The J1 visa is a provision for foreign nationals to participate in cultural exchange programs in the US. The exchange programs may be based on work, study, or research and participants range from students to researchers, professors, physicians, and more. Program duration for J1 visa holders may last from just a few weeks to several years and provides great opportunities for foreign nationals to gain work and study experience in the US, and to participate in US-based research projects. 

In a large majority of cases, J-1 visa holders are required to return to their country of origin for at least two years once their program is complete before they are allowed to pursue a different US visa option (the “two-year foreign residency requirement”). For individuals who wish to remain in the US for various reasons, the J1 waiver may be a workable solution.  

What is a J1 Visa Waiver?

The J1 Waiver allows eligible J-1 visa holders to have their two-year foreign residency requirement waived. Recipients of the waiver may then pursue a change in visa status without being required to return to their country of origin. Many waiver recipients choose to apply for H1B or L1 temporary visas or move directly toward permanent residency through EB1, EB2, EB3, EB4, or even EB5 for those with significant investment capital. A good immigration attorney will be able to guide you through all of the options so that you are able to make an informed decision to fulfill both your immigration and career goals.

How To Get a J1 Waiver

J1 visa waiver eligibility

There are five categories under which a J1 visa waiver may be granted.

  1. No Objection Statement: Applicants may obtain a “no objection statement” from an official in their country of origin. Foreign physicians who receive their graduate medical training in the US through the J1 status, however, are not eligible for this option. J1 holders on exchange funded directly or indirectly by the US government must also obtain a “no objection statement” from the funding agency in addition to their home country.
  2. Request by an Interested US Federal Government Agency: The agency should submit a signed letter directly to the Waiver Review Division explaining why the waiver would be in the best public interest of the US, and/or why the return of the applicant to their home country would be a loss to the agency. If the applicant is a foreign physician, the agency must also send further documents and evidence including a signed employment contract.
  3. Persecution: The persecution may be based on the applicant’s race, religion, or political opinion, and the persecutor may be the government of the home country, or a non-government group that is not restrained by the government. This category requires applicants to prove that they will be subject to persecution through a separate Form I-612. Only after USCIS makes a finding of persecution based on this form will the application be considered.
  4. Exceptional Hardship to a US Citizen (or lawful permanent resident) Spouse or Child: Mere separation from the applicant’s spouse or child or hardships pertaining only to the foreign applicant are not considered sufficient. Hardships to spouse or child may include mental and physical conditions that need to be treated in the US, spouse’s career, current conditions in the applicant’s home country, financial circumstances, and educational opportunities.
  5. Request by a Designated State Public Health Department or its Equivalent (Conrad State 30 Program): This program allows the designated health entity to request a waiver on behalf of a physician under J1 status. The applicant must have been offered a full-time job with the health care department or facility within a designated shortage area, must agree in writing to work 40 hours per week for a minimum of three years, and begin work within 90 days of the approval of the waiver.

J1 waiver application

The J1 waiver application process involves a formal application Form DS-3035 with barcode, along with the supporting documents and an application fee. Depending on the eligibility category under which the applicant is filing, documents and evidence to support these categories will also need to be submitted.

J1 waiver documents

The basic J1 waiver documents help to establish identity and the purposes for which the applicant visited the US under J1 status. Legible copies of each Form DS-2019/IAP-66 ever issued to the applicant should be submitted as part of the evidence. Supporting documents such as the “no objection statement” or documents from the requesting federal agency or health entity should be directly submitted without going through the applicant. Form I-612 must be submitted for applicants filing under persecution or hardship categories.

J1 waiver timeline

The timeline for a J1 waiver application varies from case to case. Approximately one month after submission, however, applicants can easily begin to keep track on the status of their case through the J Visa Waiver Online webpage where any required missing documents will also be indicated.

J1 visa waiver fee

There is a non-refundable application fee of $120 for each waiver application payable by either money order or check to the “US Department of State”. The application, barcode, and fee must all be submitted together.

Choosing a reliable lawyer for your J1 waiver application is an important step in the process to increase your chances of approval. A good immigration attorney with plenty of experience with J1 waivers is a huge key to the success of your case. Additionally, it is wise to consider seeking immigration counsel that can competently guide you in your next steps toward your new status once your waiver has been approved.

Our attorneys at Immigration General Counsel have a passion for seeing your immigration goals come to fruition. The J1 visa waiver is one of our specialties and we excel at obtaining approvals for some of the most complicated cases, including for physicians. We are also highly experienced in a variety of other employment based visas, both temporary and permanent, including H1B, L1, EB1, EB2, EB3, EB4, and EB5, as well as the fiancé visa to help guide your smooth transition of status in the US. As a boutique-style firm, our immigration attorneys are committed to providing personalized service and counsel, walking with you every step of the way.

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