J-1 visa waivers are for foreign nationals who have traveled to the United States on a Visitor or Exchange Visitor visa, but who prefer to remain in the U.S. upon their visa’s expiration. This waiver is granted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which allows J-1 visa holders to forego the requirement of having to go back home and stay for a minimum of two years. If you are still unclear and want to know exactly what is a J-1 visa waiver, read on.

What is A J-1 Visa Waiver

Each petition for a J-1 visa waiver is reviewed at one or more agencies, but as many as three, if the outcome of the waiver seems favorable. As the J-1 visa waiver processing time typically takes around eight or nine months, it is important for J-1 visa holders who wish to stay to begin interviewing for jobs the year before their program ends. Upon the success of the waiver, such individuals must begin working within 90 days of receiving their approval – and their new employment-based visa. Though, there are a multitude of reasons other than work that an individual may wish to stay. 

Unfortunately there aren’t any alternatives, such as marrying a U.S. citizen or legal resident. Only two lawful choices are available, obtaining a J-1 waiver, or departing from the country when the visa expires.

For future reference, Form I-612 can be found on the USCIS Waiver of the Foreign Residence Requirement webpage. Similarly, more information on such visitor visas and how to complete the requisite forms can be found on the U.S. Department of State (DOS) and USCIS webpages. This also includes processing times, and the quickest ways to get approved.

Regarding the two-year home-country physical presence requirement, foreign nationals must live in their home country for at least two years before being eligible for other visas, or green cards. The stipulations are for those who have participated in government-funded exchange programs, possess a specialized knowledge or skill, or are graduate students in medical education or Training, as detailed below:

  • Government-funded programs: Such programs are partly or fully funded either by a United States federal government agency, the government of visa holder’s home country or an international organization which has received funding from either of the country’s government agencies
  • Specialized knowledge or skills: Such programs are fields (or areas of study) which require specialized knowledge or skills which lend to the continued development of the visa holder’s country 
  • Graduate medical education/training: These programs are intended for the visa holder to either receive graduate-level training or education in medicine

The two-year requirement does not necessarily mean the J-1 visitor is prohibited from traveling to the U.S. (or any other country), it simply means the visa holder is beholden to satisfy one of the conditional options below. If the visa holder wishes to remain in the United States, they must:

  • Change their status (or receive) a nonimmigrant temporary worker, fiancé(e) or intracompany transferee visa – H, K, L,  respectively
  • Adjust their status to an immigrant visa/lawful permanent resident – LPR status
  • Receive an immigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate

The U.S. DOS Bureau of Consular Affairs says the following about the J-1 visa waiver, “Exchange Visitors cannot travel on the Visa Waiver Program or with Visitor Visas - An exchange visitor visa (J) is required to participate in an exchange visitor program in the United States.  Foreign nationals may not study after entering on a visitor (B) visa or through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)  For more information on the VWP, see Visa Waiver Program.”

Plausible Reasons for a J-1 Visa Waiver

The basis for petitioning for a J-1 visa waiver must be because the applicant needs the waiver because he or she has a:

  • No-objection waiver from their country of origin
  • Waiver request from an interested government agency
  • Waiver based on an imminent fear of persecution in his or her home country
  • Waiver based on extreme hardship as it relates to the petitioner’s relatives in the U.S. 

(who are either citizens or lawful permanent residents)

  • Waiver request from an interested state department of health

J-1 Waivers Based on No Objection Letters

Applicants for the waiver can consult with a government agency of their home country about requesting a J-1 waiver through the United States government. If they do not object to the visa holder remaining in the U.S., they should prove they have no objection by supplying the visa holder an official letter. It will state that they do not require him or her to return right away.

The federal agency from which the applicant obtains the letter can also notate that the visa holder is even free to stay in the U.S. and apply for a green card. If the applicant received a scholarship from their government, it may be difficult to gain approval. J-1 Visitors can request such letters by contacting their embassy in Washington, DC

J-1 Waivers Based on Interested U.S Government Agencies

If an applicant’s contribution to a project serves the interests of a U.S. federal agency, that particular agency could possibly support his or her request for a waiver. 

