Foreign Language Immersion Schools May Qualify Under Q-1 Cultural Exchange Program

On October 24, 2016, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a policy memorandum that adopts the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) decision in Matter of R-C-C-S-D- as official guidance for USCIS personnel. The AAO decision held that a public language immersion school may qualify as an international cultural exchange program whose foreign teachers are eligible for Q-1 nonimmigrant status.

Overview of Q-1 Visa Category

The Q-1 nonimmigrant visa classification is for “international cultural exchange visitors.” It is colloquially called the “Disney visa,” as a nod to that company’s role in creating and securing congressional approval for the classification for workers in its theme parks. In order for a foreign national to be granted Q-1 status, an international cultural exchange program sponsor (petitioner) must file a petition establishing that it will provide practical training, employment, and the sharing of the history, culture, and traditions of the foreign visitor’s country of nationality.

Criteria for International Cultural Exchange Programs

To qualify as an “international cultural exchange program,” the petitioner must demonstrate to the USCIS that the program (1) is “publicly accessible,” taking place where the American public is exposed to aspects of a foreign culture as part of a structured program; (2) has a “cultural component” that is an essential part of the foreign national’s employment or training; and (3) has a “work component” that serves as a vehicle to achieve the objectives of the cultural component. In Matter of R-C-C-S-D-, the AAO determined that a public foreign language immersion school can meet these requirements.

Public Accessibility at Schools, Museums, and Businesses

In the Q-1 context, public accessibility means that the program takes place in an establishment where the American public, or a segment of the public sharing a common cultural interest, can partake. The regulations specifically list schools, museums, and businesses as establishments that may qualify. Furthermore, the public must be exposed to aspects of the foreign culture in a “structured program.”

The Matter of R-C-C-S-D- decision found that the petitioning public school (a language-immersion magnet school) satisfied the accessibility requirement because it was open to all students in the state to learn to speak Spanish, and served to immerse the students in Spanish culture and tradition. Furthermore, the foreign teachers gave presentations and cultural demonstrations to students at other schools throughout the district. Lastly, the school curriculum, immersion model of instruction, and the cultural presentations were sufficiently “structured” for the public.

Cultural Component Exhibited or Explained in Structured Format

Q-1 programs must be designed to exhibit or explain the culture of the foreign national’s home country in a structured way. Culture is broadly defined as the attitude, customs, history, heritage, philosophy, and/or traditions of the country. In Matter of R-C-C-S-D-, the AAO determined that the foreign teachers’ use of Spanish arts and crafts, music and stories, cuisine, and holidays in their lessons and presentations established that there was a sufficient “cultural component” to the immersion school’s program.

Work Component or Training Tied to Cultural Component

The Q-1 cultural exchange visitor must also have employment or training that is tied to the cultural component of the program. The regulations are clear that this work cannot be independent of the cultural sharing; rather, the cultural exchange “must result from” the employment or training. The AAO noted that the foreign teachers in Matter of R-C-C-S-D- were not traditional foreign language instructors, but were instead part of an immersion program that utilized specialized curriculum to transmit both language and culture to students. Therefore, while the foreign teachers also were responsible for the normal duties of an elementary school teacher, the AAO found that the cultural exchange aspects of their instruction were sufficiently tied to their work as teachers.

Duration of the Program

An approved Q-1 petition is only valid for the length of the approved cultural program or 15 months, whichever is shorter. The AAO decision held that the petitioner must provide documentation that allows the USCIS to determine the duration of the program. Additionally, after completing the program and returning to one’s home country, the Q-1 visitor must spend one year outside the United States before being permitted to participate in a subsequent Q-1 program.


While the Q-1 program is used only by a relatively small number of foreign nationals each year, it does highlight the wide range of nonimmigrant visa categories available under U.S. immigration law. Further, this policy memo will likely lead to an increase in the number of organizations willing to sponsor visitors under this program.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.