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J-1 Visa Waiver: Frequently Asked Questions

J-1 Visa Waiver FAQ

A J-1 visa waiver is sought in order to bypass the rule that requires J-1 holders to be physically present in their home country for two years. Our office often gets questions regarding J-1 visas, their waivers, and the best way for them to be approached for a favorable outcome. Common topics of discussion include what to do after receiving a J-1 visa waiver denial, processing and application-related inquiries, the different types of statutory bases, and more. In this post, we’ll answer 50 of the most frequently asked J-1 waiver questions. If your concern is not addressed in this J-1 visa FAQ post, it’s best to consult an immigration professional.

IMPORTANT UPDATE (6/24/2020): President Trump has just signed a proclamation suspending the stamping of all H-1B, L, and J visas in an effort to decrease competition in the recovering U.S. job market after COVID-19. You can read more about the proclamation and its impact in our recent update.

J-1 Visa Waiver: Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the J-1 waiver and related documentation.

 

How do I know if I am subject to the two-year home-country physical presence requirement?

 

In most cases, exchange visitor sponsors inform concerned J-1 participants about this requirement. You are subject to the two-year home-country physical requirement if your J-1 exchange visitor program meets any of the following qualifications:

  • Government-Funded Exchange Program: You participated in a J-1 program that was wholly or partly funded by your home country’s government, a U.S. government agency, or an international organization that received funding from your home country’s government or the United States government. 
  • Specialized Knowledge or Skill: You participated in a J-1 program involving a field or an area of study of specialized knowledge deemed to be necessary for the continued development of your home country and appears on this Exchange Visitor Skills List for your home country.
  • Graduate Medical Training or Education: You participated in a J-1 program to receive graduate medical training or education.

On what grounds can I apply for a waiver?

 

 

According to the Department of State Waiver Eligibility webpage, there are five bases that you can use to apply for a waiver. You can only apply under one of those five grounds. Before filing an application for a waiver, you will need to review the requirements and select the appropriate basis for your own case. The five bases are as follows:

  • No Objection Statement
  • Persecution
  • Request by an Interested United States Federal Government Agency
  • Exceptional Hardship to a U.S. Citizen or (or permanent resident) Spouse or Child of an Exchange Visitor
  • Request by a Designated State Public Health Department or its Equivalent 

What is a “No Objection” letter? 

 

A “no objection” letter indicates that the applicant’s home country government permits waiving the two-year home residency requirement. This statement can be obtained by first contacting your home country’s consulate at the embassy. After obtaining a case number from the Department of State (DOS), you could then have your home country’s embassy submit the statement.

 

How do I apply for a waiver?

 

You can apply for your J-1 visa waiver by completing the DS-3035 form. The application form can be submitted online or via email.

 

What are the J-1 visa waiver supporting documents?

 

You should submit your application with copies of all DS-2019/IAP 566 forms issued to you as well as your application fee. Others include proof of eligibility under the waiver basis you are applying for (e.g. the No Objection Statement from your home country or proof of persecution).

 

What is the application processing fee?

 

You will need to pay a nonrefundable DS-3035 form processing fee of $120.

 

If my application for a waiver is denied, can I use the same fee for another waiver request?

 

Unfortunately, the fee is a processing fee, meaning it is for each application filed whether approved or denied. You will have to pay another processing fee for your new waiver application. However, you should use the same case number you used in the first application for any subsequent requests you will submit.

 

 What’s the time length for the “no objection” process?

 

While all cases may vary depending on the circumstances, the no objection process can take anywhere from a few months to six months. The processing speed is determined by how fast your home country’s department operates.

 

What if I can’t get a “No Objection Letter” from my home country?

 

If the government in your home country will not issue a No Objection letter on your behalf, then you may apply for a waiver under one of the other available bases, if your situation qualifies. In the event that your government doesn’t issue a NO Objection Statement and you do not qualify under another basis, then you must fulfill the two-year home-country physical presence requirement.

 

How can I appeal a denial of waiver application? 

 

Unlike other types of decisions that you can appeal, since so much attention is given to J-1 visa decisions, you cannot appeal a denial. The good news is that if your application was denied under one basis, you can review the other available bases and reapply for a waiver under the one you are most qualified for.

