our program seeks to promote the general interest of international educational and cultural exchange by offering educational, training, and research opportunities in the various fields of research conducted at VAI.

Fees and Related Costs

VAI charges no fees to program participants. Exchange visitors are responsible for their own visa application costs. Estimated minimum costs of living in Grand Rapids are:

For Visiting students/researchers and Postdoctoral Fellows

For VAI Graduate School students

These are minimal estimates for essential living expenses (including only: food, health insurance, transportation, rent for a one or two bedroom apartment [as applicable] and minor incidental expenses). Additional personal funds may be required.

Eligibility

Exchange visitors must have an offer of invitation from a Van Andel Research Institute laboratory or the VAI Graduate School. In addition, you will be required to meet the following eligibility requirements prior to issuance of Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status):

English Language Proficiency

J-1 exchange visitors must possess sufficient proficiency in the English language to participate in our program AND to function on a day-to-day basis in Grand Rapids. Proficiency will be assessed via official English language proficiency test score or Skype/telephone interview.

Program Funding

Exchange visitors will be required to show evidence of program funding in the amount of our estimated minimum Cost of Living for Grand Rapids. Evidence of funding may include VAI salary or stipend, non-VAI salary, scholarships or other sponsored funding. Personal funds will NOT be accepted for the primary J-1 visa holder, but are acceptable for J-2 dependents.

Educational Exchange or Research Collaboration Agreement (for visiting students and researchers only)

Visiting students and researchers must be affiliated with an overseas (non-U.S.) institution, and Van Andel Institute must enter into an educational exchange agreement or research collaboration agreement with that institution before VAI will issue Form DS-2019. Please speak to your sponsoring VARI lab to determine if an agreement already exists or will need to be created.

U.S. Immigration History

You must not be otherwise barred from issuance of a Form DS-2019 (example: subject to repeat participation bars). Ineligibility is rare, but VAI will make a determination of eligibility before issuing Form DS-2019.

Important Regulations to Know

Per U.S. law, all J-1 and J-2 exchange visitors:

Must maintain health insurance coverage for the duration of their program, which meets certain minimum coverage requirements. Exchange visitors who become “residents for tax purposes” will also be subject to the ACA individual shared responsibility provision.

J-1 and J-2 Health Insurance Minimum Coverage Requirements

All J-1 visitors and their J-2 family members are required to have the following minimum health insurance coverage from program begin date to program end date:

  • Medical benefits of at least $100,000 per accident or illness
  • Repatriation of remains in the amount of $25,000
  • Expenses associated with the medical evacuation of the exchange visitor to his/her country in the amount of $50,000
  • Deductible not to exceed $500 per accident or illness
  • Coinsurance not to exceed 25%
  • Backed by full faith and credit of a home country government or must meet minimum rating requirements established by the U.S. government (A.M Best rating of “A‐” or above; Insurance Solvency International, Ltd. (ISI) rating of “A‐I” or above; Standard and Poor’s Claims‐paying ability rating of “A‐” or above; OR Weiss Research, Inc. rating of “B+” or above).

Where To Find Qualifying Insurance

Postdoctoral Fellows, VAIGS students, and their J-2 dependents will be eligible to enroll in VAI’s Priority Health Insurance Plan B, which meets the J requirements.

Visiting researchers and students will be required to purchase a qualifying third-party plan and provide proof of coverage on their first day at VAI. The following plans meet the J-1 and J-2 Health Insurance minimum coverage requirements, but you are free to purchase any plan that meets the requirements:

May be subject to the following regulatory restrictions which can affect your future U.S. immigration options:

12-month bar on repeat participation in the J-1 Research Scholar or Professor categories:

Any person who participates in an exchange visitor program in the U.S. lasting more than 6 months (and not in the Short Term Scholar category) is barred from beginning a new J-1 program in the Research Scholar or Professor categories for a period of 12 months from their program completion date. This applies to both J-1 and J-2 exchange visitors.

24-month bar on repeat participation in the J-1 Research Scholar or Professor categories:

Any person who participates in an exchange visitor program in the U.S. in the Research Scholar category is barred from beginning a new J-1 program in the Research Scholar or Professor categories for a period of 24 months from their program completion date. This applies to both J-1 and J-2 exchange visitors.

212(e) / two-year home country physical presence requirement:

Some exchange visitors will be subject to this requirement (see below for conditions). If subject, you and your J-2 family members will be ineligible to adjust non-immigrant status in the United States, receive a U.S. employment visa (H or L), receive a fiancé visa (K), or receive U.S. permanent residency until you have fulfilled one of the following requirements:

  • Obtain a waiver of 212(e) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, OR
  • Return to your home country and reside there for two years.

Exchange visitors will be subject to 212(e) if one of the following conditions is met:

  • Government funded exchange program:The program in which the exchange visitor was participating was financed in whole or in part directly or indirectly by the U.S. government or the government of the exchange visitor’s nationality or last residence;
  • Graduate medical education or training: The exchange visitor entered the U.S. to receive graduate medical education or training;
  • Specialized knowledge or skill: The exchange visitor is a national or permanent resident of a country which has deemed the field of specialized knowledge or skill necessary to the development of the country, as shown on the Exchange Visitor Skills List.
Timeline 

It can take from 6 weeks to 6 months or longer to complete the Exchange Visitor Program application process, apply for and receive a J-1 visa, and arrive in Grand Rapids.  We recommend that you begin the application process as early as possible to minimize delays. 

Getting Started

Ready to join our program? Please select your Van Andel Institute position category for information on next steps:

Postdoctoral Fellow

Step 1: Download and read our VAI Exchange Visitor Program brochure for important program information.

Step 2: Officially accept your offer of employment.

Step 3: Complete and submit our Postdoctoral Fellow DS-2019 Information Collection Form.

VAI Graduate School student

Step 1: Download and read our VAI Exchange Visitor Program brochure for important program information.

Step 2: Apply and be admitted to VAI Graduate School.

Step 3: Complete and submit our Graduate Student DS-2019 Information Collection Form.

Visiting student or researcher

Step 1: Download and read our VAI Exchange Visitor Program brochure for important program information.

Step 2: Complete an English language proficiency interview with your sponsoring VARI lab.

Step 3: Secure program funding to meet our minimum Cost of Living requirement ($2,000 per month for the primary exchange visitor; $650 per month for a spouse; and $450 per month for each dependent child).

Step 4: Work with your sponsoring VARI lab to establish an educational exchange or research collaboration agreement OR confirm that one already exists.

Step 5: Complete and submit our Guest Worker and Guest Student DS-2019 Information Collection Form.