If you are applying to an Educational Exchange Program, most likely you are looking to get training or experience that will help you get a job in the U.S., that will lead to an employment visa or Permanent Residence. You might be vaguely aware that there is a 2 Year return home requirement at the end of a J-1 exchange visa program but are not sure if it applies to your exchange program, and if it does, how you can still stay and work in the U.S. These are Three Must Knows before you apply for a J-1 Visa to help you decide if you should still pursue the J-1 Visa, and if you do, how to plan to stay in the U.S. before the exchange program ends.
1. Participation in a Government funded Exchange Program; a Program that Requires Specialized Knowledge or Skill; and/or in a Graduate Medical Education/Training Program will subject you to the two-year home-country physical presence requirement.
If one or more of the following three criteria applies to your exchange program, you must return to your home country for two years before they can return to the U.S.
- Government funded Exchange Program: a program funded in whole or in part by a U.S. government agency, the home country’s government, or an international organization that received funding from the U.S. government or the home country’s government.
- Specialized Knowledge or Skill – a program involving an area of study or field of specialized knowledge designated as necessary for further development in the home country and appears on the Exchange Visitor Skills List for the home country; and
- Graduate Medical Education/Training – a program to receive graduate medical education or training.
2. Even if your Exchange Program is subject to the two-year home-country physical presence requirement, there are 5 possible waivers you can apply for.
You have 5 possible waivers available to you: 1) No Objection Statement from the Home Country Government, 2) Request by an Interested U.S. Federal Government Agency, 3) Persecution, 4) Exceptional Hardship to a U.S. citizen (or lawful permanent resident) spouse or child of an exchange visitor, and 5) Request by a Designated State Public Health Department or its equivalent (Conrad State 30 Program).
- No Objection Statement from the Home Country – The home country government or a designated ministry may issue a No Objection Statement, stating it has no objection to you not returning to your home country to satisfy the two-year back home requirement and has no objection to the possibility of you becoming a lawful permanent resident of the United States. This option is not available to Foreign medical physicians, who acquired exchange visitor (J-1) visa status on or after January 10, 1977, to receive graduate medical education or training.
- Request by an Interested U.S. Federal Government Agency – If you are working on a project for or of interest to a U.S. federal government agency and that agency determined your departure for two years would be detrimental to its interest, the agency may request an Interested Government Agency Waiver on your behalf. This can include requests for Foreign Medical Graduate Student Physicians.
- Persecution – If you believe you will be persecuted based on your race, religion, or political opinion if you return to your home country.
- Exceptional Hardship to a U.S. citizen (or lawful permanent resident) spouse or child of an exchange visitor -If you can show that your departure from the United States would cause exceptional hardship to your U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse or child.
- Request by a designated State Public Health Department or its equivalent (Conrad State 30 Program) – Foreign medical graduates may request a waiver based on the request of a designated State Public Health Department or its equivalent if they meet the following criteria:
- have an offer of full-time employment at a health care facility in a designated health care professional shortage area or at a healthcare facility which serves patients from such a designated area;
- agree to begin employment at that facility within 90 days of receiving a waiver; and
- sign a contract to continue working at that health care facility for a total of 40 hours per week and for not less than three years.
3. If you are eligible to apply for a waiver under the Request by a designated State Public Health Department, there is a limit to how many requests can be made.
You can review the listing of State Public Health Departments. Each department can request 30 of these waivers per federal fiscal year. 10 of the 30 requests may be for exchange visitor physicians who will serve at facilities not located in a designated health care professional shortage area but which serve patients who live in a designated area.
4. The Department of Homeland Security must approve the waiver before the J-1 visa can change their status in the United States or get another visa.
You must begin the process of applying for the waiver as soon as possible and have it approved before the end of your J-1 visa expiration date.