Certain J-1 Exchange Visitors - including J-1 students and J-1 scholars - may be subject to Section 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, also referred to as the two-year home residency requirement or two-year home country physical presence requirement. If this requirement applies to you, you are expected to return to your home country for two years following the end of your J-1 exchange visit, before you would become eligible for certain US immigration benefits.
You are generally subject to this requirement if any one or more of the following apply:
If you are unsure whether you are subject to Section 212(e), check your J-1 visa stamp and/or copies of your Form DS-2019. You should review all of your J-1 visas and DS-2019 forms since may they reflect different information at different stages of your J-1 program. If you were subject at any time, the requirement applies to you even if later visas and DS-2019 forms indicate that you are not subject.
If you are subject to Section 212(e), this means that you will not be able to obtain an H-1B temporary worker visa or US permanent residence (as well as L and K visas) until you have satisfied the two year home residency requirement or had the requirement waived. In addition, you are not permitted to change to another immigration status while in the US. You are allowed, however, to depart the US and then re-enter with a new visa (other than H, K, L, and immigrant / permanent residence visas). For example, a person subject to 212(e) could return to the US using a B-1 / B-2 visitor's visa, F-1 student visa, or O-1 visa for aliens of extraordinary ability, among others.
Section 212(e) is a lifetime requirement in that it applies to you until the requirement is either fulfilled or waived. For example, if you were a J-1 student subject to the requirement, but then left and immediately returned to the US using as an F-1 student visa, the requirement would still apply to you even after completion of your F-1 program. You would need to document your return to your home country for two years, or obtain a waiver.
If you are subject to Section 212(e) and choose to fulfill it, you must be physically present in your country of nationality or last legal permanent residence for an aggregate of at least two years after departing the US at the end of your J-1 program. Because the two years of physical presence is in the aggregate, you do not have to reside in your country of nationality or legal permanent residence in a single, continuous two-year period.
In many cases it may not be clear if you are subject to Section 212(e). While your J-1 visa and Form DS-2019 may contain a preliminary determination that you are subject to the requirement, you may want to request an Advisory Opinion (AO) from the US State Department. The State Department will review copies of your J-1 requirements and determine if you are, in fact, subject to Section 212(e).
If you are subject to Section 212(e) you may decide to pursue a waiver of the requirement. Waivers are granted only in certain circumstances. The International Center is unable to assist J-1 students or scholars with the waiver process. For more information, go to the State Department's Waiver Review web site to learn more about how to apply for a 212(e) waiver. Please note: if you are currently in the US and subject to Section 212(e) but receive a favorable recommendation from the State Department for a waiver of the requirement, you are ineligible for an extension of your current J-1 program. You are only permitted to complete your current J-1 authorization. See our J-1 extension guidelines for more information.