212 (e): Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement

The Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement is one of the most important characteristics of the J Exchange Visitor status. This requirement needs to be fully understood by each J-1/J-2 Exchange Visitor.

What is it 212(e)?
U.S. law requires J visitors who are subject to the Two-Year Home Country Residence Requirement to return to their “home” countries after the completion of their exchange visit. These individuals must be physically present in their home countries for an aggregate of 2 years before being eligible to return to the United States in immigrant (permanent resident) status or H status (temporary workers and dependents).

Who is subject to 212(e)?
Some, but not all J-1 exchange visitors are subject to the Two-Year Home Country Residence Requirement. There are three grounds on which a J Exchange Visitor can become subject to this requirement.

  1. If the J Exchange Visitor’s participation in an exchange program was financed, directly or indirectly, by the United States government or a foreign government for the purpose of exchange.
  2. If the skills that the J Exchange Visitor is coming to develop or exercise are in a field which the J Exchange Visitor’s "home" government requested be included on the Department of State Skills List.
  3. The J Exchange Visitor comes to the United States to receive “graduate medical education or training.”

The U.S. embassy/consulate decides whether an exchange visitor is subject to 212(e) during the visa application process, so other than the above information, it is not possible to determine ahead of time if an Exchange Visitor will be subject to this requirement.

Effect of being subject to 212(e)
Exchange visitors who are subject to the two-year home country residence requirement must "reside and be physically present" in their "home" country for an aggregate of two years before being eligible for certain immigration benefits. While they are subject to 212(e), aliens are ineligible for the following benefits:

  1. They are not eligible for an immigrant visa or for adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident (immigrant/green card) status;
  2. They are not eligible for an H visa (temporary workers and dependents), an L visa (intracompany transferees and dependents), or a K visa (fiance and dependents);
  3. They are not eligible to change their nonimmigrant status within the United States from J to any other nonimmigrant category except A (diplomatic), G (international organization), or U (victims of qualifying criminal activity) statuses.

The restrictions of 212(e) are limited to the above. Immigration benefits that are not included in this list remain available to aliens that are subject to 212(e). For example, an alien subject to 212(e) remains eligible for all other nonimmigrant visa types, even if subject to 212(e). Only H, L, and K visas are prohibited. Exchange visitors subject to the 212(e) are eligible to leave the United States and apply for visas to return as tourists, or on business, or as F-1 students, if the usual visa requirements are met.

Are J-2 Dependents subject to the Two-Year Requirement?
If the principal J-1 Exchange Visitor is subject to the Two-Year Residence Requirement, all dependents who enter the United States in J-2 status are subject to it as well.

Must the individual live in his/her home country during a continuous two-year block?
The two years of physical presence do not have to be continuous. Separate periods of residence spent over time after the program has been completed may be aggregated to establish two years.

Must it be in the home country?
To fulfill the home residence requirement, the individual subject to 212(e) must reside and be physically present in their country of nationality or last legal permanent residence for an aggregate (i.e., the time does not have to be continuous) of at least two years following departure from the United States after their program ends.

Country of nationality or last legal permanent residence is determined when the J visa or J status was acquired. An exchange visitor who later acquires permanent residence or citizenship in another country is still subject to the requirements of the country of citizenship or legal permanent residence at the time he or she became an exchange visitor.

Effect of return to the U.S. in J status in a new program
If an exchange visitor who is subject to the two-year residence requirement departs the United States and then subsequently reenters on a new J program, he or she may become subject to the two-year residence requirement again upon the second entry, if the new exchange falls into one of the 212(e) categories. Time spent in the home country prior to re-entry will not count toward the two-year requirement of the new program. However, once the exchange visitor does return home and resides for two years in his or her home country, the two-year obligation for both programs will be concurrently met by one count of two years of physical presence, provided the country of required residence is the same for each obligation.

If an exchange visitor becomes subject to the two-year residence requirement on multiple bases or through participation in multiple programs, the two-year requirement can be met concurrently, provided the country of required residence is the same for each obligation.

Waiver to Two-Year Requirement*
Individuals can request for their Home Country and the U.S. Department of State to waive the two-year commitment by applying for a “Letter of No Objection” from the U.S. Department of State and your Home Country. Information regarding eligibility, costs, waiting times, and application procedures can be found on the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

* Although the MSU International Programs staff can advise on the basics of your right to request a waiver, it is highly suggested that an immigration lawyer be consulted in order to fully understand the process and any potential effects of being granted or denied a waiver.

Page last updated  April 26, 2018