 

Why would an application for a waiver be denied?

 

Your waiver application can be denied when the reasons you gave for the waiver do not outweigh the home-country physical presence program and foreign considerations of the J-1 exchange visitor program. For this reason, waiver applications from J-1 participants who received the U.S. government funding are generally denied.

 

What are the statutory bases you can apply for a J-1 waiver under? 

 

There are five bases you can apply for a waiver under. They include a “no objection” statement from the home country, an IGA waiver, claim of persecution, and claim of exceptional hardship. To get a better explanation of each one of these statutory bases, click on the links in blue.

 

Can I apply for a waiver recommendation based on exceptional hardship and persecution simultaneously?

 

No. As much as the two bases appear to be somewhat similar, they have different eligibility criteria. If your situation makes you qualify for a waiver under both persecution and exceptional hardship to your U.S. citizen or permanent resident child or spouse persecution, you will have to choose one out of the two bases and apply accordingly. If your waiver is denied for one, you can always reapply through the other, though a new processing fee will be required.

What is the J-1 visa waiver processing time?

 

The processing times vary, depending on the recommendation basis you are requesting for a waiver and how well-filed your application is. The estimated processing time can be four to eight weeks under recommendation bases like State Public Health Department, Interested U.S. Federal Government Agency, and No Objection Statement. For Persecution and Exceptional Hardship, the processing time ranges from three to four months, so it’s important to plan accordingly and submit your waiver request with enough time to spare.

 

 What is the duration of a J-1 visa program? 

 

The length of a J-1 visa program is dependent on the program category you’re in and the program sponsor. If you are a high school student under J-1 status, that duration could be as little as one year. However, for professors, scholars, and other specialized professionals, the duration period is usually up to five years.

A 30-day grace period also extends after the visa validation period so that you can get your affairs in order before leaving the U.S.

 

How long after my J-1 status expires can I stay in the United States? 

 

The grace period once your J-1 visa status expires is 30 days. After that point, you are no longer ‘legally’ in the country. Being considered “out of status” can have serious ramifications, including possible deportation. This could impact your ability to return to the U.S. in the future.

 

Before I can apply for the program, must I first identify a sponsor?

 

The requirements state that before you can apply for a J-1 visa, you must have a program sponsor and have been accepted into their Exchange Visitors Program. This applies to both students and workers who wish to work in the U.S. under J-1 status.

 

 What are the extra fees required to obtain a J-1 visa? 

 

In order to successfully obtain a J-1 visa, you are responsible for the visa issuance fee if your current country charges U.S. citizens for a similar type of visa. For instance, the United Arab Emirates charges U.S. citizens $52 to obtain a J-1 visa for the UAE.

 

Can I work for another company while on J-1 visa status? 

 

Based on the terms of the J-1 visa, as a J-1 holder, you are allowed to work for your J-1 sponsor and not for another employer unless you’ve received a special authorization.

 

 What do I do if my visa has expired during the program? 

 

If you do not plan to travel outside the U.S. and your visa has expired, then you don’t necessarily need to renew your visa. However, if you do travel outside the country and your J-1 visa is expired, you need to apply for a new one in your home country before you can reenter the U.S. to finish your program. Keep in communications with your J-1 visa sponsor because it’s their responsibility to assist you in those matters.

 

 Who should I reach out to if I have concerns regarding my J-1 visa or J-1 waiver? 

 

You should contact your supervisor whose name/phone is listed on Form DS-2019.

 

 Do these sponsors only work in one state? 

 

Not necessarily. You can find the locations of the sponsor organizations on the official website. Most sponsors assign participants to multiple locations in the United States.

 

 If my IAP-66 and I-94 are still valid, but my visa is expired, can I leave and reenter the country? 

 

You need a new visa to come back to the U.S. The immigration attorneys at SGM Law Group can help you navigate the complex process and ensure your J-1 visa is issued in time for you to reenter the United States.

 

If I’m a J-1 researcher, am I able to change my status to a J-1 student?

 

This question really varies from case to case. Some J-1 sponsors require you to apply for a new visa and reenter the country before adjusting your status. It’s best to consult one of our immigration attorneys regarding a scenario like this.

 

Are there any other requirements to get a J-1 visa?

