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I’m a Fulbright scholar on a J-1 visa. I’ve been told that after my J-1 ends, I’m required to return to my country for two years.
Is there a way I can stay in the U.S.? Can I apply for an O-1A or green card even if I have to go back to my country?
— Seeking to Stay
Congrats on joining the ranks of the Fulbright scholars! This is a great accomplishment that will likely bolster an eventual green card application!
However, being a Fulbright scholar also comes with a cost: I have never seen a Fulbright Scholar get a 212(e) waiver for the J-1 two-year foreign residency requirement. (If you are a Fulbright scholar who got the waiver approved, please message me!)
I recently spoke with Anthony Pawelski, the senior international advisor at Mass General Brigham, which consists of 16 institutions including Harvard- and Tufts-affiliated teaching hospitals. In that role, Pawelski prepares thousands of J-1 and other non-immigrant visa applications each year, but he says he has only seen waivers granted to Fulbright scholars a few times. Even waiver requests for Fulbright scholars that were filed by NASA and the National Science Foundation have been denied.
Pawelski also notes that India will not support J-1 waivers for medical doctors educated in India, and that Thailand and the Philippines are very strict about supporting waivers.
Before I share more about your visa and green card options to work in the U.S. after your exchange visit ends, here’s a primer on the J-1 two-year home residency requirement, and the process to seek a waiver for those who are eligible. A word of caution: the J-1 is a non-immigrant intent visa, so people who intend to seek a green card or live permanently in the U.S. are denied J-1 visas.
Two-year home residency requirement
As you probably know, the J-1 educational and cultural exchange visa has several benefits, such as being open to individuals in a range of fields, and allowing a J-1 visa holder’s spouse to apply for a work permit. While its benefits can far outweigh the drawbacks, the biggest limitation of the J-1 is the one you’re facing: the two-year home residency requirement.