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J-1 Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement

Congress created the "J" Exchange Visitor program to bring foreign nationals to the United States to gain new knowledge and ideas and to then return to their home countries to share that knowledge with their fellow countrymen. Ideally, the program develops better understandings and closer ties between participants from other countries and U.S. citizens. To ensure that exchange occurs and to carry out this goal of the program, Congress included in the law a two-year home country physical presence requirement. The precise section of the law is the Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 212(e).

Any person in one or more of the following categories is subject to this requirement regardless of what is stated on the DS-2019 or visa stamp in the passport. Do not assume that a "subject" or "not subject" determination is correct. Review your circumstances relative to the following information. Note that you may be subject in more than one category. For example, if you have government funding and you are on your country's Skills List, you are subject for two reasons, not just one.

  • Those whose participation in the "J" Exchange Program is financed in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, by the home government, the government of the last country of legal permanent residence, the U.S. government, or an organization that has received governmental funding specifically for the purpose of international exchanges are subject. Examples: Fulbright program, USAID, AMIDEAST, etc.
  • Those who already have or will obtain from the Exchange Program a skill on the Skills List of their country of citizenship or the country of last legal permanent residence are subject. Foreign governments, not the United States government, issue Skills Lists to identify persons whom they view as having skills they want returned to the home country. A copy of the Skills List is available in ISS and on the Dept. of State web site.


  • Marriage to a U.S. citizen does not release someone from the 212(e). It merely means that the U.S. citizen will have to spend the two years in the home country with the J participant or the couple will have to be separated while the J participant meets the requirement
  • A J-2 dependent's status is directly related to the status of the J-1 principal. Therefore, if the J-1 is subject to 212(e), then the J-2 is also subject.
  • Persons who are subject to 212(e) and return home, later entering the U.S. without fulfilling the requirement, remain subject to the requirement. For example, returning in F status to study only postpones the requirement; it does not eliminate it.
  • Persons who are subject remain so until they have 1) gone home for the required time, or 2) obtained a waiver of the requirement. The passage of years or decades does not negate the requirement. Time spent in another country does not count to fulfill it.

Some persons who are subject to 212(e) choose not to meet the obligation to return home, and they apply for a waiver of the requirement. The kind of waiver available to you depends, in part, on why you are subject to 212(e). More information on the waiver can be found here.

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