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Generally, J-1 physicians are required to return home and use their skills in their home country for at least two years before they are able to return to the U.S. This requirement is outlined in the exchange visitor visa rule and is mandatory for J-1 visa holders who have obtained medical training or education during their stay in the United States. The two-year home-country presence requirement is backed by the Immigration Nationality Act, section 212(e).
However, in some situations, this requirement can be waived for some J-1 physicians if they meet certain criteria for the waiver. If you apply for and obtain a J-1 waiver, you would be eligible to continue living and working in the U.S. immediately after your program without having to return to your home country first.
There are five bases under which a J-1 exchange visitor can apply for a waiver of the two-year home-country presence requirement. You will need to qualify for at least one of those bases and apply accordingly. Each of them has its own application process and requirements. They are:
While a physician can qualify for a J-1 waiver under any of those bases, the last two last bases are the most common ones granted to physicians.
The Conrad 30 Waiver Program began in 1994 through Public Law aimed at addressing physician shortages. It is named after a former North Dakota Senator, Kent Conrad, who sponsored the bill.
The program allows each U.S. state department to seek J-1 visa waivers for up to 30 foreign exchange visitor physicians per year. To qualify for the waiver under this program as a physician, you must be willing to work in federally designated “Health Professional Shortage Areas” or “Medically Underserved Areas.”
You must also agree to provide safety-net healthcare services for the medically underserved and indigent in those areas for at least three years. Under the program, a state can assign up to 10 of its 30 waiver slots to locations outside the designated areas if the employer can prove that the J-1 physician will provide care to patients residing in shortage areas. This arrangement is known as FLEX 10 and is administered at each state’s discretion.
After submitting the main waiver application to the Department of State (DOS), other supporting documents may be submitted on your behalf by the concerned third-party organization. The specific basis under which you are applying for a waiver will determine the exact documents to submit and the third-party organization to submit them. The following are the possible bases and the organization to involve:
You may also be required to provide certain supplementary items and the requirements may vary by state. However, in most cases, the following are usually required:
NOTE: Due to the possible variation in the requirements by states, it is important for each sponsoring employer to consult their state’s Primary Care Office (PCO) to have the full details of the exact items needed for the request.
International Medical Graduates, also referred to as IMGs, have faced added challenged in securing many benefits deemed by the United States immigration laws and codes, despite having the fulfilled medical residencies within the country.
Since the early 90s, there has been a big push on the part of hospitals, federal/state agencies and independent groups to begin issuing temporary work visas and permanent residence to international medical graduates. What’s more, more and more programs have opted to issue temporary visas, H-1B visas, to IMGs rather than the traditional J-1 waivers for doctors (J-1 visas).
What separates J-1 visas from H-1B visas? H-1B visas allow IMGs to circumvent the law which requires individuals on J-1 visas to fulfill the two-year physical presence requirement in their home country after finishing their medical residency and/or fellowship in the United States.
States around the U.S. require that International Medical Graduates successfully pass tests and fulfill a medical residency program prior to being issued a license. However, since it is required for IMGs to obtain J-1 visas to fulfill a medical residency and/or fellowship in the U.S., they are subject to the 2-year foreign residency requirement. They can, however, obtain J-1 waivers for doctors by demonstrating that they would be:
Generally, a J-1 visa waiver can be recommended by any U.S. federal government agency. However, when it comes to the J-1 waiver for physicians, only a few agencies are given that responsibility. They are:
However, for some agencies, obtaining a recommendation from the HHS can be an option if they meet the Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) score of seven or greater. Examples include Rural Health Clinics (RHCs), Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHCs), and American Indian/Alaskan Native tribal medical facilities as defined by the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.
Apart from those, there are also two regional commissions that operate as federal-state partnerships that can recommend J-1 visa waivers. These two agencies only recommend waivers for physicians working within their geographic jurisdiction. They are:
Based on the original laws, only agencies of the federal government were permitted to sponsor IMGs for waivers from the 2-year home requirement. Due to such strong opposition, the new law was enacted in the mid-90s which allowed state departments of public health to sponsor international medical graduates on J-1 waivers.
When it comes to a J-1 waiver for physicians, the process can be quite cumbersome. Read these J-1 Visa Waiver: 50 frequently asked questions to learn more.
If you would like the home-country presence requirement waived after your medical training or education, the best thing is to start working toward it while the program is still in progress. Your performance and dedication during the program can distinguish you from other waiver applicants.
For example, the more critical of a role you play during the program, the higher your chances will be of getting your program sponsor’s support when applying for a waiver. For instance, if you make a major contribution to ongoing medical research, patents, publications, and other important projects, this will likely give you a better chance of getting compelling recommendation letters that may play a big role in your waiver application.
In addition, if you are significantly involved in a project and your return to your home country may affect the project, your employer may use this as proof to support your waiver application.
How VisaNation Law Group Immigration Lawyers Can Help
Getting a J-1 visa waiver as a physician can be somewhat difficult, especially as most foreign countries need the skills of their internationally trained physicians back home. But you can make the process easier by working with an experienced immigration lawyer. And this is where we can come in.
VisaNation Law Group J-1 lawyers have an excellent track record of helping exchange visitors get a J-1 visa waiver in a timely manner. VisaNation Law Group attorneys are knowledgeable in deciding which program best fits the applicant’s needs and qualifications.
VisaNation Law Group immigration lawyers are able to assist you in determining an applicant’s eligibility for the J-1 visa waiver review application. The J-1 lawyers are experienced at completing the J-1 visa waiver for physicians. We are skilled at forming the best strategy in order to achieve success when applying for the J-1 waiver.
The good news is that you can contact and schedule an appointment with one of a VisaNation Law Group J-1 lawyers today by filling out this consultation form.