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J1 Visa Waiver: How It Works

lawtrades j1 visa application

The J1 Visitor Exchange Program allows foreign nationals to temporarily visit the U.S. to engage in specific activities sponsored by publicly-funded or privately-funded sponsorship programs. There are 15 categories of J1 participation. They cater to populations as various as secondary school exchange students, short-term scholars, and au pairs. Each category of J1 participation has distinct requirements regarding the applicant’s eligibility, their program specifications, and the duration of time they are allowed to remain in the U.S. as a J1 participant. All J1 visa holders must have non-immigrant intent. This means that they cannot be entering the U.S. with the intention to become legal permanent residents, citizens, or other long-time residents of the United States.

Most of the time, the non-immigrant intent requirement is not a problem for J1 participants. Most foreign nationals who take advantage of this visa option are happy to reside in the U.S. for a relatively short period of time as they complete their program before returning to their home countries. However, this requirement can become tricky when certain J1 program participants become attached to the communities they’re working with. For the most part, J1 participants aren’t allowed to remain in the U.S. for more than a year and are sometimes given an even shorter window of time to complete their programs.

However, some J1 participant categories allow participants to remain in the U.S. for a relatively significant amount of time. Specifically, foreign physicians training in the United States can potentially spend 7 years completing their programs. When these J1 participants desire to remain in the U.S. to work with medically underserved communities, they may be eligible for a J1 visa waiver to alter their status.


J1 Visa Waivers for Foreign-Born Physicians

When a foreign national assumes J1 visa status to obtain medical training in the U.S., that individual must have non-immigrant intent. As an extension of this intent requirement, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services generally prohibits J1 visa participants from applying for legal permanent residence status (also known as green card status) or an alternative visa unless they return to their home countries for a minimum of 24 months following the competition of their participation in the J1 Visitor Exchange Program. This process is commonly referred to as a home residency requirement. This home residency requirement can be waived for J1 participants accepted in the physician category under certain circumstances.

Most commonly, J1 physician participants can have their home residency requirement waived if they obtain a case number from the State Department and apply for a waiver after they have eligible employment in a medically underserved area already secured. Physicians must begin working in their eligible employment position within 90 days of receiving the State Department’s waiver confirmation.

There are numerous restrictions attached to the kind of employment offers a J1 participant physician can accept when applying for a home residency requirement waiver. For example, the work can’t be part-time. It must be full-time work at a health care facility located in an area that the federal Department of Health and Human Services has designated as medically underserved. Additionally, the work must be conducted pursuant to the restrictions of an H1-B visa.


Locating Eligible Employment Options

To obtain a home residency requirement waiver, J1 physician participants need to obtain employment in specific areas in the U.S. The federal department of Health and Human Services maintains a list of areas that are classified as “Medically Underserved Population,” “Health Professional Shortage Area,” and “Medically Underserved Area.” Conveniently, HHS maintains an updated database of relevant employment openings in these specific areas of the country. Before applying for a waiver, J1 participants must have employment in one of these areas already secured. If the applicant’s exchange program was funded by their nation of residence, they must also be in possession of a “no objection” letter from that home government before a waiver will be approved.


Immigration Assistance Is Available

If you’re interested in participating in the J1 Visitor Exchange Program and you could benefit from assistance with your immigration process, please consider scheduling a consultation with a knowledgeable immigration attorney at LawTrades today. Our attorneys can help you with any part of the J1 process you may need assistance with. Similarly, if you’d like to explore visa alternatives, our cost-conscious, efficient team can advise you of your options. We look forward to speaking with you and helping you achieve your immigration-related goals.