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Temporary Visas > J Visa

THE J1 VISA

The J (Exchange Visitor) visa is both:

  • The easiest temporary visa for physicians to obtain to pursue graduate medical education/training in the U. S.; and

  • The most problematic visa due to the two-year home residency requirement that often applies

The major drawback of the J visa for physicians and many scientists is that most are permitted to enter the U.S. only on the condition that they exit this country for a minimum of two years after their program is completed. It is quite difficult to obtain a "J waiver," or exception, to this two-year foreign residency requirement. This is true even if the foreign national has married a U.S. citizen during the course of his or her stay in the United States. Nevertheless, in many cases, J visa holders can obtain waivers through a number of options as outlined below.

Frequently Asked Questions about the J Visa Category

  1. What is a J visa?

  2. What the two-year home residency requirement? When does it apply? In which countries may the two year foreign residence requirement be satisfied?

  3. How do I obtain a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement?

  4. How do I obtain a no-objection letter? Can physicians obtain a no-objection letter?

  5. What U.S. governmental agencies can request a waiver of the two-year requirement?

  6. I am a physician subject to the two-year home residency requirement. I have been offered a position in an under served area. What steps do I need to take to apply for a waiver based on this position?

  7. How do I know if I qualify for application for waiver based on exceptional hardship or persecution?

  8. What is the typical time frame required to obtain a waiver?

  9. I have doubts as to whether I am subject to the two-year home residency requirement. What is the next step?

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

1. What is a J Visa?

A 'J' visa is applicable to individuals pursuing a temporary specific educational objective such as residency/fellowship training, teaching, conducting research, etc.

The J-1 visa categories include:

  • Physicians;

  • Professor and Research Scholar;

  • Trainee;

  • International Visitor;

  • Government Visitor;

  • College and University Student; and

  • Short-term scholar

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2. What is the two-year home residency requirement? When does it apply? In which countries may the two-year foreign residence requirement be satisfied?

The two-year home residency requirement, if it applies, bars the individual from obtaining H, L, or permanent residence status in the U.S. for a period of two years. It applies in the following situations:

(a) physicians entering the U.S. to pursue graduate medical education or training in the U.S.;

(b) individuals whose J visa programs are financed by the U.S. government or by the individual's foreign government; and

(c) individuals whose occupations or courses of study appear on the Exchange-Visitor's skills list published by the United States Information Agency.

In addition, many people assume that the affected alien must return to his home country for two years immediately following the completion of the program, and may not set foot in the U.S. during those two years. In reality, the foreign residency requirement bars the alien, for a period of two years, solely from obtaining H (temporary worker), L (intracompany transferee), or permanent residence status in the U.S. The alien may return to his home country and reenter the U.S. in visitor, student or other status. However, any time spent in the U.S. or a third country does not count toward the two-year residency requirement. For example, if an International Medical Graduate (IMG), after finishing a medical residency in the U.S. moves to Canada to avoid the two-year residency requirement and now wishes to re-enter the U.S., he will still be obstructed by the two-year rule.

It also should be noted that the foreign residency requirement attaches not only to the principal alien, but to the spouse and children who are present in the U.S. In dependent J-2 status. However, if the spouse and children never obtained J-2 status, they are not subject to the foreign residency requirement.

The two year foreign residence requirement may only be satisfied in the country of nationality or last permanent residence as indicated on Form DS-2019. If a citizen of one country and a permanent resident of a second country, you must satisfy the home residence requirement in the country of last permanent residence. These countries must be listed on the DS-2019. If there is an error on the DS-2019, USIA takes the position that INS, not USIA, must correct the error, if the program sponsor will not correct the error. Note that in rare instances, the two-year foreign residency requirement may be waived because of impossibility of compliance where the exchange visitor has lost the home country nationality during the exchange program.

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3. How do I obtain a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement?

There are four methods by which a foreign national may obtain a waiver of the two-year residency requirement. Each method requires the approval of one or more U.S. Government agencies.

1. THE "NO OBJECTION" LETTER

The government which financed the alien's program, or which requested that the alien's skill be placed on the Skills List, may write a letter to the USIA stating that it has no objection to a waiver of the foreign residency requirement for a particular alien. If both the USIA and the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) concur, the waiver is granted. However, graduates in medical education are ineligible to receive a waiver based upon a no objection letter.

