If you are in the U.S. as an exchange student in J-1 status,
and are interested in applying for a U.S. green card, you may find your way
blocked by something called the “two-year home residency” requirement. As
discussed in What Is the J-1 Visa Two-Year Home Residency Requirement?, this requirement essentially requires some (but not all) J-1 visa holders to return to
their home country for two years before changing or adjusting status (obtaining
another nonimmigrant visa or green card) in the United States.
If you wish to escape this obligation and apply for a green
card immediately, you will first have to apply for a waiver of the home
residency requirement. You cannot get around the requirement by spending two
years in a third country or by switching to a different visa status within the
To apply for a waiver, you will have to show that you
deserve it under one of the following five grounds:
objection from your home government. Unless you are a foreign medical
graduate, the easiest way to obtain a waiver may be to have your home
government consent to it through a “no objection letter.” In this letter, your
government would assert that it does not have a problem with your staying in
the U.S. to apply for permanent residence (a green card) – even if it helped
finance your exchange program participation. Contact your home country’s embassy
in Washington, DC, to request such a letter. Be forewarned, however: A
no-objection letter may not be enough by itself to secure you a waiver of the
two-year home residence requirement. This is particularly true if you accepted
scholarship funding to come to the U.S. in J-1 status.
by an interested U.S government agency. If you are working on a project of
interest to an agency of the U.S. government, and that agency decides that your
continued stay is vital to one of its programs, it may support your request for
a waiver. Foreign medical graduates may qualify for an interested government
agency waiver through the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Department of
Health and Human Services.
- Fear of
persecution in your home country. If you can show that you would be
persecuted upon return to your home country due to on your race, religion, or
political opinion, you can apply for a waiver. Note that, unlike applicants for
asylum in the U.S., you cannot qualify if you fear persecution based only on
your nationality or membership in a particular social group. Also, the standard
is higher than in ordinary asylum cases, in which applicants need only prove a
“reasonable fear” of persecution. J-1 waiver applicants, by contrast, must satisfy
the U.S. government that they “would be” persecuted upon return.
hardship to your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or child. If
your spouse or any of your children are U.S. citizens or permanent residents,
and you can show that your departure from the U.S. would cause them exceptional
hardship, you may be granted a waiver. However, USCIS will demand a greater
showing of hardship than the “mere” emotional pain of separation or economic or
language difficulties that your family would suffer. The classic exceptional
hardship case is one in which your family member has a medical problem that
would be worsened by your departure or by traveling with you to your home
country; or where the family member would be persecuted if he or she returned
home with you.
for your services as physician by a state department of health. If you are
a foreign medical graduate who has an offer of full-time employment at a health
care facility in an area that has been designated as having a shortage of
doctors, and you agree to begin working there within 90 days of receiving the
waiver and to continue working there full-time for at least three years, you
may be granted a waiver.
As you might suspect, the waiver application process is
complex. To succeed, you will likely have to persuade a reluctant U.S.
government officials that you fit into a category whose boundaries are not
clearly defined. We strongly advise you to get help from an experienced