Exchange visitors in the United States, who are subject to the two-year home residency requirement, can apply for the U.S. government to waive this stipulation. If you qualify, you will need to file a J-1 visa waiver application.

You may be eligible to file a J-1 visa waiver application if you are part of government-funded programs, have specialized knowledge or skills, and have a higher education or graduate medical training. Among the five bases for the waiver are no objection statements, requests by a U.S. government agency, persecution, exceptional hardship, or the Conrad state 30 program. The following guide delves into all of the aspects of J-1 visa waivers.

More information on eligibility for waiving the Two-year home-country physical presence requirement.

J-1 Visa Residency Requirement

The purpose of returning home not only satisfies the requirement of the visa conditions, most importantly it is also to bring the new knowledge and skills learned by the exchange visitor to their fellow countrymen and women. That is not to say the foreign national cannot travel freely, only that he or she may not be granted another U.S. visa within that time frame. The two years need not be consecutive.

A common question among foreign nationals who seek, or who have a J-1 visa, is whether they are subject to the two-year home-country physical presence requirement. While seemingly most J-1 visitors are required to return to their home country for at least two years, the following three bases indicate whether the exchange visitor is subject to this condition:

  1. Government-funded exchange programs: The exchange visitor has or is participating in a program funded either by a U.S. government agency, their home country’s government or an international organization (which had previously been the recipient of funding by either the U.S. government or the government of the exchange visitor’s home country.
  2. Specialized knowledge or skill: The exchange visitor has or is participating in a program involving a field or an area of study where a specialized knowledge has been deemed necessary for further development of the exchange visitor’s home country.
  3. Graduate medical training or education: The exchange visitor has or is participating in a program specifically for graduate-level medical training or education.

J-1 Waiver Guide

J-1 visa holders and their families (J-2 spouse or children) must use the Application for Waiver of the Foreign Residence Requirement (Form I-612) in order to apply for the U.S. government to waive the two-year home-country physical presence requirement. Instructions on how to fill out the I-612 form are on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) webpage. The fee for filing an I-612 form is $930.

Step 1: The first step is that the applicant must complete the J Visa Waiver Recommendation Application (Form DS-3035) online. This must be done online, as other versions submitted will be returned to the applicant without their fee. Other important notes to consider are the following:

  • SEVIS Numbers must have 10 zeros. Subject Field Codes can be found on IAP-66 forms preceded by double zero: 00, then followed by the four-digit Subject Field Code number. Example: 00.2546
  • First Entry Date: For applicants who entered the U.S. on a J visa before February 1, 1999 should simply enter February 1, 1999 
  • J-2 spouses and or children must be listed as requested
  • Alien Registration Numbers are no longer required for processing, so this can be skipped
  • I-94 Numbers are no longer required either, so this field should also be skipped
  • Print the online Form DS-3035 with the barcode (this must be printed in black and white – not in color)

Once the online form is completed, a barcode will be generated, and the applicant will immediately be issued a waiver case number with some further instructions. Including where the applicant must mail his or her application packet.

Step 2: The applicant must then mail his or her waiver application and fee:

  • Completed Form DS-3035 with the barcode (from the online application)
  • Copies of all Forms DS-2019 or IAP-66 previously issued to the applicant
  • Two self-addressed and stamped envelopes (legal-size)
  • The application fee

Step 3: In addition to submitting the above documents, the applicant must then submit his or her 

supporting evidence as it pertains to the reason for the waiver request. The following chart is from the USCIS waiver application webpage:

It is important for applicants to remember, all supporting evidence related to their case must be submitted by themselves, as documents submitted by any third party will not be accepted. Additionally, the Waiver Review Division doesn’t communicate with applicants regarding their missing supporting documents.

Step 4: After the first three steps are complete, and after about one month of submitting the waiver application, applicants should check their waiver request status on the J Visa Waiver Online webpage. 

First, click the Check the status button, then enter the case number. The system will indicate whether the US Department of State (DOS) has received the applicant’s DS-3035 online application, their fee, as well as their supporting documents. Additionally, the system will also list the missing required documents, if there are any. The applicant will need his or her seven-digit case number when checking the status of their application.

Note: This is also the time to update any new contact information.

Step 5: At this stage, applicants will send any additional information or evidence as requested by the Waiver Review Division.

Step 6: Wait for the waiver application to be processed.

Processing times for the J-1 visa waiver application depend on the basis for the waiver request. When the applicant’s file is complete, the waiver division has received his or her waiver application, their processing fee, a copy of their DS-2019/IAP-66 form, all other required documents, and all supporting evidence is when the application processing time begins. The following list outlines the general time frames for J-1 visa waiver applications: 

  • No Objection Statement: 12 to 16 weeks
  • Interested U.S. Federal Government Agency: 8 to 12 weeks
  • Persecution: 12 to 16 weeks
  • Exceptional Hardship: 36 to 52 weeks
  • State Public Health Department (Conrad State 30 Program): 12 to 16 weeks
  • Advisory Opinion: 4 to 8 weeks
  • Expedited Processing: Send inquiries to [email protected] 

Expedited processing of J-1 Visa waiver applications are reserved for the rare circumstance where there is either an urgent humanitarian need or a U.S. government agency interest in the applicant and his or her work. Waivers can only be requested by the applicant, his or her representing attorney or a congressman. 

Step 7: By this step, the DOS Waiver Review Division has made their recommendation, and thus forwards such recommendation to the USCIS, where the USCIS makes their final determination. Simultaneously, the Waiver Review Division will send the applicant a copy of their recommendation – be it favorable or unfavorable.

Upon the final decision made by the USCIS, the applicant will be notified by mail of the approval or denial of their waiver application. It is important to note here that once the DOS sends its recommendation to USCIS, the applicant will need to contact the USCIS for their application status. More importantly, the applicants will be required to satisfy the home-country presence until the USCIS grants the waiver.

It is important to note, any documents submitted in a language other than English must be accompanied by a complete English translation. As well as a certification by the translator which verifies the translated documents are accurate and complete, and that the translator is competent to translate from the foreign language to English. 

Another important reminder is for the applicants to sign all of their forms, as the agency processing the application will reject unsigned forms.

J-1 Visa Waiver Application FAQs

Where can I go to enter my updated contact information?

Any changes must be submitted on the Exchange Visitor Information webpage. Additional instructions for submitting the changes can be found on the main J Visa Waiver webpage.

How do I check the status of my J-1 waiver application?

You can check the status of your submitted J-1 waiver application on the J Visa Waiver Status webpage.

What should I do if my J-1 waiver application contains documents that aren’t in English? 

All documents and supporting evidence must be in English. Otherwise, applicants must submit the following: an English translation, a certification by the translator verifying that the translation is accurate and complete, and an attestation from the translator that they are competent in translating from the foreign language to English.

Conclusion of J-1 Visa Waiver Application Guide

J-1 visa waivers are for foreign nationals who have been or are participating in an exchange program in the United States but who cannot return to their home country because of persecution, exceptional hardship, participation in the Conrad state 30 program, or they have otherwise received a no-objection statement, or if a U.S. government agency has interest in the exchange visitor and their work.

The following are the abbreviated steps J-1 visa holders who wish to obtain the two-year home-country physical presence requirement waiver will take:

  1. Complete Form DS-3035 online
  2. Mail the waiver application and fee
  3. Submit all supporting evidence
  4. Send additional information requested by the Waiver Review Division
  5. Check their waiver request status
  6. Wait for the waiver application to be processed
  7. Receive a copy of the Waiver Review Division’s recommendation, then receive the waiver approval or denial from the USCIS