J-1 Visa for Exchange Visitors

The J-1 visa category is used by foreign students, scholars, experts, medical interns and residents, international visitors, and industry and business trainees to enter the U.S. as “exchange visitors”, in U.S. government approved Exchange-Visitor programs, for the purpose of gaining experience, studying, or doing research in their respective fields. The duration of stay varies depending on the exchange visitor category that is used. As with other non-immigrant visas, the foreign national must maintain a foreign residence that s/he has no intention of abandoning.

A U.S. sponsor must proceed,

  • through an already existing program within their own organization
  • by bringing J visa holders to the U.S. through another organization’s program
  • by establishing their own exchange-visitor program by applying to the Department of State.

Certain categories of exchange visitors must spend an aggregate of two years following completion of their program in their home country. This is known as the two year home residency rule. This means that the foreign national is not permitted to change to H-1B status or lawful permanent residence until s/he has returned to the home country for a two year period.

Foreign scientists are most commonly subject to the two year home residency rule for the following reasons: 1) S/he is on the “skills list” maintained by the DOS, meaning that s/he is engaged in a field that is designated by the home government as being in short supply in that country, 2) the exchange visit was financed, directly or indirectly, by the U.S. or a foreign country’s government, or (3) the exchange visitor has come to the U. S. to participate in a residency or fellowship program.

Fortunately, there are several ways to apply for a waiver of the home residency rule.