What Is A Conrad Waiver?

All J-1 physicians (as with all J-1 visa holders) are subject to a two-year home residency requirement.  Essentially, a physician who has completed their training must return to their home country and establish permanent resident status there for at least two years before they can change their position in the United States, such as through work or family-based visas.  This two-year home residency requirement can be a natural barrier for J-1 physicians whose career trajectory may be significantly impacted by a “gap period” in their home country.

The Conrad Waiver is a popular option for J-1 physicians who want to circumvent the home residency requirement and start their medical career in the United States.  The Waiver allows for a change in status from the J-1 visa to the H-1B visa and, therefore, avoids the home residency requirement, but it is not without its drawbacks.  Specifically, the Conrad Waiver program is unique because the physician must agree to contribute to the overall social good.  Physicians interested in the Waiver must opt into an initial three-year contract to work with a qualified healthcare facility in a medically underserved area.

Though every state has regulations and procedures for the Conrad Waiver, all require sponsorship from the relevant state health department.  After you have found an interested employer, have applied, and received approval, your employer can finally move forward with the H-1B visa petition so that you are cleared to work for the three-year contract period.

Conrad Waiver Concerns

Not every J-1 physician will find the Conrad Waiver program a suitable fit for their career and immigration goals.  It’s important not to resign yourself to the Conrad Waiver program without considering the various opportunities that may be available under the circumstances.

The Conrad Waiver program requires that you work in a healthcare facility that is located in a medically underserved area, which is a geographic area that lacks access to adequate health services, or where residents experience significant barriers to the receipt of adequate healthcare.  The facility may also qualify under the Conrad Waiver program if it serves a medically underserved population (i.e., a specific sub-group of people who have difficulties accessing adequate healthcare).

Physicians who avail themselves of the Conrad Waiver opportunity may find that they earn less than those who are able to work in areas which feature larger healthcare facilities (with greater resources at their disposal).  Such physicians may also find that their opportunities to practice a specialty are limited.  Though these may seem like substantial negatives, it must be weighed against the alternative — two years spent working in their home country, followed by the challenge of re-entering the United States job market from abroad.

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