J-1 Two-Year Home Country Requirement
What is the Two-Year Home Country Requirement?
Certain J-1 Exchange Visitors are required to spend two years in their home country at the end of their J-1 program. J-1 Exchange Visitors subject to this requirement cannot apply for H, L, or immigrant status unless they either return to their country of nationality for two years or obtain a waiver of the requirement. A change to another non-immigrant status while in the United States is also prohibited, except to A status (diplomatic or government official) or G status (international organization). It may be possible to apply for a different nonimmigrant visa (except H or L) at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the U.S. The authority to grant such a visa lies with the individual consular officer. If a person who has had J status and has been subject to the two-year home residence requirement re-enters the U.S. in another status, they still remain subject to the two-year home country requirement.
Who is Subject to the Requirement?
Not all J-1 Exchange Visitors are subject to the requirement. If the J-1 is subject, all J-2 dependent family members are also subject. Three criteria determine subjectivity to the home residence requirement:
- Funding Source
If the J-1 exchange visitor received any direct government funding from either the U.S. government or from the home government at any time during the J-1 program. The J-1 is also subject if he/she received indirect government funding through a binational commission or international agency (for example, Fulbright or the U.N.). If the funding comes only from indirect government funding through the university, the J-1 exchange visitor is not subject, unless the grants were specifically targeted for international exchange.
- Exchange Visitor Skills List
If the J-1 exchange visitor's country is included in the "Skills List" and if the area of specialization during the J-1 program is listed for that country. OISS has a copy of the Skills List. Unless it is clear, a letter may need to written to the State Department to obtain an advisory opinion.
- Medical Education or Training
Foreign medical graduates who came to the U.S. or acquired J-1 status to obtain graduate medical education or training are subject.
Government agency officials may have marked documents indicating whether or not the J-1 exchange visitor is subject to the two-year home country requirement. First, the J-1 visa page in the passport may contain a stamp: "This person is/is not subject to Section 212(e). Section 212(e) does/does not apply." Second, the bottom left-hand corner of the DS-2019 may be notated.
These documents are often marked erroneously. If any of the three criteria listed above apply, the J-1 exchange visitor is subject to the requirement, regardless of what is marked on the documents. An advisory opinion may need to be obtained from the State Department to clarify the situation.
Applying for a Waiver
It may be possible for the J-1 exchange visitor and J-2 dependents to obtain a waiver of the two-year home residence requirement. The process depends on many factors and can take from three to twelve months or longer to complete. All requests are submitted to the State Department which recommends the waiver and then US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) generally approves the waiver. Caution: Once the State Department has recommended a waiver request, extensions or transfer of the J program may not be possible.
There are five methods of obtaining a waiver:
- Statement of "No Objection" from the Home Country
This method is used by most J visitors. It is, however, not available to foreign medical graduates who acquired J-1 status to obtain graduate medical education or training. It also may not be successful for those who have received Fulbright grants or substantial U.S. government funding. Details about this procedure are outlined below.
- Interested U.S. Government Agency
A U.S. federal government agency may apply for a waiver if it can attest that the work of the J-1 exchange visitor is of national significance, that participation in that work is essential, and that complying with the residence requirement would be detrimental to the U.S. national interest.
If the J-1 exchange visitor can document that he/she would be persecuted
upon return to the home country or last legal residence because of race, religion or political opinion, a waiver may be possible.
- Exceptional Hardship to a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident Spouse or Child
If the J-1 exchange visitor can document that returning home would cause exceptional hardship to his/her U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or child, a waiver may be possible.
- Request by a Designated State Department of Health
Available only to medical doctors.
For current procedures on how to apply for a waiver please see this page on the U.S. Department of State's website.
For more information or to guide you through the process please schedule an appointment with a scholar advisor at OISS.