J-1 visa waivers are processed at more than one level, spending a couple of months at each office. However, the overall timeline usually takes an average of eight or nine months.

First, the waiver applications are submitted to and reviewed at the state level. This generally takes an average a few months. Then, applications approved at this level are sent to the Washington D.C. review division (WRD). Here, it takes an additional couple of months. Lastly, approved applications are sent to a designated United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) center for an additional several months’ worth of review.

Not all Exchange Visitors are required to meet the two-year residency requirement, and should consult their program sponsor for confirmation.

J-1 Visas

For a quick background, foreign nationals looking to work or study in the United States often do so by obtaining an Exchange Visitor visa. Such individuals can either be a nonimmigrant seeking a more temporary stay, or be an immigrant looking for permanent residency in the U.S. Visit our J-1 Visa service page to learn more.

J-1 visa holders may participate in exchange/visitor programs as the following:

  • Au pairs and EduCare
  • Camp counselors
  • Government visitors
  • Interns
  • International visitors (Dept. of State use)
  • Physicians
  • Professors and research scholars
  • Short-term scholars
  • Specialists
  • Students (secondary)
  • Students (college/university)
  • Summer work travel
  • Teachers
  • Trainees

Such exchange programs are in place for non-U.S. citizens to:

  1. Come to the United States to study or work in specific areas
  2. Return to their nation of origin
  3. Share experiences and gained knowledge with their fellow countrymen and women upon program completion

J-1 Waivers Requirements

Exchange visitors oftentimes wish to remain in the United States as temporary workers by the time they complete their programs. This typically includes H-1B and L-1 visa categories. Usually, the only way to execute this is to receive a waiver of J-1 visa end-of-program requirements.

The United States Department of State (DOS) says this about J-1 waivers, “Some exchange visitors with J-1 visas are subject to a two-year home-country physical presence requirement. It requires applicants to return home for at least two years after their exchange visitor program. This requirement is part of U.S. law, in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), Section 212(e). If he or she cannot return home for two years, they must apply for a waiver.”

Such permissions are issued by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), waiving the requirement for J-1 visa holders (and their dependents) to return to their country for at least two years. Once they depart the U.S., they are not necessarily required to return directly home, however residing in any country other than the home country does not count toward this requirement. Similarly, these two years can be cumulative, as they are not required to be precisely consecutive.

The best time to file a J-1 waiver application is as soon as the filing window opens. This is usually October 1, though some states could have different dates.

Steps in the J-1 Waivers Process

Using Form DS-3035, the visa holder will apply for the two-year home country presence to be waived. Here is a general list of the steps J-1 waivers undergo:

  1. Waiver petitions are submitted to and reviewed at the state level: 3 months
  2. Applications that are recommended to be approved are forwarded to the Waiver Review Division in Washington D.C.: 2 months
  3. Approved applications are sent to the USCIS for final review: 3-4 months
  4. USCIS sends the Notice of Action (Form I-797) to the recipient: 2-3 weeks

It is important to note, locations for submitting the petition differ according to the applicant’s location as well as their home country. 

Applicants will learn whether their home residency requirement was waived when they receive a Notice of Action from the USCIS. And as such, the waiver recipient is required to begin working within 90 days of receiving the approval.

How Long Does a J-1 Waiver Take?

The following indicates the estimated processing times J-1 waivers:

  • Interested U.S. Federal Agency: 8 - 12 weeks
  • Persecution: 12 - 16 weeks
  • No-objection statement: 12 - 16 weeks
  • Foreign physician working for a U.S. state health agency: 12 - 16 weeks
  • Exceptional hardship: 16 - 24 weeks

Expediting the J-1 Visa Waiver Processing Time

As with many cases, certain circumstances require an expedited waiver process. These include scenarios when the J-1 visa holder can contribute significantly to the United States, or can assist in urgent humanitarian needs. The applicant’s attorney, and/or members of congress can petition for expedited processing on their behalf, though the visa holder can request it by themselves. If you think this applies to your circumstance, the J-1 visa waiver processing time could be shorter.

Best Time to Begin J-1 Waiver Interviews

It is advised to begin searching for a job 12-18 months before the potential start date. So, the best time to start interviewing with employers would be the year prior to the anticipated graduation, end-of-program, or J-1 visa expiration date. It is crucial to understand that J-1 waiver recipients cannot begin working until they have received the waiver and the granted work visa. If you wait too long to start searching for a job, this could extend the the J-1 visa waiver processing time.

Conclusion of J-1 Visa Waiver Processing Time

J-1 visas are for exchange students, or workers, who come to the United States to first gain knowledge and then share their experience with the people of their home country. If they wish to remain in the U.S. to work, they must petition for and receive the J-1 waiver. Such waivers are granted in order to overlook the otherwise two-year home-country physical presence requirement. Marrying a U.S. citizen does not automatically waive this requirement, as only the official USCIS-granted J-1 visa waiver is allowed. There is no alternative.

The time frames are as follows:

  1. Waiver petitions reviewed at the state level: 3 months
  2. Applications recommended for approval are forwarded to the Waiver Review Division in Washington D.C.: 2 months
  3. Approved applications are sent to the USCIS for final review: 3-4 months
  4. USCIS sends the Notice of Action (Form I-797) to the recipient: 2-3 weeks

If the J-1 visa holder does not know whether they are required to return home for a minimum of two years, he or she should first review the Eligibility Information webpage. If still unclear, he or she should consult with their program sponsor. If no consensus is reached, the applicant can request an Advisory Opinion. More information can be found on the Department of State Advisory Opinion webpage.

Ultimately, these types of waivers can take around 9 months to process.

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

Can I get a J-1 waiver if I marry a U.S. citizen?

No, waivers are not granted to J-1 visa holders who get married to U.S. citizens, nor to lawful permanent residents. The only way for such visa holders to remain in the United States after their program ends is to get a J-1 visa waiver. 

Why do I have to go back home for two years when my J-1 visa expires?

The purpose of the J-1 visa category is for visiting or exchange foreigners. This means the program is primarily for visa holders to gain knowledge and experiences in the United States –  and return to their home country to share such practical knowledge with the people who live in their country.

Do I have to meet the 2-year home country residency requirement?

This depends on the J-1 visa conditions originally granted by the visa holder’s program sponsor. Applicants can either request an Advisory Opinion with the U.S. DOS’s Waiver Review Division, or refer to the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Program (Form DS-2019).

How long does the Advisory Opinion take?

Advisory Opinions, done at the Waiver Review Division take four to six weeks to review. The purpose is for the AO officers to review the petitioner’s waiver request, and determine whether going back home for two years will be required.