Who is subject to the J-1 Visa Two-Year Home-Country Physical Presence Requirement?

Some J-1 visas are subject to a two-year home-country physical presence requirement, which means the J-1 visa holder must return to their home country for at least two years after their exchange visitor program, unless they are approved for a waiver. 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.

If one or more of the following applies to a J-1 visa holder, they are subject to the two-year home requirement:

  • Government funded Exchange Program – Participation in 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  – Participation in 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 – Participation in a program to receive graduate medical education or training.

This article is written with the intention of providing you to the point information about the topic. All immigration petitions and visas are very nuanced and there is other supplemental information that may pertain to the visa or topic you wish to learn about. Additionally, depending on the facts of your situation, there is specific information you may need to know. We encourage you to use iMMi-Vault to learn more.

PLAN: Are there waivers for the J-1 Visa 2-Year Back at Home Requirement? 

If you are a J-1 Visa holder, subject to the Two-Year-Back Home requirement, and wish or need to stay in the U.S., you must apply for a waiver with the Department of State, under one of the five following bases that applies to your situation: 1) No Objection Statement, 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). 

Five Bases for Recommendation of a Waiver

1. No Objection Statement

The home country government may issue a No Objection Statement, stating it has no objection to you not returning to your home country to satisfy the two-year home-country physical presence requirement and has no objection to the possibility of you becoming a lawful permanent resident of the United States.

Alternatively, a designated ministry in the home government may also issue the No Objection Statement.

Important Notice: Foreign medical physicians who acquired exchange visitor (J-1) visa status on or after January 10, 1977, to receive graduate medical education or training cannot use this option. 

2. 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. Any U.S. federal government agency may request a waiver under this basis, and this can include requests for Foreign Medical Graduate Student Physicians. See Designated Officials for Signatures for a list of interested government agencies and names of their designated officials. 

3. Persecution:

If you believe you will be persecuted based on your race, religion, or political opinion if you return to your home country, you may apply for a persecution waiver. 

4. 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, you may apply for an exceptional hardship waiver. Mere separation from family is not sufficient to establish exceptional hardship. 

5. Request by a designated State Public Health Department or its equivalent (Conrad State 30 Program):

If you are a foreign medical graduate who obtained exchange visitor status to pursue graduate medical training or education, you may request a waiver based on the request of a designated State Public Health Department or its equivalent. You must 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.

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. 

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