Catalog of State Designated Exchange Visitor Program Sponsors (January 2005)
Exchange visitors are grouped into the following categories:
The major drawback of the J visa is that many, but not all, exchange visitors 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. Exchange visitors are subject to the two home residency requirement if:
- Obtained money from either their home government or the U.S. government;
- Their occupation is listed on the Exchange Visitor Skills List; or
- They are coming to the U.S. to obtain graduate medical education or training.
It is 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 visaholders can obtain waivers. The latest State Department procedures regarding J waivers should be followed.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUND Prior to discussing waivers, it is important to clarify several misconceptions about the J visa. First, most J programs do not subject the foreign national to the two-year residency requirement. Only three types of programs contain this requirement. One of these programs is for aliens who obtain J status in order to receive graduate medical education or training in the U.S. Click to read about special rules pertaining to J visas for physicians. The second is for all persons whose J programs are financed by the U.S. government or by the visaholder's government. The last is for persons whose occupations or courses of study appear on the Exchange-Visitor Skills List published by the State Department which administers all J programs. Foreign countries in need of certain skills place them on this list. Exchange visitors who participate in a program involving these designated skills are subject to the foreign residency requirement.
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.
OBTAINING WAIVERS 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 State Department stating that it has no objection to a waiver of the foreign residency requirement for a particular alien. If both the State Department and the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) 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 CIS where it is determined by the State Department 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 State Department 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 State Department and the CIS agree, and they almost invariably do, the waiver would be granted.
Besides the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the other federal government agencies most likely to write such letters on behalf of IMGs are the Veterans Administration (VA) and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). In December 2002, HHS begin sponsorship of primary care physicians working in medically-underserved areas.
Individual states may sponsor up to 30 physicians per year for J waivers through their departments of health. 49 states as well as the District of Columbia and Guam have established such programs.
CONCLUSION It is often 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