 

Aside from having a program sponsor, a J-1 applicant has to demonstrate to the consular officer that they intend to stay in the U.S. for only a limited period and have the necessary monetary funds to cover all expenses within the country as well as social/economic ties to their home country.

 

Where can I see what my legal status is while I am a J-1 holder?

 

You can refer to Forms IAP-66 and I-94 to determine your status. The abbreviation D/S on your I-94 indications duration of status (how long you can legally stay).

 

How are J-1 visas and O-1 visas alike/different?

 

If you are not able to acquire a J-1 visa before the maximum term expiring, the employer may be able to apply for an O-1 visa on behalf of the J-1 holder. To learn about applying for an O-1 visa, click here.

 

Is a J-2 visa holder able to enter the country prior to a J-1 principal holder?

 

No, they cannot. The child or spouse of the primary J-1 visa holder must enter after or at the same time as the primary beneficiary the first time. After that, the J-2 holder is able to travel to and from the U.S. freely with or without the J-1 visa holder.

 

Is a J-2 visa holder allowed to work? 

 

They can work in the U.S. after filing an I-765 Application for Employment Authorization with USCIS. Once they receive approval, they’ll then be able to legally work.

 

Does the two-year rule also apply to dependents of a J-1 visa holder?

 

It does apply. Individuals who enter the U.S. as J-2 dependents are subject to the same restrictions as the J-1 holder. If the J-1 holder’s visa is terminated, then any associated J-2 visas will also be terminated.

 

I received J-1 status while I was a citizen of Country X. Rather than returning to that country in order to fulfill my 2-year foreign residency requirement, I wish to go to County Y and become a citizen. Can I return to the U.S. with H status if I stay in Country Y for 2 years? 

 

The 2-year requirement must be fulfilled in the same country that you were living in while you received your J-1 visa status.

 

Can I serve my two-year home-country presence requirement in the U.S. or a third country?

 

Yes, the time spent in the United States or a third country after the completion of your exchange visitor may count as a fulfillment of the home country presence requirement, but only on one condition. The time will count as a fulfillment of the requirement if you are employed by your home country’s government to serve in its military or foreign service in another country at the request of your home country’s government. You will have to get a letter to that effect from an official of your home country.

 

What is the Exchange Visitors skills list? 

 

The State Department compiles this list and indicates the skills required by each country. You can find this list on this website here.

 

Can I Extend My J-1 Visa?

 

Yes. Because the duration of stay varies with each category and occupation, your program sponsor will have control over your stay. If you maintain the qualifications, then the sponsor will be able to extend your stay up to a maximum of five years.

 

 What is an advisory opinion? 

 

This is a statement that’s issued by the WRD (Waiver Review Division) which declares whether you need to fulfill the 2-year residency requirement.

 

Where do I submit this information?

 

Mail copies of your forms and a request for the opinion to:

U.S. Department of State

CA/VO/L/W, Visa Services

2401 E Street, NW, (SA-1)

Washington, DC 20522-0106

 

Which of the country’s skills must I possess? 

 

Refer to the country in which you were a legal resident of at the time you obtained your J-1 visa to determine the answer.

 

I came to the U.S. with a J-1 visa that is subject to the 2-year rule, but I want to change my J-1 program?

 

While this is a question best addressed by an immigration professional, it’s generally not a good idea to change your J-1 program. If you do change your program, you risk being subject to the 2-year restriction twice.

 

Am I able to file an immigration petition (I-140) or an I-130 petition while under the residency requirement? 

 

Luckily, filing for either one of these will not affect your status, and they allow you to obtain a Perm. Residency status in the future.

 

How can I obtain a green card as a J-1 visa holder? 

 

There are three scenarios in which you can do this. You can file an immigration petition and J-1 waiver concurrently, file the J-1 waiver first then a petition after it’s approved. Or, file the petition first, and then a J-1 waiver after the petition is granted.

 

Is it possible for my J-1 visa to be terminated? 

 

There are grounds for termination of your J-1 visa, including failure to complete the exchange activities, failure to have insurance coverage that’s required under 22 CFR 62.14 and unauthorized employment.

For students, there is often a requirement that involves maintaining a certain grade point average. If the visa holder consistently fails to meet this standard, your visa could be terminated despite having more time available in your period of stay.

