What is a J-1 visa waiver, and what does it take to get one?
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires J-1 visa exchange program visitors to return to their country of origin for two years once their program is complete. However, some J1 holders may be able to waive that requirement.
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The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires J-1 visa exchange program visitors to return to their country of origin once their program is complete. This requirement can be both a financial and logistical burden, which is why so many people apply for a J-1 visa waiver, officially known as a “212e Waiver.” In most cases, people apply for the waiver in order to pursue Green Card (permanent resident), H, L or K visa status.
If the USCIS grants the waiver, you will be allowed to remain in the U.S. while waiting for a change in status or for certain types of visas. In the following sections, we explain exactly how to apply for the waiver and list the documents needed.
The application process
The requirements for obtaining a J-1 waiver include a set of "prerequisites" along with the standard application process. There are five ways a person can qualify to apply. We emphasize that any one of the five points can qualify someone to proceed to the application stage of the process.
In most cases, a person can submit a J1- waiver application when:
If one or more of the above requirements are met, a J-1 visa holder is legally eligible to apply for a waiver of the two-year home residency mandate. However, a waiver request needs to specifically state which one of the five categories the waiver application is based upon.
At that point, applicants must go through the U.S. Department of State (DOS, also referred to as the “State Department”), which then makes a recommendation (for or against) the waiver to the USCIS on behalf of the applicant. Finally, if the USCIS gives approval, the two-year residency requirement is officially lifted and the exchange visitor can attempt to obtain K, L, or H visa status, as well as a Green Card.
Only exchange visitors can apply for a waiver, not their families. The official decision will be the same for their dependents, which typically include a spouse and/or children.
How to apply for a J-1 visa waiver
In addition to filling out a formal application form, the DS-3035, each applicant will need to provide up to seven documents. These documents help establish both the identity and valid education purpose of the visit to the U.S. The DOSor the USCIS can require an applicant to supply more than the basic documents. However, for the majority of people who try to get a J-1 waiver, the following items will be the ones that need to be sent, along with the fee and the Form DS-3035:
It's important to understand that the above documents are in addition to whatever items are required based on the category of exemption you are applying for. For example, if you claim persecution as the reason for seeking the waiver, you'll need to submit an I-612 form to the USCIS directly. Here are the other forms required for the other four categories:
No objection: A letter from an official in your country
Request by an interested U.S. federal agency: A letter from the agency
Hardship: Submit a Form I-612 directly to the USCIS
Request by a health department or equivalent: Only non-U.S. medical doctors can use this category to apply for a J-1 waiver.
To make an application entirely online, visit https://j1visawaiverrecommendation.state.gov/ and click on the blue lettering that says, "Complete an Online Application." From there, the site will transfer you to a page where you’ll see general directions for filling out the information in a step-by-step procedure.
From there you'll be taken, page by page, through the application. Note that the system times you and will automatically clock you out if you spend more than 90 minutes on a single page. We recommend that applicants use a separate word-processing program to answer the long, essay-type questions after logging out and come back to finish the application later. The system will save your answers so you won't have to start all over. That way, you can simply cut and paste the longer answers right onto the form as you move through the easier pages.
Apply by Mail
Even for those who wish to apply by mail, it's still necessary to fill out the DS-3035 online. The website will then let you download the completed PDF form as a barcode. You will need to print that page in black and white because the barcode won’t work if it is printed in color ink. Once you have completed the DS-3035 and printed it with the barcode, you will be ready to mail your application packet in with the supporting documents. As soon as you finish the online portion of the DS-3035, the system will give you a "waiver case" number and additional directions.
Assemble all your items and get ready to mail them. The items you should have are:
Place all the above items into an envelope. If you ship it via the United States Postal Service, the address is:
Department of State J-1 Waiver
P.O. Box 979037
St. Louis, MO 63197-9000
If you decide to use a courier service for the delivery instead, the address is:
Department of State J-1 Waiver
P.O. Box 979037
1005 Convention Plaza
St. Louis, MO 63101-1200
How to check your application status
Once you’ve completed your J-1 visa waiver status application, it's easy to check on the official status. At the J visa waiver webpage there's a button labeled "check the status." After clicking it, you can simply enter the case number in order to learn whether the DS 3035 has been received.
Clicking the "check status" button will also reveal whether the fee and supporting documents have been received. It is both necessary and helpful for applicants to check on their DOS J-1 waiver status.