2. THE HARDSHIP WAIVER

The alien may obtain a waiver if the imposition of the foreign residence requirement would impose "exceptional hardship" on his or her U.S. Citizen or permanent resident spouse or children. For example, a hardship waiver might be granted if the alien were married to a U.S. Citizen, had one or more citizen children, and the family would be forced by the residency requirement either to separate or to reside together in a war-torn country. A hardship waiver might also be granted if a family member were suffering for a life-threatening disease for which treatment was not available in the country where the alien was a citizen. Persons facing dramatically negative situations due to family conditions or conditions in their home country may consider this option.

3. THE PERSECUTION WAIVER

The foreign residency requirement may be waived by the INS where it is determined that the alien cannot return to his country of nationality or last residence because of persecution he or she would be likely to encounter, based on race, religion or political opinion.

4. THE INTERESTED GOVERNMENT AGENCY WAIVER

An agency of the U.S. Government may write to the USIA requesting a waiver of the foreign residency requirement for a particular alien. For instance, the Department of Health and Human Services could write such a letter on behalf of a scientist if it was shown that the scientist's research might lead to a vaccine or cure for a serious disease. If the USIA and the INS agree, and they almost invariably do, the waiver would be granted.

Besides the Department of Health and Human Services, the other government agencies most likely to write such letters on behalf of IMGs are State Departments of Health, Veterans Administration (VA), and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). Since 1994, individual states may sponsor up to 30 physicians per year for J waivers through their departments of health. Nearly all States have established such programs.

It is difficult, though not impossible, to obtain a waiver of the two-year residency requirement. Before obtaining J status, persons should determine whether they will be subject to the residency requirement and, if so, whether any alternative immigration status is readily available to them.

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4. How do I obtain a no-objection letter? Can physicians obtain a no-objection letter?

You may contact the consular section of your embassy in Washington, D.C., and request a "no objection" statement to be forwarded to the Department of State on your behalf. The Embassy must forward the "no objection" statement directly to the Waiver Review Division at the Department of State. However, before requesting a no-objection letter, you must have already submitted your data sheet and fee, and received an information packet from the Waiver Review Division of the Department of State.

Please note that Foreign medical graduates sponsored by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) to do their clinical training cannot apply for a waiver based on a "no objection" statement. In accordance with Public Law 94-484, exchange visitor physicians who are admitted to the U.S. In exchange visitor status, or who acquire such status after admission on or after January 10, 1977, for the purpose of receiving graduate medical education or training are subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement of Section 212(e) of the INA. Before their medical training under the sponsorship of the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), their country must provide a letter of need attesting to that country's requirement for trained physicians. Therefore, the exchange visitor physicians are not eligible to apply based on "no objection" statements.

Physicians entering the U.S. on a J1 visa for purposes other than for graduate medical education and training may be able to obtain no-objection letters to waive the two-year requirement.

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5. What government agencies can request a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement for physicians?

Appalachian Regional Commission; State Departments of Health; Veterans Affairs, Health & Human Services, Defense, Education, Energy, Interior, Transportation, and Education; National Science Foundation, and others.

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6. I am a physician subject to the two-year home residency requirement. I have been offered a position in an under served area. What steps do I need to take to apply for a waiver based on this position?

Please contact our offices promptly so that we may verify that the job location indeed qualifies as an under served area and that the particular State Department of Health has available openings in the respective Conrad 30 J1 Visa Waiver Program.

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7. How do I know if I qualify for waiver based on exceptional hardship or persecution?

Please contact our offices promptly so that we may evaluate your situation and advise you for your estimated chance of success.

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8. What is the typical time frame required to obtain a waiver?

On average, the time required is as follows:

No objection letter 4 months
Interested U.S. Government agency 4 months
State department of health 4-5 months
Exceptional hardship 5-10 months
Fear of persecution 5-10 months
Advisory opinions 4 months

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9. I have doubts as to whether I am subject to the two-year home residency requirement. What is the next step?

Contact us. If we cannot determine whether you are subject, we will recommend that you obtain and advisory opinion from the Waiver Review Division. To do so, you should mail legible copies of all your DS-2019 forms along with the written request for an advisory opinion. You should send your request to the following address:

U.S. Department of State
CA/VO/L/W, Visa Services
2401 E Street, NW, (SA-1)
Washington, DC 20522-0106

The request for an advisory opinion should be made by letter and must provide legible copies of all of the exchange visitor's DS-2019 forms for the entire time you were in J status. You should provide a self-addressed, stamped envelope for where you would like the advisory opinion sent.

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10. What is your expertise in this area?

We typically process 100-150 J1 visa waiver applications each year, and have outstanding expertise and experience with waiver applications in each of the different waiver routes.

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