J-1 Visa Waiver

Waiver of the Exchange Visitor Two-Year Home-Country Physical Presence Requirement

What is it

Certain exchange visitors (J-1) are subject to a two-year home-country physical presence requirement which requires you to return to your home country for at least two years at the end of your exchange visitor program.

This is also known as the foreign residence requirement under U.S. law, Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 212(e).

If you are subject to the two-year home-country physical presence requirement, but you are not able to fulfill the requirement, you may apply to the Department of State, Waiver Review Division for a recommendation that USCIS grant a waiver under any one of the five applicable bases set forth in U.S. immigration law. Choose the one basis that you qualify for or applies to your situation.

Five bases for Recommendation of a Waiver

  1. No Objection Statement:

Your home country government may issue a No Objection Statement through its embassy in Washington, DC directly to the Waiver Review Division that it has no objection to you not returning to your home country to satisfy the two-year home-country physical presence requirement and no objection to the possibility of you becoming a lawful permanent resident of the United States. The No Objection Statement may also be issued by a designated ministry in your home country’s government and sent to the U.S. Chief of Mission, Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy within that country. The U.S. Embassy would then forward it directly to the Waiver Review Division.

Important Notice: U.S. law does not permit foreign medical physicians who acquired exchange visitor (J-1) visa status on or after January 10, 1977, for the purpose of receiving graduate medical education or training to use this option. For more information about the relevant U.S. law, see References – U.S. Laws, number 1.

  1. 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 has determined that your departure for two years to fulfill the two-year home-country physical presence requirement would be detrimental to its interest, that agency may request an Interested Government Agency Waiver on your behalf. The Interested Government Agency request must be signed by the head of the agency or his or her designee and submitted directly to the Waiver Review Division.

Any U.S. federal government agency may request a waiver under this basis. Review Designated Officials for Signatures for a listing of interested government agencies and names of their designated officials. (NOTE: This list does not contain information for all U.S. federal agencies. It only contains information from agencies that have provided the Department of State, Waiver Review Division with the names of individuals authorized to sign letters requesting waivers under this basis.)

Important Notice: For Interested Government Agency requests on behalf of foreign physicians who agree to serve in health professional shortage areas or medically underserved areas, please refer to Step 3 of the How to Apply Instructions. For more information about the relevant law, see References – U.S. Laws, number 3.

  1. Persecution:

If you believe that 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. This waiver basis requires that you submit Form I-612, Application for Waiver of the Foreign Residence Requirement, directly to USCIS. USCIS will forward its decision directly to the Department of State’s Waiver Review Division. The Waiver Review Division will proceed with the waiver recommendation under this basis only if USCIS makes a finding of persecution.

  1. Exceptional Hardship to a U.S. citizen (or lawful permanent resident) spouse or child of an exchange visitor:

If you can demonstrate 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. Please note that mere separation from family is not considered to be sufficient to establish exceptional hardship. This waiver basis requires that you submit Form I-612, Application for Waiver of the Foreign Residence Requirement, directly to USCIS. USCIS will forward its decision directly to the Department of State’s Waiver Review Division. The Waiver Review Division will proceed with the waiver recommendation under this basis only if USCIS makes a finding of exceptional hardship.

  1. 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 of the two-year home-country physical presence requirement based on the request of a designated State Public Health Department or its equivalent, if you meet all of the following criteria. This waiver category is also known as the Conrad State 30 Program. You must:

have an offer of full-time employment at a health care facility in a designated health care professional shortage area or at a health care 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.

How do I know if I am subject to the two-year home-country physical presence requirement?

As a current or past exchange visitor (J-1) visa holder, you are subject to the two-year home-country physical presence requirement, also known as the foreign residence requirement under U.S. law, for one or more of the following reasons:

Government funded Exchange Program – You participated in an exchange program that was funded in whole or in part by a U.S. government agency, your home country’s government, or an international organization that received funding from the U.S. government or your home country’s government.

Specialized Knowledge or Skill – You participated in an exchange program involving an area of study or field of specialized knowledge that has been designated as necessary for further development of your home country and appears on the Exchange Visitor Skills List for your home country.

Graduate Medical Education/Training – You participated in an exchange program to receive graduate medical education or training.

What are the bases upon which I can apply for a waiver of the two-year home-country physical presence requirement?

The five bases for recommendation of a waiver are:

No Objection Statement;

Request by an Interested U.S. Federal Government Agency;

Persecution;

Exceptional Hardship to a U.S. Citizen (or lawful permanent resident) Spouse or Child of an Exchange Visitor; and

Request by a Designated State Public Health Department or its Equivalent (Conrad State 30 Program).

What is a “No Objection” letter?

A “no objection” letter indicates that the applicant’s home country government permits waiving the two-year home residence requirement. This statement can be obtained by first contacting your home country’s consulate at the embassy. After obtaining a case number from the Department of State (DOS) you could then have your home country’s embassy submit the statement.

You should request the No Objection Statement from your home country government once you have your waiver case number. You will receive your waiver case number when you complete the online application from travel.state.gov.

Step by Step process for the J-1 Waiver:

STEP 1 – Complete the Online J Visa Waiver Recommendation Application

STEP 2 – Mail your Waiver Application and Fee Payment

STEP 3 – Submit Supporting Documents

STEP 4 – Check your Waiver Request Status and Update your Contact Information

STEP 5 – If the Waiver Review Division Needs More Information from You

STEP 6 – Processing Times

STEP 7 – Department of State Recommendation and Final Determination by USCIS