One of the biggest problems with the J-1 Visa is that it sometimes comes with the two-year home-country physical presence (foreign residence) requirement attached with it. Before we get any further, as defined by the US Department of State, the two-year home-country physical presence (foreign residence) requirement is imposed on the following situations:

  • Government funded exchange program – The program in which the exchange visitor was participating was financed in whole or in part directly or indirectly by the U.S. government or the government of the exchange visitor’s nationality or last residence.

    • This includes scholarships and fellowships that were awarded from public schools in your home country; since public schools are at least partially funded by your country’s government. Even if the scholarship or award was not directly financed by your country government and through other means such as private donation or the school’s endowment, the Department of the State does not care. They do not dig into details about the source of the funding; as long as the funding came from a public school, you will be imposed with this requirement

  • Graduate medical education or training – The exchange visitor entered the U.S. to receive graduate medical education or training

    • This is the main source of J-1 two-year foreign residency requirements, because anyone who comes to America to receive any type of medical education or training is immediately imposed with this requirement

  • Specialized knowledge or skill: Skills List – The exchange visitor is a national or permanent resident of a country which has deemed the field of specialized knowledge or skill necessary to the development of the country, as shown on the Exchange Visitor Skills List.

    • The list can be accessed here: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_4514.html

    • What this means is that if you came to America to study in any of the skills listed in that website for your country, you will be imposed with this two-year foreign residency requirement because the particular skill you came here to study is deemed critical to the development of your country and the US government wants you to go home and help your home country.



 

If you have not yet applied for a J-1 visa to come to the USA to study, you can avoid this whole situation by financing the education yourself using the F-1 visa. Now I understand that you may not be able to do that because you don’t have the money, but if you do, then you can avoid this process altogether because the F-1 visa does not have this two year foreign residency requirement at all, even if you came here to study medicine and other specialized skills. However, F-1 visa isn’t really for an exchange study; it is designed to pursue a full program of study. Try asking your school to see if they can apply the F-1 visa for you instead of the J-1 visa during your exchange. If you do this, you will definitely have less headaches later if you do decide to immigrate to America.

 

So what does this two-year foreign residency do to you? Well if you plan on immigrating to America, you will have a serious problem. This requirement is categorized as one of the main reasons why you could be denied on your immigration process to America. If you did not return to your home country and stay an aggregate of two years before trying to submit any type of immigration application, such as marriage to US citizens to get green cards, K-1 visas for fiance, or even the diversity lottery if you win it. You will most certainly be denied.

  • Note, this does not mean you cannot come to America for two years continuously. The law defines the foreign residency requirement by cumulative two years. So this means that if you went home after the J-1, stayed for 1 year and came back to America for a vacation or even an F-1 visa and after say 6 months or 3 years, then went back to your home country for another year, you will have fulfilled this requirement.

  • Yes, it is still possible to get any type of non-immigrant visa even if you have this requirement, such as F-1, B-2, B-1, E-2, etc. So technically you can go home, apply for another F-1 visa and come back to America again, but keep in mind you must fulfill the two year requirement before you can immigrate to America.

  • Temporary non-immigrant visas for working in America, such a H or L are actually not allowed if you have this requirement. I think this is because most L or H visa holders intend on immigrating to America.

Ok, so the first step is to get a free Advisory Opinion on your J-1 visa directly from the Department of State. Check out the post on Part 2 – Advisory Opinion.