Similarly, medical graduates with a J-1 visa may be eligible for the waiver through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services or similar agencies.

J-1 Waivers Based on Fear of Persecution

If the reason the J-1 visa holder wishes to remain in the U.S. upon their visa’s expiration is because it is likely he or she will face persecution in their home country, the visa holder can apply for a J-1 visa waiver. Though this sounds similar to asylum cases, it differs because 1. Reasonable fear is not enough to qualify – proof must be demonstrated that the applicant will be persecuted, and 2. Nationality and certain social group membership are not grounds for persecution. 

Therefore, applying for a J-1 visa waiver based on fear of persecution is more difficult to get than an asylum.

J-1 Waivers Based on Exceptional Hardship 

Applicants whose J-2 dependents, a spouse or children (younger than 21) who are either U.S. citizens or are permanent residents who will suffer from exceptional hardship if the J-1 visa holder were to leave the country.

It is not enough for the spouse or child(ren) just to demonstrate sustained emotional pain, economic difficulties or language barriers. However, if the J-1 visa holder's departure would worsen the family member’s medical condition or the family member would face persecution if they were to return back to the visa holder's home country, the visa holder may have a case for the waiver.

J-1 Waivers Based on State Departments of Health 

Lastly, applicants who are medical school graduates and have a full-time job offer from a healthcare facility in medically underserved areas are eligible for the waiver. The recipient must

begin working at their new job within 90 days, and continue working there for at least three years (of full-time employment). This is a program commonly referred to as the Conrad State 30 program.

It is important to note that any U.S. federal agency is permitted to recommend J-1 visa waivers. However, waivers for physicians are generally processed through either the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Global Affairs (OGA) or the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Conclusion of What Is a J-1 Visa Waiver? 

In normal circumstances, J-1 visas are granted to visitors working in exchange programs in the United States. Upon the completion of their program, or the expiration of the J-1 visa holder’s program, the foreigner is required to depart the United States. As part of the J-1 visa stipulations, he or she must return to their country and live there for two years, for the purpose of sharing the knowledge and experience they have learned whilst in the U.S. They are not required to return promptly and stay for two years consecutively, as they are free to travel as they need. The two-year physical presence can be cumulative.

The chances are high that the J-1 visa holder would be required to return to his or her country for two years before they would be eligible to apply for permanent residency, or any other type visa.

under Section 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)

As previously outlined, the following list are ways a J-1 Visitor can obtain the waiver:

  • No-objection waiver from home country
  • Waiver request from an interested federal government agency
  • Waiver based on the fear of imminent persecution upon return to home country
  • Waiver based on extreme hardship endured by the J-1 visa holder’s family in the U.S. 

(who are either citizens or lawful permanent residents)

  • Waiver request from an interested state department of health

More information about J-1 Exchange Visitor requirements, J-1 waiver-related facts and the application form can be found on the USCIS and DOS websites:

Frequently Asked Questions About What Is a J-1 Visa Waiver?

What does a J-1 visa waiver waive?

It waives the requirement to leave the United States, return home and share the J-1 visa holder’s knowledge he or she gained while in the U.S., and live in their country of origin for two years. It is granted by the USCIS, and permits the J-1 visa holder to remain in the United States.

Can federal organizations recommend a J-1 waiver for me?

Yes, any federal agency can recommend J-1 visa waivers.

How can I work as a physician in the United States when my J-1 visa expires? 

International medical graduates who hold a J-1 visa must receive a full-time job offer in a medical facility with a shortage of doctors, be available to begin working within 90 days of receiving the waiver, and continue working in the same position for three years. Waivers for physicians are processed through either the HHS, OGA or the VA.

How do I check my J-1 waiver status?

The J-1 visa waiver status can be checked by entering the case number on the DOS webpage.