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Foreign Residency Requirement

Certain classes of J-1 "Exchange Visitors" require that the alien return to his/her home country or country of last permanent residence for a period of two (2) years upon completion of their J-1 status. The alien must spend the two-year period in country they resided in at the time they received the J-1 visa. Such classes include:

  • Individuals who have obtained their J-1 status through programs financed either in whole or in part by the U.S. government or individual's home country government;
  • Individuals who at the time of admission or acquisition of status was engaged in a field which was on the Department of State Exchange Visitor Skills List; or,
  • Individuals who have received medical training within the U.S. as interns or residents.

Until this two-year of foreign residency requirement has been completed the alien will not be eligible for H or L status and cannot adjust to permanent resident status. The alien may enter the U.S. on a different basis such as a B-1 visitor visa, but any time spent out of the home country will not be counted toward the two years of residency in the home country. For instance, an alien's J-1 visa expires and he returns to his home country. After a year the alien comes to the U.S. on a B-1 visa and stays for six months. After returning to the home country the alien will still need to spend another year in the home country if he wishes to obtain H, L, or permanent resident status at some point in the future, unless he can get the foreign residency requirement waived.

Alternatively, an alien may obtain certain new statuses without returning to the home country, such as an F-1 student visa. In such circumstances, the alien will not be able to change status in the U.S., but must seek such a visa in a U.S. consulate in a foreign country such as Canada or Mexico. For more information about obtaining a visa by a third country, please click here.

Not all persons of J-1 status are required to return to their home country. Z&A can assist you in determining whether you qualify for a J-1 waiver or not. For more information on Foreign Residency Requirement FAQs, please click here. For information about the Foreign Residency Requirement Waiver, please click here.

To determine if you are subject to the two-year foreign residency requirement, you should first examine your IAP-66 (Certificate of Eligibility) along with your J-1 Visa. The two-year foreign residency requirement applies if your IAP-66 shows that the phrase, "subject to the two year residency requirement" is checked off (located on the left corner of your IAP-66) OR if your J-1 visa contains the notation "212(E) TWO YEAR RULE APPLIES."

However, the lack of notations indicating that the two-year foreign residency requirement applies to you on either your IAP-66 or your visa does not mean that you are exempt from the Foreign Residency Requirement. Your Exchange Visitor program may have changed its rules since your admission to the U. S. and your IAP-66 and Visa may be inaccurate. We recommend that you consult with an experienced immigration lawyer to help you determine your status. Z&A provides a service to help J-1 holders obtain an advisory opinion from the State Department in order to determine whether the two-year foreign residency requirement applies to the J-1 holder or not.


  1. Sean is a citizen of China who received his J-1 visa while he was residing in China. After his J-1 status expired, he was required to return to China to complete his two-year foreign residency requirement. Instead of returning to China, Sean went to Canada and became a Canadian citizen. After residing in Canada for two years, Sean returned to the U.S. with TN status. Sean later changed his status to H-1B. Now, Sean would like to apply to become a permanent resident of the US. However, Sean cannot become a permanent resident of the US until he completes his two-year foreign residency requirement in China that was required of him under his J-1 visa. He must complete it in China, since that is his country of permanent residence and was the country he resided in when he received his J-1 visa.

  2. Jeff is a Chinese national and his current country of permanent residence is Hungry. While in Germany as a visiting student, he obtains a J-1 visa to come to the U.S. to study economics. Upon completion of his studies, he must fulfill his two-year foreign residency requirement in Hungry, since that was the country he resided in when he obtained his J-1 waiver.

Skills List and the Foreign Residency Requirement

The skills list is a list of occupations published in the Federal Registrar that indicates the occupations that are needed in the exchange visitor’s home country. Therefore, if the exchange visitor possesses these skills, he or she will be subject to the two-year foreign residency requirement, since their country needs people with those skills. The skills list that will apply to an individual will be that of the country of their last legal permanent residence, at the time that they obtained their J-1 visa.


Jen came to the US on a J-1 visa from China to study industrial engineering. After getting her post-doctoral degree in industrial engineering and completing her Practical Training Program, Jen is required to return to China to serve her two-year foreign residency requirement. This is the case because China requires the skill set the Jen possesses and it is her country of permanent residence.

For more information about J-1 visa, please refer to the following links:

J-1 General Issues

Specific Information on J-1 Waivers