If you enter the United States on a J-1 exchange visitor visa (or adjust your status to J-1 while in the United States), you are likely to be subject to the two-year home residency requirement.
This means that, unless an exception applies, you will be required to return home for at least two years once your J-1 status expires — you cannot apply for permanent residency or H-1B status, for example.
It is possible that you are not subject to the two-year home residency requirement even though you entered the US in J-1 status. To find out, send details about your case to the State Department Waiver Review Division and ask them to send you an Advisory Opinion.
It is most likely, however, that you will need a waiver in order to evade the two-year home residency requirement. Obtaining an IGA waiver is one way you can do this.
What is an IGA Waiver?
The term “IGA” stands for an Interested Government Agency. You can obtain a J-1 waiver if a US federal government agency recommends the waiver on the basis that it would be in that agency’s best interests that you remain in the US. You may be a critical team member on an important project, for example.
You don’t have to be working for the US federal government to obtain an IGA waiver, and you can obtain an IGA waiver even if your home country refuses to issue you a “No Objection Statement.” Otherwise, there are three other possible ways that you might obtain a J-1 waiver.
How the Process Works
Following is a brief explanation of the process for obtaining an IGA waiver of the two-year home residency requirement:
- Identify the US government agency that you wish to sponsor your IGA waiver. The agency must be a federal agency, not a state or local agency. Nevertheless, you don’t have to actually work for this agency to obtain an IGA waiver. If you perform research in epidemiology for a private hospital, for example, you might try the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since your research would likely benefit their mission of combating infectious diseases in the United States.
- Complete Form DS-3035 online, making sure to identify the IGA option as the basis for your waiver request. Print out the completed document.
- Submit Form DS-3035, as well as a copy of Form DSP or Form IAP-66, whichever you received. Your original J-1 sponsor will have given you Form DSP and Form IAP-66 Include with your J-1 waiver application package two self-addressed stamped envelopes. You will also need to submit a $230 processing fee and mail the entire package to the State Department Waiver Review Division.
- You will be mailed a case number, along with certain instructions.
- Ask your employer or an interested federal government agency, if your employer is not a federal agency) to submit a recommendation to the Waiver Review Division on your behalf. The recommendation needs to include a detailed statement of why the federal government needs you to remain in the United States after the expiration of your J-1 status and should not be compelled to return home for two years.
- Any supporting documentation you submit to the IGA with your request could help your cause — certifications, awards, publications, patents, etc.
- The letter should describe how your contributed presence in the US will benefit both the US public interest and the interests of the government agency that is recommending you. The letter should include letters of recommendations from your supervisors. All of this should be sent by the IGA directly to the Waiver Review Division. You cannot send it yourself.
- The Waiver Review Division will review your application and issue a recommendation on your case (either positive or negative) to the USCIS. The USCIS will be responsible for making the final decision.
If Your Application is Denied
If your application is denied, you will not be able to appeal the denial. You can, however, start the process all over again using a different basis to request a waiver (a Conrad Program Waiver, for example). Remember, however, that your J-1 expiration date will not be extended simply because you have a pending waiver application.