J-1 Two-Year Home Residency

Q: What is the J-1 two-year home residency requirement?

A: J-1 holders may become subject to a two-year home residency requirement, which means that they are required to return to their home countries for two years after completion of J-1 program. If you are subject to the rule, the requirement will stay with you even if you later switch to another visa status. In other words, if you have had J-1 visa before with the 2-year home residency requirement and you have not complied with it, the requirement will stay with you forever until you either comply or get a waiver.

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Q: How can I find out whether I am subject to the J-1 two-year home residency requirement?

A: J-1 holders should check their DS-2019 form to see whether the box for the 2-year rule is checked. DS-2019 will also specify the reason why the J-1 holder is subject to the 2-year rule. This is how it looks like.

DS-2019 Form

In addition, the J-1 holder’s visa will mention whether the 2-year rule applies. You can find this information in the “Annotation” portion of the visa, which will read: “Bearer is Subject to Section 212(E). Two year rule does apply.”

If you are unsure whether the 2-year requirement applies to you (for example, if your DS-2019 form states that 2-year rule applies to you but your visa doesn’t or vice versa), we can examine your J-1 documentation at a fee-based consultation to offer a preliminary evaluation on whether you are subject to the requirement. If we believe there is was an error in the 2-year rule endorsement on your J-1 documentation, we will advise you on the next steps.

You may also wish to request an Advisory Opinion from the Department of State if you believe that 2-year J-1 requirement endorsement was done in error. The Department of State will review the J-1 program documents to determine whether J-1 two-year rule applies and will issue an official determination.

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Q: Why am I subject to the 2-year home residency requirement?

A: You can become subject to the J-1 2-year rule for the following reasons:

  • Government funded Exchange Program – if you participate in a J-1 exchange program that was funded in whole or in part by a U.S. government agency, your home country’s government, or an international organization that received funding from the U.S. government or your home country’s government.
  • Specialized Knowledge or Skill – if you participate in a J-1 exchange program involving a specialized field that has been designated as necessary for further development of your home country and appears on the Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Skills List for your home country. The specialized field that you are participating in will be mentioned on your DS-2019 form as Item 4.
  • Graduate Medical Education/Training – if you participate in a J-1 exchange program to receive graduate medical education or training in the U.S.

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Q: How do I determine if my exchange visitor program was funded by the U.S. government, my home country’s government, or an international organization that received funding from the U.S. government or my home country’s government?

A: You should consult with your responsible program officer for assistance in making this determination.

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Q: I am subject to the 2-year home residency requirement. What does it mean?

A: This means that upon completion of J-1 program you have to return to your home country (the country of nationality or last permanent residence at the time you apply for J-1 visa as appears on your DS-2019) for a cumulative total period of at least two years.

What counts is physical presence in your home country. You are therefore not prohibited from travelling to the United States (under certain visas as described below) or other countries within those two years. Any trips outside of your home country will be deducted from two years that you are required to stay in your home country.

Until you have fulfilled the two-year home country physical presence requirement (or until you have received a waiver of the requirement), you are not permitted to do any of the following:

  • Change status while in the United States from J-1 status to another nonimmigrant status [with the exception of A (diplomatic) visa and G (international organization) visa]. Thus, for example, you may not change status from J-1 to H-1B, F-1, L-1, etc.
  • Adjust status while in the United States to lawful permanent resident status (LPR). This means that you cannot file for a green card until you either satisfy the requirement or obtain a waiver. For example, if you are married to a U.S. citizen, your spouse may not petition for green card for you if you are still subject to the J-1 2-year rule.
  • Receive an immigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate; or
  • Receive a temporary worker (H), intracompany transferee (L), or fiancé (K) visa.

This means that while you cannot enter the U.S. on an immigrant visa, change or adjust status in the U.S., you can still enter the U.S. on certain nonimmigrant visas, such as for example O-1, R-1, E-1/E-2, F-1, or B1/B-2.

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Q: Can I enter the U.S. on an F-1 visa and later change status to H-1B if I am still subject to the 2-year rule?

A: You may be able to do it. USCIS generally takes the approach that if the previous J-1 holder is now in the U.S. in another status, then change of status to another nonimmigrant category (even H or L) is permitted. USCIS considers the regulation barring change of status to apply only to those who are currently holding J-1 status.

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Q: I have held J-1 visa before with the 2-year requirement. Since then, I have obtained another visa status in the U.S. I have not complied with the 2-year requirement. I am now married to a U.S. citizen. Can I get the green card?

A: You can get the green card later on. However, you first need to either go to your home country for 2 years or get the J-1 waiver before you can get the green card.

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Q: How do I document my compliance with the 2-year requirement?

A: You need to compile documentation as proof that you have stayed in your home country for 2 years. Examples of documentation include entry and exit stamps in your passport, lease agreements, employment letters, letters of school attendance, and affidavits from third parties.

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Q: Which country do I have to return to upon completion of my J-1 program?

A: You have to return to the country of your nationality or last permanent residence prior to coming to the U.S. on J-1 visa. If the country of your nationality and residence differs as appears on your DS-2019 form, then the DOS regulations state that the applicable country is the country of last residence for the purpose of application of the DOS Skills List or the country of return for compliance with the 2-year rule. See 22 CFR sec. 62.2, 9 FAM 40.202 N1.2.

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Q: I am subject to the 2-year rule because I participated in the J-1 program for foreign medical graduates. I am a citizen of India. When I applied for the waiver, I was residing in India. However, after completion of the J-1 program I got married and immediately moved to England. I have been living in England for over 10 years, and I am not planning on returning to India. I have citizenship in England now. I found an employer who is willing to sponsor H-1B for me, and I wish to come to the U.S. Can I do that?

A: No, the country which was the country of nationality or last permanent residence when you received J-1 visa is the country to which you must return upon completion of J-1 program.

The only exception is if you are employed by your home country’s government, its military service or its career foreign service and you are serving in the country other than your home country at the behest of your home country’s government. In these circumstances, the period of time you spend in the U.S. or in a third country may count toward satisfaction of the 2-year requirement. If you wish for the DOS to consider such situation, you will need to provide a written statement from an official of your home government (through the home country's embassy in Washington, DC) that you were or will be serving in the United States or a third country in the service of your home country and at that government's request.

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Q: I have completed the J-1 program but I have not returned to my home country immediately. I first spent 5 years in Canada before going back to my country. Since then, I have spent the required two years in my country. Have I satisfied the 2-year requirement?

A: Yes. It does not matter whether you return to your home country immediately after the completion of your J-1 program or after a passage of some time.

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