The most sought after visas by International Medical Graduates (IMGs) are the H-1B and J-1 visas, two visas that differ significantly. A previous post discussed H-1B visas for IMGs. In the present post I’ll discuss the basic requirements for J-1 Visa sponsorship, what separates a J-1 visa from a H-1B visa, and how IMGs can use the J-1 visa waivers to their advantage. But first, what is a J-1 visa? The J-1 visa program was established by congress in 1948 to enhance international educational and cultural exchange between the United States and other nations. According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the J-1 visa is authorized for those who intend to participate in an approved program for the purpose of teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, receiving training, or to receive graduate medical education or training. Read more at: https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/students-and-exchange-visitors/exchange-visitors.
Although US universities and research institutions are authorized to sponsor Exchange Visitors in the categories of student or research scholar, the designated sponsor for all J-1 Exchange Visitor physicians who participate in clinical training programs is the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). The J-1 visa is governed by specific regulatory requirements. Thus, the ECFMG is responsible to ensure that all Exchange Visitors and host institutions meet the federal requirements for participation. ECFMG is responsible for monitoring the arrival and training progression of J-1 physicians through the creation and maintenance of an electronic record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). The IMG’s responsibilities include updating contact information, acquiring medical insurance that meets the regulatory insurance requirements, and obtaining a valid travel signature for all travels outside of the US. The electronic record, SEVIS, can be terminated when an IMG fails to meet compliance requirements. You will be expected to leave the US immediately. The ECFMG and the training program liaison must also meet their responsibilities. Make time to learn of these responsibilities. In other words, know your rights.
Some requirements for J-1 Visa sponsorship include full-time participation in an approved graduate medical education training program, ability to prove strong ties to your home Country, acceptance of the two-year home country physical presence requirement (if enrolled in clinical training), and compliance with all US laws and regulations pertaining to foreign nationals. For additional terms and requirements please visit the ECFMG website at http://www.ecfmg.org/evsp/requirements.html. Based on research and comments from J-1 visa holders, the requirement that is most often inquired about is the two-year home country physical presence (2-year rule). What is this 2-year rule that is dreaded by most J-1 visa holders? Simply put, the 2-year rule means you must reside and be physically present in your “home” country for 2 years before being eligible for certain immigration benefits, including applying for a green card. This separates a J-1 visa from a H1-B visa. The H-1B visa holders are not subject to the 2-year rule. Some J-1 visa holders are unaware that they are subject to the 2-year rule. Needless to say, this makes a difficult situation even worse.
If you were not told, how do you know you are subject to the 2-year rule? As of 2016, this will be shown at the left corner on your DS-2019 Form, the “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status”, or at the bottom of your J-1 entry visa. There, you will read: “BEARER IS SUBJECT TO 212(E). TWO YEAR RESIDENCY RULE DOES APPLY” or “BEARER IS NOT SUBJECT…” You may also request an Advisory Opinion from the Department of State. What if you are subject to the 2-year rule? You can have a positive attitude by viewing this as one way to give back to your country. While there, you can strengthen your credentials, especially in the area of research. This will give you more career options when you return to the US, if that is your desire. If you are unable to return to your home country to fulfill the 2-year rule, a waiver to the 2-year rule is possible. You must obtain a waiver approved by the Department of State. Review the information at https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/study-exchange/student/residency-waiver.html. Some U.S. government sponsors will not object to a waiver if the Waiver Review Division informs them that the home country government has issued a letter of ‘No Objection” (if your home government funded your exchange program). However, IMGs sponsored by the ECFMG to do clinical training cannot apply for a waiver based on a letter of “No Objection”. Waivers can also be granted based on fear of persecution and exceptional hardships to the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse or child of the J-1 IMG. If your J-1 waiver based on a letter of “No Objection” was rejected, you can reapply for a waiver using one of the reasons stated above, where applicable. If your waiver is granted, you are no longer eligible for an extension. To learn more about your responsibilities after being granted a waiver, visit https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/students-and-exchange-visitors/conrad-30-waiver-program.
What else should you know about the 2-year rule? You can travel to the US during the 2 years you are in your home country. The 2- year rule is cumulative, meaning the period of residence must total two years. Consider this scenario: A J-1 physician returned to the home country for 16 months, then departed the home country for 3 years. To satisfy the 2-year rule (24 months), he or she need only reside in the home country for an additional 8 months. (16 months plus 8 months= 24 months) The same is true if he or she departed the home country for only 3 months. He or she will only have to do 21 months. Needless to say, one needs to keep good records to show evidence of all travels.
What about your family? ECFMG is authorized to sponsor the spouse and unmarried minor children (under age 21) of the J-1 Exchange Visitor physician as J-2 dependents. Make sure you have all documentations, proof of relationship, and birth certificates. Don’t forget school transcripts for your children, even your spouse. Your minor children are permitted to attend school while on J-2 visas and so is your J-2 dependent spouse; he or she can study in the US. A J-2 visa holder is also permitted to work after he or she files an application for employment authorization and the application is approved.
Some J-1 visa cases are very complex. Some J-1 visa holders have been subject to the 2-year rule twice. For others, both the J-1 visa holder and the dependent are subject to the 2-year rule. These and other cases may require the services of an immigration lawyer. It is beyond the scope of this post to cover the eligibility, the filing procedures, documentation requirements, J-1 waivers, and other issues related to J-1 visa sponsorship. For detailed and up-to-date information, please visit the USCIS, ECFMG and Department of State websites.
Was this article helpful? Ask a question. We’ll endeavor to answer it.