A J1 visa enables eligible foreign citizens to temporarily reside in the US for purposes of work or study. Upon expiration of the visa, many J1 holders choose to extend their stay in the US by applying for a non-immigrant work visa or for permanent residency status. In accordance with the US Immigration and Naturalization Act, however, some J1 holders are barred from upgrading their visa status until they have returned to their home country for a period of at least two years. The J1 waiver allows approved applicants to circumvent this two-year foreign residency provision and remain in the US. There are five categories of J1 waiver, and an applicant must satisfy all necessary criteria within his category to be granted a waiver.
The first type of J1 waiver is called a No Objection Waiver. Those applying for this type of waiver must obtain a declaration from their home country stating that the country has no objection to the applicant remaining in the US. This waiver is particularly relevant for applicants whose J1 visas enabled them to travel to the US to obtain training in a highly specialized field, with the expectation that they would later bring that training back to their home country.
Also possible is the Interested US Government Agency (IGA) Waiver. This type of waiver is granted to applicants whose continued presence in the US has been deemed potentially beneficial to a government agency. For instance, an individual with highly advanced knowledge in the field of renewable energy may be granted a J1 waiver so that he may work for the US Department of Energy.
Somewhat similar to the IGA Waiver is the State Health Department Waiver. This waiver is granted to foreign medical professionals who can fill health care positions for which there is currently a shortage of professionals within the US. In order to qualify for this type of J1 waiver, the applicant must have been offered a full-time, eligible position, and must have used his J1 period to pursue medical training.
Those who may face religious, racial, or political persecution upon returning to their home nation may be eligible for a Fear of Persecution Waiver. An applicant for this type of J1 waiver must submit his case to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). The CIS then reviews the case to determine whether the applicant’s fear of persecution is valid.
Finally, some J1 holders may be eligible for an Exceptional Hardship Waiver. This type of waiver is granted to those whose absence from the US would cause demonstrable difficulty to a spouse or child who has been left behind and who is a citizen or legal resident of the country. It is important to note that familial separation alone is not considered sufficient grounds for the granting of a waiver.
Applying for a J1 waiver can be a timely, expensive, and complicated process. To expedite the proceedings, applicants must ensure that all paperwork and fees are filed correctly, and that no immigration requirements have been violated while awaiting a waiver. Some applicants choose to obtain assistance from an immigration lawyer during this process to ensure all necessary steps are attended to.