If I get a J-1 visa to the U.S., will I face the two-year foreign requirement?

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Question:

I went to medical school in India and I’ve been accepted into a residency program at a hospital in Florida. If I come to the U.S. on a J-1 visa to do my residency, can I stay in the U.S. to work after my residency is done?

Answer:

J-1 visas are temporary. All temporary visas require you to return home after the purpose of your stay in the U.S. is finished. So, to extend your time in the U.S. after your residency is done, you would have to qualify for some other visa or status. The problem with that is, there’s another legal requirement that applies to persons who have received graduate medical education or training on a J-1 visa: As a general rule you can’t get certain types of visas or status until you’ve left the U.S. and lived in your home country for at least two years.

This home-return requirement exists to make sure your country benefits from your medical training in the United States. It prevents you from immediately getting any type of “immigrant” visa or “adjusting status” to live and work in the U.S. as a permanent resident. You also can’t stay in the U.S. to work on an “H” visa (used by a lot of skilled workers) or an “L” visa (used by international companies that transfer managers and other key employees to U.S. operations).

You do have some possible ways to stay in the U.S. after your J-1 residency is done. If you qualify for another type of temporary visa, such as “O” (for persons with extraordinary abilities), you can stay in the U.S. under the terms of that visa.

Also, it is possible to ask the U.S. government not to apply the two-year home return requirement to you. There are four different types of “waivers” of the two-year home return requirement that medical residents on a J-1 visa can get. If the government grants you a waiver, you can apply for any kind of permanent or temporary visa or status to extend your stay.

First, you can get a waiver if a U.S. federal government agency requests that you be allowed to stay. (The agency might want you to work there.) Second, you will not have to go back to your home country if you can show that you would face persecution there. Third, you won’t have to leave the U.S. if doing so would cause exceptional hardship to a spouse or child who is a U.S. citizen or U.S. legal permanent resident.

Finally, the two-year home return requirement can be avoided if you get what is known as a “Conrad 30” waiver. These are available only if a U.S. state requests one on your behalf and your home country doesn’t object. The waiver will be granted, and you’ll be given an “H-1B” visa, only if you agree to work full-time in the public interest at a health facility or health care organization for at least three years, usually in a part of the state that has a shortage of doctors. Each state can give out only 30 of these waivers per year.

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