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J-1 Visa: Cultural Exchange Work for Medical or Business Training

J-1 is a nonimmigrant visa issued to exchange visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange, especially to obtain medical or business training. The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program (J-1 Visa Program) currently includes 13 different exchange program categories. Depending on the particular category chosen, a visa obtained under the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program will allow a foreign national to work, train, or travel legally whilst experiencing life in the United States.

Physicians are subject to a number of unique provisions relating to their eligibility for visa issuance. Also because of the nature of U.S. licensing for medical doctors, physicians often obtain either J-1 visas or H-1B visas for substantial periods of time before they can actually practice medicine in the U.S. This in itself may impose special burdens on the physicians’ desire to be in the U.S. beyond training.

How to Apply for a J-1 Visa
  • Complete the Online Visa Application
  • Schedule an interview: While interviews are generally not required for applicants of certain ages outlined above, consular officers have the discretion to require an interview of any applicant, regardless of age. You must schedule an appointment for your visa interview, generally, at the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country where you live. You may schedule your interview at any U.S. embassy or consulate, but be aware that it may be difficult to qualify for a visa outside of your place of permanent residence.

Fee: Pay the non-refundable visa application fee, if you are required to pay it before your interview. When your visa is approved, you may also pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee, if applicable to your nationality.

Required Documents for a J-1 Visa Interview
  • Passport valid for travel to the U.S. – Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the U.S. (unless exempt by country-specific agreements). If more than one person is included in your passport, each person who needs a visa must submit a separate application.
    • Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS- 160 confirmation page Application fee payment receipt, if you are required to pay before your interview.
    • Photo – You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160.

Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status, Form DS-2019 – A SEVIS-generated Form DS-2019 is provided to you by your program sponsor after the sponsor enters your information in the SEVIS system. All exchange visitors, including their spouses and minor children, must be registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Each person receives a separate Form DS-2019.

J-1 Visa Eligibility

A J-1 exchange visitor who came to the United States or acquired such status in order to receive graduate medical education or training (a J-1 medical doctor) is generally ineligible to apply for:

  • An immigrant visa
  • Permanent residence
  • H or L nonimmigrant status

To be eligible to do so, a J-1 exchange visitor must have resided and been physically present in his or her country of nationality or last residence for at least 2 years (the 2-year foreign residence requirement) upon completion of the J-1 exchange visitor program. Any spouse or child admitted as an accompanying J-2 status holder is also subject to the 2-year foreign residence requirement. See section 212(e) of the INA. If you are unable to return to your home country to fulfill the two-year requirement, you must obtain a waiver approved by the Department of Homeland Security prior to changing status in the U.S. or being issued a visa in certain categories for travel to the U.S.

Waiver Process

In processing an application for hardship waiver, the case is submitted directly to the BCIS. After the BCIS makes a preliminary determination of hardship, the case is forwarded to the Waiver Review Branch of the United States Department of State (formerly USIA). In making this determination, the Waiver Review Branch will weigh the hardship to the U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident against the policy underlying the exchange visitor program. Normally, however, the DOS concurs with BCIS’s determination. After DOS’s concurrence, the BCIS issues the final approval.

Criteria For Attaining Waiver

A foreign exchange visitor can apply for a waiver based on one five statutory bases:

  1. “No objection” statement from visitor’s home country;
  2. Request from an Interested U.S. Government Agency (IGA Waiver);
  3. Claim of persecution in home country if visitor returns;
  4. Claim of exceptional hardship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or child if visitor returns to home country; or,
  5. Request from a designated State Health Agency: If you are a foreign medical graduate who obtained exchange visitor status to pursue graduate medical training or education, you may request a waiver of the two-year home-country physical presence requirement based on the request of a designated State Public Health Department or its equivalent, if you meet all of the following criteria:
    • have an offer of full-time employment at a health care facility in a designated health care professional shortage area or at a health care facility which serves patients from such a designated area;
    • agree to begin employment at that facility within 90 days of receiving a waiver; and
    • sign a contract to continue working at that health care facility for a total of 40 hours per week and for not less than three years.

Persecution explained: A J-1 physician may show that there is exceptional hardship in the home country, not be for the J-1 visa holder, but rather to a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident spouse or child of the J-1 visa holder. These may be economic, political, religious, social, and psychological etc. The strongest cases are where the US citizen or permanent resident has a medical condition, English language disability etc that would get worse in the home country, or where the home country is deemed dangerous for US citizens.

Persecution waiver can be attained if there is legitimate fear of persecution as a result of the alien’s membership in a political, religious, professional or ethnic group. There is no requirement that the alien have a spouse or child who is a U.S. Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident. It also does not require the petitioner to work in H1-B status for three years. Both bases for the persecution waiver require that you submit Form I-612, Application for Waiver of the Foreign Residence Requirement, directly to USCIS.