In this post we look at the J-1 visa VS J-1 Waiver. J-1 visas, otherwise known as Exchange Visitor Visas are for foreign nationals wanting to enter the United States to participate in exchange visitor programs. This means they will also return to their home country to share their gained knowledge and experiences. Both academically and culturally. Once the visitor’s program ends, he or she is required to return home for a minimum of two years. 

If the visa holder wishes to remain in the U.S., or if their work especially benefits industries like healthcare or government agencies, then the visa holder may apply for a J-1 visa waiver. This waives the two-year home-country residency requirements, and allows the foreign national to stay.

The J-1 Visa

J-1 visas are nonimmigrant visas, titled Exchange Visitor Visas. They are available for non-U.S. citizens who have been, or will be approved to participate in exchange programs within the U.S.

Exchange Visitor Categories include the following:

  • Au pair and EduCare
  • Camp Counselor
  • Government Visitor
  • Intern
  • International Visitor (Dept. of State use)
  • Physician
  • Professor and Research Scholar
  • Short-term Scholar
  • Specialist
  • Student, college/university
  • Student, secondary
  • Summer Work Travel
  • Teacher
  • Trainee

J-1 Stipulations

Visiting Exchange programs are specific, so traveling and studying are limited. As J-1 visa holders are only in the United States for a short amount of time, they cannot travel out of, and back into the United States. The visitors also may not study formally upon entry to the U.S., neither through a B visa nor on a Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Unless this is the purpose of their visa program. They must simply enter the U.S. for the purposes of fulfilling their exchange program agreements. 

When their program is complete, they are required to leave the country and return home – as a part of their agreement. More on this is outlined below.

j-1 Visa Two-year Presence Requirement

Upon the completion of the exchange visitor program, the foreign national must satisfy the two-year home-country physical presence requirement before returning to the United States. That is, providing the J-1 visa holder entered the U.S. for any of the following conditions:

  • Government-funded exchange programs – Such programs are financed either by the U.S. government or the visa holder’s home government
  • Graduate medical education or training 
  • Specialized knowledge or skills – This is a knowledge or skill set which have previously been established as necessary to the development of the United States. The skills list can be found on the U.S. Department of State (DOS) website.

In reality, the visa holder does not necessarily have to return to their home country right away. If they choose to move to another country after their program ends, or spend time traveling, there is technically no restriction against this. The exchange visitor must simply live in his or her home country for a total of at least two years before changing their status to H, K, L, visas, or become a permanent U.S. resident. 

It is important to remember, though, that spending some time in the United States to work or train in the aforementioned categories allows the visitor to gain first-hand knowledge in those specific areas. Furthermore, they have agreed to return home and share those experiences with the people of their home country directly after the program ends. This increases the effectiveness of J-1 visa programs, for the U.S., the visitor and those in their home country.


However, there are exceptions to this rule. If the foreign national is unable to satisfy the home country presence requirement, he or she may opt for a waiver of this requirement. Exchange visitors can ask their program sponsors to see whether they have the two-year requirement.

The J-1 Waiver

As previously mentioned, exchange visitors who wish to remain in the U.S. can obtain a J-1 waiver. This waives the two-year home-country physical presence requirement. It isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, as the reasoning must be deemed by the U.S. DOS as allowable.

The following are bases for applying for, and possibly receiving a J-1 waiver:

  • Exceptional hardship
  • Persecution
  • Interested U.S. federal agency
  • No Objection Statement
  • Physicians working for U.S. state health agencies

J-1 Waiver Exceptional Hardship

Leaving the United States would cause exceptional hardship to a spouse or child (who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Mere physical separation from them does not qualify as exceptional hardship.

J-1 Waiver Persecution

The visa holder and or their J-2 dependents would face persecution after returning to their home country, based on their race, religion or political opinion.

J-1 Waiver Interested U.S. Federal Agency

Exchange visitors involved in a project that is of interest to a U.S. federal agency are granted waivers as their contribution is vital.

No Objection Statement For A J-1 Waiver

This is an official statement from the visa holder’s home country’s government that it does not object to him or her not satisfying the two-year home residency requirement. Furthermore, their government does not object to the applicant remaining in the U.S. if he or she wishes.

J-1 Waiver for Physicians 

Exchange visitors who are medical school graduates are allowed to remain in the U.S. to live and work. The requirements are that he or she must first have received a full-time job offer, the  position must be in a U.S. state health care facility, and then the physician must agree to work in a healthcare professional shortage area, or a medically under-served area. The doctor must also agree to begin working within 90 days of receiving their waiver. Finally, he or she must continue working at the facility full-time for a minimum of three years.

J-1 Visa Waiver Times

j-1 Waiver processing times differ from case-to-case, and depend on the reasoning for the request. According to the U.S. DOS website, the estimated processing times are as follows:

  • Exceptional hardship: 16 - 24 weeks
  • Persecution: 12 - 16 weeks
  • Interested U.S. federal agency: 8 - 12 weeks
  • No Objection Statement: 12 - 16 weeks
  • Physicians working for U.S. state health agencies: 12 - 16 weeks
  • Advisory Opinion: 4 to 8 weeks

j-1 Waiver Expedited Processing 

J-1 waivers can be processed in an expedited manner, providing United States government agencies have an interest or an urgent humanitarian need. In this case, the visa holder can apply for the waiver, as can their attorney or a member of congress. 

The recommended time to begin checking the status of the J-1 waiver is about one month after the application is submitted.

After obtaining the waiver, exchange visitors and their dependents would no longer be required to satisfy the home country requirement before entering the United States on H, K, L visas, or get permanent residency. They would have a new visa expiry date.

Conclusion of J-1 Visa vs J-1 Waiver

In conclusion, foreign nationals who wish to gain experience – academically and culturally in the United States, either by working or by studying can do so through exchange visiting programs. As the duration is usually much shorter than typical job contracts and college programs, the J-1 visitor is usually required to return home when they have completed their program. For the purposes of sharing what they’ve learned with the people of their home country.

What may generally come to mind when thinking about J-1 visa holders is that they come to the U.S. to study or work and gain experience in order to bring back to their home country. However they also bring valuable knowledge and experiences to the programs, communities, colleges, industries in which they participate. This means the United States as a country also benefits from exchange visitors and their programs.

Exchange visitors must fulfill a two-year home-country physical presence requirement upon the completion of their program and its responsibilities. If the J-1 visa holder is unable to return to their home country, he or she may apply for a waiver. The waiver is granted by the U.S. government and waives that requirement – though this is only granted under special circumstances.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About J-1 Visa vs J-1 Waiver  

As a J-1 visa holder, can I work in the United States during my stay?

The only allowance exchange visitors have regarding employment is what is specifically listed on their Certificate of Eligibility (DS-2019), as it relates to their exchange program.

Are J-1 exchange visitors required to have program sponsors?

Yes. All J-1 visa holders must be sponsored by one of the sponsors designated by the U.S. Department of State.

As an exchange visitor, can I get a waiver if I marry a U.S. citizen?

No. Marrying a citizen of the United States, or a lawful permanent resident is not a provision under J-1 visa waivers. The visa holder must return home for two years as the second part of the exchange program. After two years, the exchange visitor may return to the U.S. to be with their spouse.

Can I travel outside of the U.S. and my home country when my J-1 program ends?

Yes. But the visa holder must remember they must also satisfy the two-year home country residency requirement as per the terms of the exchange program – if the visa holder does in fact have this requirement. The two years can be cumulative.