How J-1 Visa Holder Can Get Exceptional Hardship Waiver of Two-Year Home Residency Requirement

Step-by-step guidance to obtaining a hardship-based waiver of the two-year home residency requirement in order to change or adjust status in the U.S.

If you are a J-1 visa holder who cannot apply for a U.S. green card or other visa until you have satisfied the two-year home residency requirement, one possible way of getting a waiver of that requirement is to demonstrate that your departure from the U.S. would cause exceptional hardship to your U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse or child.

Steps to Filing for the Waiver

If you think you might qualify for this waiver, you’ll need to get approval from both U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Waiver Review Division (WRD) of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs before going forward with your green card or visa application. This article guides you through the waiver application process.

Your first step is to file an application with the WRD. Begin by going to the J Visa Waiver Online website. Click the link to create an online application. You’ll enter information on a series of pages, and this will create the application form that the WRD needs. At the end, you’ll get a case number that you can use to check the progress of your case.

Unfortunately, you can’t complete the whole application process online. You will need to send the WRD a paper copy of your completed application form, a printout of the page with the bar code on it that was generated when you filled out the online form, a check or money order for the application processing fee ($120 as of 2018), and other documents in support of your application. (The website will tell you what to send and where to send it all.)

One of the documents that the WRD will need before it makes a decision on your application is a favorable recommendation of the exceptional hardship waiver from USCIS. USCIS will forward that recommendation directly to the WRD, but first you need to ask USCIS for it. You do that by applying on USCIS Form I-612. Wait to file your I-612 until you’ve applied with the WRD first—otherwise, the WRD won’t know what to do if USCIS sends its recommendation.

The I-612 can be found on USCIS’s website at www.uscis.gov/i-612. You’ll have to print this form out after you complete it, and mail it to the address on the website, along with the filing fee, currently $930 (2018).

It’s at this point in the process that you present your case for exceptional hardship. You must prove to USCIS, by your written statement and any documents you have that support what you’re saying, that your spouse or child is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (“green card” holder) who would suffer “exceptional hardship” if you had to go back to your home country for two years or if they left the U.S. in order to stay there with you. You should discuss the likely hardships associated with both scenarios if you can.

Being apart from you or having to leave their life in the U.S. would be a hardship on your qualifying relatives, sure, but that’s not enough. Their hardship must be “exceptional.”

Proving Exceptional Hardship

Several medical problems are often seen as creating exceptional hardship, whether it’s because you wouldn’t be in the U.S. to assist in the person’s care or in working to help pay or provide insurance for that care, or because treatment for the condition wouldn’t be adequate in your home country.

Hardships can also be psychological, social, cultural, economic, educational, career-related, political, religious, or due to compulsory military service. For example, there may be a family business in the U.S. that would fail if you are not in the U.S., or your dependent family members may not be able to pursue their profession or obtain special-needs education if they were to follow you home. Show as many different types of hardship as you can -- even if one type of hardship is not exceptional, a combination of smaller hardships may amount to something exceptional.

USCIS Recommendation and Eventual Approval of the Waiver

If you’re successful in convincing USCIS of exceptional hardship, it will send a Form I-613 recommendation notice to the WRD. That’s not the end of the story, however. You still need to get the WRD’s approval of the waiver.

Particularly if you were subject to the two-year home residency requirement because of your receipt of government funding, the WRD may still deny your waiver. If the WRD recommends approval of the waiver, however, it will send the I-613 back to USCIS with an indication that it approves. USCIS will then issue you an approval notice on Form I-797.

With that notice, you can proceed to file the adjustment of status or change of status application you need in order to stay in the United States and get a green card or a different type of nonimmigrant (temporary) status.

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