J-1 Foreign Physicians & the Two-Year Foreign Residency Requirement
Physicians who are in the United States in J-1 exchange visitor status and seek to remain in the US, must first contend with the two-year foreign residency requirement. Waivers are available for this requirement in certain circumstances. If you have questions about the J-1 exchange visitor nonimmigrant visa and would like to consult with an attorney, contact The Law Firm of Shihab & Associates. We have over 50 years of combined legal experience in a wide variety of complex and immigration law matters.
If you are a foreign national and a physician, the J-1 exchange visitor visa may seem like a good path for you to practice medicine in the US because the visa is easier to get than other employment-based visas. Also, your spouse would be eligible for a J-2 visa and be granted employment authorization.
What is the foreign residency requirement?
As a foreign physician the J-1 visa would subject you to the two-year foreign residency requirement. This requirement has rather harsh consequences. This means that you will not be permitted to do any of the following unless you first return to your home country for at least two cumulative years:
- Cannot change from the J-1 visa to a temporary worker H or change to a intercompany transferee L visa;
- Cannot become a permanent resident (green card);
- Cannot get an immigrant visa (green card) from a US embassy or consulate abroad;
- Cannot get an H visa, L visa, or a fiancé K visa from a US embassy or consulate abroad;
The foreign residency requirement does not mean you must return home for two years. What it does mean is that you cannot do any of those four things until you complete the two-year foreign residency requirement. You cannot get an H-1B specialty occupation visa. You are forbidden from getting any type of immigrant visa (green card). Even if your spouse is a United States citizen, you cannot get a green card.
What waivers of this rule are available and do I qualify?
You may be able to request a waiver of the two-year home-country physical presence requirement provided you meet certain criteria:
- Obtaining a no objection statement from your home country government;
- Upon request by an interested US federal government agency;
- If you will face persecution if you return to your home country;
- If your US citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse or child will suffer extreme hardship as a result;
- Upon request by a designated State Public Health Department or equivalent.
Other options if a waiver is not available
If you cannot or do not wish to seek a J-1 waiver, you may want to think about changing status to a visa that is not prohibited by the foreign residency requirement. These would include the O visa, E visa, and TN visa. If you would like further information about the J-1 exchange visitor nonimmigrant visa or any other immigration matter, please contact our immigration attorneys at The Law Firm of Shihab & Associates, Co., LPA to schedule a consultation with an attorney at an office near you.