 

What is a “threat of persecution” as it applies to a J-1 visa waiver or otherwise?

 

A threat of persecution can be based on any one of these grounds: race, religion, or political opinion. On this note, you must prove that you will be subject to persecution; not necessarily past persecution.

 

What is IGA refer to? 

 

IGA refers to the interested government agency. This is a U.S. Federal Government Agency that has a vested interest in the visitor staying in the U.S. if they’re working on an assignment or project of interest to that agency.

 

What is the first step in Obtaining a DOS recommendation? 

 

The first step is for applicants to send their datasheet to the review division with two self-addressed envelopes and the appropriate fees. 

 

What happens after you submit your datasheet to the WRD?

 

At that point, DOS will send you your case number and instruction sheets for the waiver. You’ll be given further instructions thereafter.

 

How do I know whether I qualify for an IGA waiver? 

 

Individuals who are subject to the foreign residency requirement who have also confronted the challenges regarding the “no objection letter” are those who usually seek an IGA waiver.

 

What are the categories under a J-1 visa?

 

The categories include research scholars, professors, short-term scholars, students, and specialists. Be sure to speak with your immigration attorney and your program sponsor to learn what the requirements are for each category.

 

What is the easiest way to waive the 2 year home country requirement?

 

Some say the simplest procedure is through a “no objection” letter. Other options include waivers based on exceptional hardship and fear of persecution. Because the circumstances surrounding each case vary greatly, any method of obtaining a J-1 waiver may be the easiest.

 

How can an organization apply to be a J-1 sponsor?

 

Organizations, including educational institutions, private firms, research institutions and other agencies must be pre-approved by the DOS.

 

How can I get copies of my lost DS-2019 or IAP-66 Forms?

 

It’s best to contact the officer responsible for your exchange program in order to get copies.

 

If my sponsor decides to end or terminate my program, what happens? 

 

The information that your program has been terminated will be submitted into SEVIS. From there you won’t have a grace period and will be required to leave the U.S. immediately or be considered “out of status”.

 

What happens if I decide to withdraw from my J-1 exchange program?

 

You need to notify your sponsor if you withdraw. They’ll then enter the information into SEVIS. Again, you will not have a grace period and will be required to leave the U.S.

 

What is the health insurance requirement? 

 

All exchange visitors and/or accompanying dependents need to have health insurance coverage. If your program provides health coverage, you can then file a waiver for the mandatory insurance requirement.

 

Can family members visit me while on J-1 status? 

 

Unless they are your children under 21 or a spouse, family members should apply for a B-1 or B-2 visitors visa to temporarily visit the U.S.

 

If I intend to travel out of the country, what will I need in order to reenter?

 

If you’re planning to travel, you need to first make sure that your DS-2019 is not expiring soon and that it’s been dated less than a year from the point of planned re-entry.

 

What’s the process to renew a J visa? 

 

You can apply for the visa outside the country at a U.S. consulate.

 

 If I was previously on J-1 visa, does that mean I cannot reapply? 

 

No. Even if you have previously been on J-1 status, you can apply for another one assuming it’s been more than 2 years since the end of your last training program.

 

How can I get health insurance coverage since it is required? 

 

CIP/CIP USA offer health insurance through their HTH Worldwide Insurance.

 

Am I required to pay taxes on my salary if I’m receiving wages on my J-1 visa? 

 

This question and others having to do with your salary are best posed to your sponsor.

 

Who can I call for help with my J-1 visa waiver? 

 

The lawyers at SGM Law Group have years of experience dealing with J-1 waiver cases. Have additional J-1 waiver questions or concerns? Fill out this form to schedule your immigration consultation.

How Our Immigration Attorneys can Help

The J-1 waiver application can be complex and rigorous due to the level of thoroughness required to convince the immigration officials of your eligibility. That’s why we’re here to help. 

At our firm, we have a team of highly experienced J-1 visa attorneys with extensive knowledge of the waiver request application process. We have helped many of our clients file and receive approval for their waiver request. We will help you look at the recommendation basis you are most qualified for and prepare your request in line with the immigration requirements. Would you like to schedule an appointment with one of our J-1 lawyers today? Getting in touch with us is as simple as filling out this consultation form.

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