J-1 Visa Eligibility and the Two-Year Rule
Regulations that govern the J visa can be complicated and confusing. This page is meant to be a summary of three rules which apply to some J visa-holders. If you are unsure whether these rules apply to your case, please contact International Services.
Two-Year bar on repeat participation as a Professor or Research Scholar
An individual who has used a J-1 visa as a Professor or Research Scholar becomes subject to a "Two-year Bar" on repeat participation in those categories [regulation citation: 22 C.F.R. § 62.20(i)(2)]. This means that the individual must wait for two years before beginning a new program as a J Professor or Research Scholar. The Department of State has interpreted this rule to apply to J-2 dependents of Professors and Research Scholars, but this is in dispute.
The Twelve-Months Bar
Time spent in the US in any J status within the last 12 months affects eligibility for participation as a Professor or Researcher [regulation citation: 8 C.F.R. § 62.20(d)(ii)]. This restriction includes J-2 dependents and applies to all categories (ie. Professor, Student, Researcher) except for Short-Term Scholars.
The exceptions to this bar include:
- J-1 transfers: The 12-month Bar does not apply to those who are currently in J-1 status and will begin a new program by transferring to a new program sponsor under the transfer procedure outlined in 22 C.F.R. § 62.20 (A).
- Presence in J status of less than 6 months: A visitor whose physical presence in J status was less than 6 months in duration is exempt from the 12-month Bar.
- Presence in J status as a Short-Term Scholar: As noted above, a visitor whose category was Short-Term Scholar would have been in the US less than 6 months and is therefore exempt from the 12-month Bar.
Exemption from the Twelve-month Bar does not exempt a visitor from the Two-year Bar explained above.
The Two-Year Rule
Some J-1 visitors are subject to the two-year home country physical presence requirement of Section 212(e) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. It is also known as "212(e)," "the two-year rule," or "the home residency requirement." A J-1 exchange visitor (and any J-2 dependents) may be subject to the 212(e) requirement on one based on the following:
- The Skills List: 212(e) applies if the field of study, research, or teaching is listed on the Exchange Visitor Skills List for his or her home country.
- Funding: 212(e) applies if the exchange visitor receives US or home government funding (directly or indirectly) specifically to support the exchange.
- Receipt of graduate medical education or training: 212(e) applies if the exchange visitor participates in the ECFMG's Exchange Visitor Program to receive graduate medical education or training.
When a J visa is granted, the Consular Officer will determine whether 212(e) applies and will indicate this on the visa and DS-2019. If you are subject to 212(e), you:
- Are not eligible to obtain and H or L visa at a US consular office
- Are not eligible for lawful permanent residence status
- Are not eligible to change status from J to any other non-immigrant status from within the US except to "A" or "G"
These restrictions are lifted once the exchange visitor spends two years in his/her home country. Time towards the two-year requirement does not need to be continuous.
Exchange visitors may apply for a waiver from the requirement by filing an application with the Waiver Review Division of the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State. Waivers may be granted based on the following:
- No Objection Statement: The embassy of the visitor's home country may issue a "no objection" statement when a waiver is requested.
- Request by an Interested US Government Agency: If an exchange visitor is working on a project for or of interest to that agency, and if it is determined that the person's presence in the US is vital to the continuation of this project, the government agency may request a waiver.
- Persecution: If the exchange visitor can prove persecution on account of race, religion, or political opinion in the home country they may apply for a waiver. This is NOT an application for political asylum.
- Exceptional Hardship to a US Citizen or Permanent Resident Spouse/Child of an Exchange Visitor: If the exchange visitor can give evidence that the two- year home residency requirement would cause "exceptional" hardship to the persons named above, they may apply for the waiver.
- Physicians who perform medical service in a medically-underserved area.