What Is A J-1 Visa?

The J-1 Visa is an exchange visitor Visa program granted to foreign nationals interested in traveling to the United States for a temporary program oriented towards specialized work, academic study, research, teaching, and other related activities.  J-1 visa applicants are diverse, and each may face entirely different challenges about immigration. For example, an international student and a teacher may each qualify for a J-1 visa, though their long-term immigration plans and requirements will likely differ significantly.

There are various J-1 visa programs that eligible candidates may engage with, and each has different requirements.  These programs involve professional and academic paths that include, but are not necessarily limited, to:

  • Au Pair
  • Camp Counselors
  • College and University Student
  • Government Visitor
  • Intern
  • International Visitor
  • Physician
  • Professor and Research Scholar
  • Secondary School Student
  • Short Term Scholar
  • Specialist
  • Summer Work Travel
  • Teacher
  • Trainee

The length of these programs varies considerably.  For example, a J-1 physician may remain in the United States for the entire duration of their residency program, to a maximum of seven years.  By contrast, a short-term scholar program may last for a maximum period of six months.

The Home Residency Requirement

J-1 visas feature a number of unique requirements, depending on the program with which the foreign national is engaged.  Some J-1 visa programs feature a two-year home residency requirement which requires that the foreign national return to their home country (and establish permanent residency for a period of two years) before getting a work or family-based visa in the United States, or otherwise changing their immigration status.

The home residency requirement can create significant barriers for foreign nationals who may have long-term career or family arrangements linked to the United States.  Fortunately, there may be waivers (and other options) available to qualified foreign nationals.  For example, J-1 teachers that are not able to waive the home residency requirement may repeat the J-1 program after the two-year home residency period has elapsed.

Securing A Waiver

There are several bases on which you can request a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement imposed by the J-1 visa:

  • No Objection Statement
    • A “no objection” statement may be issued by the foreign national’s home government. The statement is a confirmation that the home government does not object to the fact that their citizen may not return and may become a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
  • Interested Federal Government Agency
    • If the J-1 foreign national is working on a project that involves a federal government agency, and the home residency requirement would create a detriment to that agency’s interests, then the head of the interested agency may request a waiver on the foreign national’s behalf.
  • Persecution
    • Persecution on the basis of race, religion, or political opinion may justify a persecution waiver of the home residency requirement.
  • Exceptional Hardship
    • The home residency requirement may be waived if the foreign national can show that the requirement would impose an exceptional hardship on their spouse or child (who are either US citizens or lawful permanent residents).
  • Conrad waiver
    • Conrad waivers may be available to select J-1 physicians who are sponsored by state health departments and who agree to a three-year contract to practice in a medically underserved area.
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