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Two-year home-country physical-presence requirement for J-1 Exchange Visitors

The intent of the requirement is to have the home country benefit from the exchange visitor's experience in the United States. Exchange visitors come to this country for a specific objective, such as a program of study or a research project. The requirement is intended to prevent a participant from staying longer than necessary for the objective, and to ensure that he or she will spend at least two years in the home country before coming back to the United States for a long-term stay.

If you are subject to the requirement, then, until you have "resided and been physically present" for a total of two years in either your country of nationality or your country of legal permanent residence, you are not eligible for:

  1. An H, L or immigrant visa or for H, L or immigrant status in the United States. H includes temporary workers, trainees and their dependents. L includes intra-company transferees and their dependents. An immigrant is the same as a permanent resident or holder of a "green card."
  2. A change of your status, inside the United States, from J to any other non-immigrant classification except A or G. The A classification includes your home government's diplomats and representatives to the United States government and their dependents. The G classification includes your government's representatives to international organizations such as the United Nations and their dependents.

You are subject to the requirement if:

  • Your J-1 participation is or was funded in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of exchange, by your home government or the United States government.
  • As a J-1 exchange visitor, you are acquiring a skill that is in short supply in your home country, according to the United States government's Exchange Visitor Skills List. The list, which originally appeared in 1972, was updated in the Federal Register on January 16, 1997, and was updated again on April 30, 2009.  The newest version applies to those foreign nationals whose first J visa was granted on or after June 28, 2009.
  • You have participated as a J-1 in a graduate medical education or training program, i.e. a residency, internship or fellowship sponsored by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.
  • You are the J-2 dependent of an 3xchange visitor who is subject to the requirement.

If you have ever been subject to the requirement in the past, and have neither obtained a waiver nor fulfilled it by spending two years in your country, it still holds – even if a more current Form DS-2019 reflects no basis for such a requirement.

Preliminary endorsements

The visa stamp in your passport or your Form DS-2019, or both, may show an indication, by a consular officer or by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspector, that you are or are not subject to the requirement. These indications, labeled "preliminary endorsement" on Form DS-2019, are usually accurate but are not legally binding. Even though these endorsements are not final, CBP usually accepts indications that the exchange visitor is subject.

If you are unsure whether you are subject:

  1. Visit the ISSS. Be sure to bring your passport, all copies that you have of Forms DS-2019 (or older IAP-66), your I-94 Departure Record card and copies of prior I-94 cards if they are available. The members of the ISSS advising team can often tell from the source of funding, or the Exchange Visitor Skills List, whether the requirement applies or not.
  2. If you are still uncertain, you might consult an attorney. Make sure that you talk to an immigration specialist, preferably a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The ISSS can provide you with several referrals.
  3. If you prefer not to see a lawyer, or are still uncertain, ask that the ISSS write to the U.S. State Department Waiver Review Division, which is responsible for the administration of the exchange visitor program and the two-year requirement. The advising team will enclose photocopies of all of your forms DS-2019 and, in a cover letter, explain why you are uncertain whether you are subject or not, and ask for the State Department's advisory opinion.

There are five grounds for waiver of the requirement

  1. Exceptional hardship to your spouse or an unmarried minor child who is a citizen or permanent resident of the United States. If, for example, you had a child who was born in the United States and was therefore a citizen of this country, and if the child had a serious medical condition that could not be treated in your country, you might obtain a waiver because the child would suffer a hardship by going there with you to live.
  2. Fear of persecution. If you can demonstrate that, because of your race, religion, political opinions or nationality, you would face persecution by your home government if you went back to your country, you might qualify for a waiver.
  3. Interest of a United States government agency. If your participation in research or a project sponsored by a United States government agency is of sufficient importance to that agency, it can apply to the State Department for a waiver for you—in its interest, not yours.
  4. A "no-objection" statement (not permitted for medical trainees). Your country's embassy in Washington can indicate in a direct letter to the Waiver Review Division of the U.S. State Department that it has no objection to your receiving a waiver, or the foreign ministry in your capital at home can write to the United States embassy there. A "no-objection" statement will usually not lead to a waiver if the exchange visitor has received more than $2,000 in funding from the United States government.
  5. A request by a designated state health agency or equivalent (for medical doctors only).

Procedures for applying for a waiver

Follow the directions provided by the U.S. State Department.

A word of caution

The information on this page summarizes some very complex and sensitive issues. It is intended only to help you understand the nature of the requirement, not to serve as a legal reference. Do not assume from reading this sheet that you are subject to the requirement, or that you are not. Consult a specialist.

This information sheet has been prepared by the Office of International Student and Scholar Services, Binghamton University (SUNY) from materials provided by NAFSA: Assocation of International Educators and the U.S. State Department.

Last Updated: 7/24/18