J-1 visas are nonimmigrant visas for individuals who have been approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the U.S. The foreign residency requirement applies to certain individuals with J-1 status. They cannot become permanent residents, change their status or get work or family-based visa status such as H, L or K until they return to their country of last permanent residence for at least two years cumulatively.

The two-year residency requirement will not prevent you from reentering the U.S. in the future with a F-1 student, B-1/B-2 (tourist), J-1 student visa or any other type of visa. But it will prevent you from getting H-1 B non-immigrant employment or Permanent Residence status unless the two year requirement is either fulfilled or waived.

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Who is Subject to the Requirement?

Those with a J-1 status are subject to the requirement if any of the following applies to the J-1 program.

  1. If the individual receives funding from the U.S. government, home government or an international organization to use in the program.
  2. If the individual worked or studied in a field that appears on the “skills list”. This list refers to the field of specialized knowledge and skills that are needed in the individual’s country of last permanent residence for its development.
  3. If the individual participated in a graduate medical training program in the United States under the sponsorship of the Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.

To determine whether you are subject to the two-year foreign residency requirement, you can check your J visa. If you are required to fulfill the requirement, the box next to the phrase “subject to the two-year rule” will be checked off.

But even if the box is not checked off, this does not mean that you are not subject to the rule. If you are not sure if you are subject to the 2-year home residency requirement, you can request an official “advisory opinion” from the U.S. Department of State. This is a formal determination of whether or not you are subject to the 2-year home residency requirement.

Can the Requirement be Waived?

If the individual received funding from their home government or an international organization or if they are subject because of the specialized knowledge needed in their home country, it is still possible to get a waiver.

You need to request a “letter of no objection” from your country’s embassy in Washington, D.C. But if you received U.S. government funding such as Fulbright, it is nearly impossible to get the requirement waived.

Individuals can be subject to the two-year home residency requirement multiple times. For example, an international student who comes to the U.S. as a J-1 student and then returns as a J-1 scholar will be subjected to this requirement twice.

Although one can be subject to the requirement on multiple occasions, one can meet the multiple requirements concurrently. The international student/scholar only needs to spend two years in their home country after the J-1 last program to meet the requirements. But if the student wants to apply for a waiver, a waiver for each individual program will be needed.

Also, generally you cannot petition for an Adjustment of Status to permanent resident if you have not met the foreign residency requirement. But if you get a J-1 waiver, you can petition for an Adjustment of Status.

What is the Two-Year Repeat Participation Bar?

Individuals who come to the U.S. in the “Research Scholar” or “Professor” categories are also subject to the two-year repeat participation bar. This means that Exchange Visitors who have completed their stays in the U.S. in either of these categories are not eligible to apply for a stay in the U.S. in either of these categories for two whole years.

This regulation is not the same as the two-year home residency requirement and it cannot be waived. But this regulation only applies to these two J-1 categories and it has no effect on eligibility for any other visa category or status such as Exchange Visitors in the “Short-Term Scholar” and “Student” categories.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

If you have a J-1 visa, it is important to understand whether you are subject to the two-year foreign residency requirement and whether you qualify for a waiver. If you have specific questions regarding the J-1 visa, it would be beneficial to consult with an experienced immigration attorney.