The J-1 Visa or Exchange Visitor Program was established to (1) increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange; and (2) assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations between the United States and the other countries of the world. 

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a program that maintains information on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified schools and information on J-1 exchange visitor program sponsors and program participants. A form DS-2019, “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status” is the document used to administer the exchange visitor program. The DS-2019 identifies the exchange visitor and their sponsor, activities to be completed by the participant, start and end dates of the program, and an estimate of the total financial support required for the participant.

Two-Year Home Residence Requirement

Pursuant to INA § 212(e), a J-1 or J-2 exchange visitor is not eligible to apply for an immigrant visa, for permanent residence, or for a nonimmigrant visa in “H” or “L” categories (may obtain other nonimmigrant categories, including B-1/B-2, E-1/E-2, F-1, O, P, or R-1), until he or she been physically present in the country of his or her nationality for an aggregate of at least two years following departure from the United States:

  1. whose program was financed in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, by any agency of the United States Government or by the U.S. government or by the government his nationality or last legal permanent residence;
  2. Who at the time of admission or acquisition of J status was a national or legal permanent resident of a country designated as clearly requiring the services of persons engaged in the field of specialized knowledge or skill in which the exchange visitor was engaged; or
  3. Who came to the United States in or acquired J-1 status in order to receive graduate medical education or training.

A foreign national may waive the two-year home residence requirement by applying for a waiver. There are four types of waivers: (1) no-objection waivers, (2) hardship and persecution waivers, and (3) interested government agency waivers. 

No-Objection Waivers. No-Objection Waivers may be granted if the J-1's home country does not object to the J-1 not fulfilling the two-year requirement. The Department of State (DOS) will make a recommendation on whether to grant a waiver, but United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (USCIS) will make the final decision.

Hardship and Persecution Waivers. A hardship waiver may be granted upon the showing that a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse or child would suffer exceptional hardship if the J-1's waiver was denied. Factors that may be considered include physical or mental health conditions of family members or poor home country conditions. Persecution waivers are available to applicants who would be subject to persecution based on their race, religion, or political opinion in their home country.    

Interested Government Agency (IGA) Waiver. IGA waivers may be granted when a J-1's departure would be harmful to a government agency program. For physicians, state health departments can serve as IGAs for the purpose of using the Conrad State 30 Program. In general, the Conrad waiver program allows state health departments to sponsor 30 waiver applications each year to improve the quality of health care in designated underserved areas. 

Duration of J-1 Visa

The duration of J status depends on the category in which the person was admitted. A list of qualifying programs and their respective periods of stay can be found at 22 C.F.R. §§ 62.20-62.32.