The most important function of the online system is its ability to tell applicants whether they have left out any documents, payments or forms. It usually takes about one full calendar month for the system to update its information. That means J-1 visa waiver applicants should wait approximately four weeks after submitting everything before they check the status.
Another important function of the online webpage for the J visa waiver is the information update section. Any change in personal data for a USCIS J-1 waiver applicant should be entered under the heading "Inform the Dept. of State of a change to personal data."
The DOS, or any government agency for that matter, can only get in touch if have accurate address and contact information on file.
Expected J-1 waiver processing times and fees
Processing times for J1 visa waiver status applications vary, but the fees don't. When an applicant submits an application for recommendation, Form DS 3035, there is a non-refundable fee of $120. Anyone who wants to obtain a waiver of the otherwise mandatory "two-year home-country physical presence requirement" must pay the fee by either money order or check.
All items must be made payable to "The U.S. Department of State" and should include the applicant's place of birth, date of birth, full legal name and, if known, the case number of the waiver request.
To speed up the USCIS J-1 waiver processing time, it's important for the money order or the check to originate from a U.S. banking institution in U.S. currency, no matter what the home country of the applicant is.
For applicants who are outside the U.S. at the time of submitting the fee, you can submit the fee either with a foreign draft or an international bank money order as long as the draft or money order is from a U.S.-based institution. In all cases, any form of payment must be in U.S currency and be payable to the "U.S. Dept. of State."
Fee payments cannot be transmitted unless they are accompanied with an official application of waiver for the exchange visitor. It's a common mistake for USCIS J-1 Waiver applicants to submit fees and applications separately, which can result in the DOS sending the fee or application back to the applicant, who will then have to start all over.
However, when an applicant has listed children or a spouse under the J-2 dependent category, there are no extra fees. The only fee payable is for the main USCIS J-1 waiver applicant listed on the waiver application.
Finding more help and information
These authoritative resources contain valuable information from for J-1 waiver applicants.
1. The U.S. Department of States official website for its Bureau of Consular Affairs is at https://travel.state.gov. The site includes detailed answers to practically every question a potential applicant might have. It also includes a step-by-step explanation of how to fill out the various forms and explains where to send them. Anyone who needs information about the waiver process can begin at the DOS website and find most everything they need to begin an application.
2. The website of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is another official U.S. government agency site that has a wealth of information about how to apply for J-1 waivers, along with reams of data about processing times, the fastest ways to get approved, what forms you need for various types of immigration status changes, and definitive explanations about Green Cards. Along with the DOS website, this is probably the most useful resource for prospective applicants.
3. Law firms often let exchange visitors ask questions. Often, short sessions are free or offered at a very low cost. In many cases, law firms that specialize in immigration matters will post extensive information on their corporate websites for the benefit of J-1 waiver applicants and others who want to learn more about getting J-1 waivers or apply directly for Green Cards.
J-1 waiver final determination and approval
USCIS is the government agency that makes the final determination about all approvals or rejections of waivers. However, the process that can eventually lead to approval for a DOS J-1 waiver is begun by the DOSs "Waiver Review Division."
For applicants who meet all the minimum requirements for a waiver, the DOS will forward a recommendation for approval to the USCIS.
Whatever address the J-1 visa waiver status applicant uses on the online DS 3035 form is the one where the DOS will send a copy of the official recommendation. f an applicant filled out a "change of address" form, the updated address is the one where DOS will send the copy.
There are two kinds of copies that an applicant might receive from the DOS. The first is the "recommendation for approval," noted above. The second is an "unfavorable" recommendation. Regardless of whether the DOS recommends an applicant's approval for waiver, the applicant will receive an official copy in the mail.
It's also important to realize that it is not the DOS that makes the final decision about who is approved for a waiver. The U SCIS is the only entity that has the official power to allow or disallow waivers for someone in an exchange program who applies for one. A permanent resident does not have to apply for waiver status.
When the UCSIS makes its decision, it sends an official J-1 visa waiver status notification at the address on file for each applicant.
Even though the UCSIS sends its notices to all applicants, each applicant must still directly contact the USCIS as soon as possible after receiving the copy of the DOS letter in order to inquire about the status of an application.
According to federal law, no waiver is officially granted until the USCIS says so. Each applicant is considered, for legal purposes, as not being in possession of a waiver unless and until the USCIS makes an official determination.
It’s recommended that J-1 waiver applicants to make a checklist of all documents and steps needed to complete the application process. Note that a complete "packet" includes not only the application form itself but also the appropriate fees and the required documents.
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