J-1 visa is granted to individuals who come to the United States for the purpose of teaching, studying, instructing, observing, consulting, conducting research, demonstrating special skills, receiving training, or to receive medical graduate education or training. J-1 visa holders are also called exchange visitors, and they only participate in Department of State (DOS) approved program list of public and private entities, who are responsible for the sponsorship of prospective J-1 visa beneficiaries. Form DS-2019 will be issued to the beneficiary upon working with the beneficiary on selection of program type by the Responsible Officer (R.O.). J-1 visa holders must have a foreign address to return upon completion of the program.
Types of J-1 Visa (commonly used)
They are several types of exchange visitors such as professors or scholars, research assistants, Au pair (nannies), teachers, specialists, camp counselors, trainees, interns, short-term scholars, secondary education student, full-time non-degree course of study (up-to 24 months at post-secondary college or university), post-secondary college & university students, summer work & travel, Foreign Medical Graduate (F.M.G.) etc. However, we discuss only the most common and highly used professors & research scholars in contrast with short-term scholars and specialists, college & university students, and Foreign Medical Graduate (F.M.G.).
Professors & research scholars
Professor: This category of visa holder whose primary purpose is teaching, observing, lecturing, or consulting at post-secondary accredited academic institutions, libraries, museums. Professor is also allowed to conduct research at the institution.The period of stay is no more than three (3) years.
Research scholars: This category of visa holder primarily conducts research, observing, corporate research facilities, consulting in connection with a research project at research institutions, libraries, museums etc. Research scholar may also teach at the research institution with proper sponsorship. The period of stay is no more than three (3) years.
Contrast with short-term scholar: The people who are in this category are also scholars and researchers, but there are limited to a short duration of six (6) months in the United States. It is always advised to work with your Responsible Officer (R.O.) to choose the best category of program that fit needs of all parties.
Contrast with specialist: The beneficiary need to be expert in the field of specialized knowledge or skills. The purpose of the visit is consulting, observing, or demonstrating specialized knowledge. Specialist is much broader and can be any field of endeavor. The duration of the stay is limited to no more than one (1) year.
Post-Secondary- college & university students
The beneficiary of this category of visa need to pursue full-time course of study culminating in award of a degree from a post-secondary accredited academic institution. The length of stay is for the duration of the academic program.
Non-degree student: The beneficiary need to engage in full-time non-degree course work not to exceed 24 months duration at post-secondary accredited institution or any other institute that is accepted or approved by that post-secondary accredited institution.
Work authorization upon completion of program:
Undergraduate & pre-doctoral training: The beneficiary will get up to 18 months, inclusive of any prior academic training related work authorization, or the period of full course of study, whichever is less. Basically, they have to work for an employer related to the program of study.
Doctoral training: The beneficiary will get up to 36 months, inclusive of any prior academic training as an exchange visitor, or the period of full course of study, whichever is less.
Alien physician or Foreign Medical Graduate (F.M.G.)
Alien physician is an individual who come to United States for the purpose of graduate medical education or training.
Sponsorship: The education commission for foreign medical graduates is responsible for sponsorship of alien physicians who wish to pursue the medical education or training conducted by scientific institutes or US medical schools.
The alien physician need to have the following criteria:
1. Adequate prior education and training to participate satisfactorily in the program. (Basically the beneficiary need to graduate from medical school in foreign country).
2. Need to pass either part -I & part -II of the National Board of Medical Examiners Examination in the Medical Sciences, the United States Medical Licensing Examination, Step I and Step II, or the Visa Qualifying Examination (VQE) prepared by the National Board of Medical Examiners, administered by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.
3. Provide a statement of need from the Government of foreign national or last permanent resident country.
4. Submit an agreement or contract from the US medical school, an affiliated hospital or a scientific institution to provide the accredited graduate medical education.
5. Ability to adopt to educational and cultural environment in which will be receiving education and training.
6. Need to have English language competency in both oral and written form.
1. Non-clinical exchange programs: The beneficiary at the University or academic medical center will engage solely for the purpose of observation, consultation, teaching, or research and that no element of patient care is involved. Any incidental patient contact will be under the direct supervision of a physician who is a resident alien or citizen and who is licensed to practice medicine in that state.
2. Public health and preventive medicine programs: Any school of public health, public health institution, academic medical center which has been authorized by the Department of State (DOS) to participate in exchange program with no possibility of clinical activities involving direct patient care.
Period of stay: Alien physician can stay no longer than seven (7) years under J-1 visa.
Inability to change status: Alien physician on J-1 visa cannot change to another non-immigrant status except under limited situations with applicable waivers.
Two (2) year foreign residence requirement
Most J-1 visa holders can change status to other non-immigrant categories. However, some of the J-1 visa holders who belong to “alien physician,” category and whose exchange program was partially funded by the US Government or the beneficiary’s foreign Government upon completion of the program need to return to the country of nationality or permanent residence for at-least two (2) years. There are very few exceptions to this two year requirement in the form of waiver.
Waiver of foreign residence requirement
Waiver may be granted to the two (2) year requirement upon satisfying one or more of the below factors:
1. Interested Government Agency (IGA) request: Request may be made by any of the three agencies (which include Department of Health & Human services (HHS), Veteran Administration, Appalachian Regional Commission) with supported documentary evidence showing that the departure of the alien physician would be detrimental to the program.
2. Conrad 30 program: The request must be made state public health department. Only 30 individuals on J-1 visa can be waived per fiscal year per state. The following criteria must be agreed to before waiver can be granted:
(i) Agreed to be employed as H-1B exempt employee at a healthcare facility designated by HHS as a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA), and Medically Underserved Area (MUA) etc.
(ii) Obtain a contract from the healthcare in the above designed area.
(iii) Obtain a no objection letter from the physician national country of origin, if the exchange program in US was funded by that Government.
(iv) Must agree to begin employment at the healthcare facility within 90 days of receipt of the waiver.
(v) Must work for three (3) years at the health care facility.
3. Extreme hardship: Very rarely used option. It all depends on the individual situation and highly fact specific with requirement of lot of documentation. Success rate is low.
4. Persecution in the home country: This is also very rarely used by the J-1 visa holders. It is highly fact specific with requirement of lot of documentation proof. success rate is relatively low.
Permanent Residency for individuals with waiver
Upon completion of three (3) years at the Healthcare facility for waiver requirement purposes, alien physician may pursue permanent residence by following the normal procedure that is available for other non-immigrant visa holders such as H-1B, O-visa etc.