The 2-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement for J-1 Exchange Visitors
Some J-1 exchange visitors, depending on their field of study/research, and their J-2 dependents are required to return to their home country at the end of their program for a period of two years. The intent of this requirement is to have the home country benefit from the Exchange Visitor's experience in the U.S. Exchange Visitors come to this country for a specific objective such as pursuing a program of study or a research project. The requirement is intended to prevent a participant who is subject from staying longer than necessary, and to ensure that he/she will spend at least two years in the home country before returning to the U.S. for another activity.
Terms of the Requirement
If you are subject to the requirement, then you must "reside and be physically present" for a total of two years in either your country of nationality or your country of legal permanent residence, in order to be eligible for:
- An H, L, or immigrant visa, or for H, L, or immigrant status in the U.S. H includes temporary workers, trainees, and their dependents. L includes intracompany transferees and their dependents. An immigrant is the same as a permanent resident, or holder of a "green card."
- A change of your status, inside the U.S., from J to any other nonimmigrant classification except A or G. The A classification includes your home government's diplomats and representatives to the U.S. government, and their dependents. The G classification includes your government's representatives to international organizations, such as the United Nations, and their dependents.
Who is Subject to the Requirement?
You are subject to the Requirement if:
- Your J-1 participation is or was funded in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, by your home government or the U.S. government;
- As a J-1 Exchange Visitor, you are acquiring a skill that is in short supply in your home country, according to the U.S. government's "Exchange Visitor Skills List";
- You have participated as a J-1 in a graduate medical education or training program, i.e. a residency, internship, or fellowship, sponsored by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates; or
- You are the J-2 dependent of an Exchange Visitor who is subject to the requirement.
If you have ever been subject to the requirement in the past, and have neither obtained a waiver nor fulfilled it by spending two years in your country, the requirement still applies, even if a more current Form DS-2019 reflects no basis for such a requirement.
The visa stamp in your passport or your Form DS-2019, or both, may indicate whether or not you are subject to the requirement. These "preliminary endorsements" on Form DS-2019 are usually accurate but are not legally binding.
If you are unsure whether or not you are subject, consult the OISS staff or your J-1 Responsible Officer. Be sure to take your passport, all copies that you have of Forms DS-2019 and Forms I-94. The OISS staff or your Responsible Officer can often tell from the source of funding, or the Exchange Visitor Skills List, whether the requirement applies or not.
If you are still uncertain, you can write to the U.S. Department of State, which is responsible for the administration of the Exchange Visitor program and the two-year requirement. Address your letter to:
U.S. Department of State
CA/VO/L/W, Visa Services
2401 E Street, NW, (SA-1)
Washington, DC 20522-0106
Enclose copies of all your Forms DS-2019 and, in a cover letter, explain why you are uncertain whether you are subject or not, and ask for the State Department's advisory opinion. Send a stamped envelope indicating where you would like the Advisory Opinion to be mailed.
Waivers of the Requirement
Exchange visitors who are subject to, but do not wish to comply with, the two-year home country residence requirement, may apply for a waiver of that requirement under any one of the applicable grounds provided by the U.S. immigration law.
A Word of Caution
This information is intended only to help you understand the nature of the requirement, not to serve as a legal reference. Consult the OISS staff or your J-1 Responsible Officer if you are unsure whether or not you are subject.