Physical residence to fulfill the J-1 visa 2-year home residency requirement need not be continuous and may be cumulative.
In many cases, J-1 visa holders are subject to a requirement to return to their home country for at least 2 years after the completion of their J-1 program before they can apply for an immigrant visa, adjust status, or change status to another nonimmigrant visa classification. The applicant will also be ineligible to apply for an H or L visa before the physical presence requirement is satisfied, though they may be able to obtain a visa for certain other categories, such as an O visa, TN visa, or E-1/E-2 visas.
The requirement is that the J-1 holder must “reside” and be “physically present” in the country of his or her nationality. INA 212(e). “Residence” is defined as the place of “principal, actual dwelling place” of an individual, which can be understood as someone’s primary location where they are living. In addition to maintaining this residence in their home country, the individual must be physically present in the country. Although the individual is not required to spend a continuous two years in their home country, the cumulative period of stay must equal or exceed two years.
Certain applicants may be able to apply and obtain a waiver of this two-year residency requirement, for example if the home country, through the embassy in the U.S., issues a no-objection statement (not available to medical graduates), or if the J-1 holder’s departure from the US would cause exceptional hardship to US citizen or LPR spouse or child.
There is also a special program available for international medical graduates where they can obtain a waiver through agreeing to serve for 3 years in a designated medically underserved area.
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