Many students use their time in college to travel. With study abroad programs making it easy and affordable to visit other countries while continuing to work toward a degree, there are few better times in life to see the world, meet new people, explore different cultures, and gain a better understanding of how we are all alike, as well as the many ways in which our cultures and heritage make us unique.
However, most study abroad programs are short-term situations, lasting only a semester to a year at most. Some students are interested in spending more time studying in another country. What if students are interested in participating in long-term research projects in other countries?
In such instances, students may be eligible for J1 Visas that allow scholars and professors to live in the United States for up to five years while participating in international educational and cultural exchange programs. There are, of course, rules and restrictions related to such arrangements.
For example, in order for student scholars to be eligible for this type of Visa, they must have financial support (since working with this type of Visa is severely restricted) and they must have an academic appointment at an approved university (such as a fellowship). In addition, students must maintain adequate health insurance to cover illness, injury, or accident during the entire time they hold a J1 Visa.
So how do these international scholars maintain appropriate health coverage? Are they eligible for cost assistance under Obamacare even though they’re not citizens of the United States? Or do they have to pay for private insurance coverage in the U.S.?
Can they be insured through the university they attend? Is foreign health insurance from their country of origin acceptable? Here are a few things students living in the U.S. with a J1 Visa need to know about their mandatory health insurance requirements.
Health Insurance Requirements
Students traveling to the U.S. on a J1 Visa will have to meet certain requirements for health insurance coverage. These requirements include the following:
- Medical Benefits: minimum $100,000 for accident or illness
- Repatriation of Remains: $25,000
- Expenses for Medical Evacuation to Home Country: $50,000
- Deductible: maximum $500 per accident or illness
There are also rules relating to appropriate ratings for insurance carriers that underwrite J1 student policies. Failure to meet health insurance coverage requirements could result in a J1 Visa being revoked, so it’s important to make sure health coverage is adequate.
Foreign Insurance Policies
In some cases, students seeking J1 Visas will already have health coverage in their home country, sometimes under a parent policy or perhaps on their own. These policies may or may not meet standards for coverage as required by the J1 Visa program.
For starters, health insurance coverage will have to extend to the United States. In addition, minimum coverage requirements for accident, injury, and illness must be maintained. Students interested in maintaining coverage through foreign policies during their time in the U.S. will need to check with their insurance provider and with the Health Information Organization (HIO) to make sure all requirements are met to maintain J1 status.
Coverage by a University
Students need to understand that some universities require all students, including international students on J1 Visas, to purchase the health plan offered through the university. Some offer students the option to waive this plan and pay instead for a private insurance policy. Students must know their obligations before deciding on a health insurance policy.
J1 scholars must also make sure that if they elect to purchase health insurance through their university that it meets the requirements for coverage listed under J1 Visa rules. Universities that host international students, and particularly those in the U.S. on J1 Visas, should be able to advise students on whether or not the group health plans offered through the school are suitable to meet coverage requirements.
Private Health Insurance
If students don’t have access to acceptable insurance policies from their country of origin and they are unable to obtain group health insurance through their university in the United States, purchasing a private insurance policy from a U.S. provider is another option. Unfortunately, this is likely to be the most expensive option.
However, J1 scholars may be able to obtain more affordable coverage through the International Scholar Health Insurance Plan (ISHIP) program. In some cases, ISHIP plans may be offered through universities and the school that sponsors you may even automatically enroll you. If a university doesn’t offer such policies, students can also find ISHIP plans offered through private insurance providers.
These policies are designed to meet the needs of international students in the U.S. on a variety of Visas, including J1. Students should be able to find relatively affordable policies that meet requirements to maintain their J1 Visa status.
There are very specific categories for who is eligible for coverage (and cost assistance) under Obamacare, as well as who is required to meet mandatory minimum coverage standards. In order to be eligible for health insurance through the ACA (Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare) marketplace, you must be a U.S. citizen or lawfully present U.S. national, you must live in the United States, and you must not be incarcerated.
The bad news for students living in the U.S. as J1 scholars is that they don’t meet all criteria for coverage because they are not U.S. citizens nor lawfully present nationals. The good news, however, is that J1 Visa status exempts these students from having to meet mandatory minimums for health insurance coverage under the ACA. As a J1 scholar, a student is deemed a “non-resident alien” for tax purposes, alleviating the burden to meet the individual health coverage mandate under Obamacare.
Of course, there are separate rules for coverage associated with maintaining eligibility to stay in the United States on a J1 Visa, but students won’t have to worry about meeting both sets of requirements for health coverage during their time studying in the U.S. This is actually good news for students because ACA health mandates are designed with lifetime coverage in mind, including a variety of features that short-term residents may not need or want.