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How to Get a Green Card While on a J-1 Visa

BY Zhang Associates, P.C. [ October 30, 2010 at 11:02:21 ]

Commonly, most people try to apply for U.S. permanent residency after finishing school and obtaining an H1B visa. However, this is not the only way. For example, it is also very possible to obtain a green card while on a J-1 visa as an exchange visitor. This is a brief overview on the process of applying for permanent residency while holding a J-1 Visa.

First, it is very important to note that a J-1 visa holder may file an immigrant petition such as Form I-140 for employment based immigration or Form I-130 for family based immigration at any time. This is true even if this person is subject to the two-year Foreign Residency Requirement. The Foreign Residency Requirement mandates that the J-1 holder reside in his/her home country or country of last permanent residence for a period of two (2) years before he / she may change status in the US, adjust his / her status in the US or apply for H-1, L-1 or an immigrant visa abroad. Not all J-1 holders are subject to the Foreign Residency Requirement. Usually it will say whether or not someone is subject to this requirement on the J-1 visa stamp or the DS-2019 form.

Once the I-140 or I-130 immigrant petition is approved, the next step is satisfying the two-year Foreign Residency Requirement assuming the person is subject to this rule. If the J-1 holder is subject to this requirement they must fulfil it before they are eligible to adjust status in the U.S. by filing Form I-485 or before they apply for an immigrant visa via consular processing in their home country. This requirement may be satisfied by either obtaining a waiver or residing in the home country for two years. If the J-1 holder is able to obtain a waiver, they may adjust their status without leaving the U.S.

The two most common types of waivers are as follows:

1) The No-Objection Waiver. This type of waiver allows the Foreign Residency Requirement to be waived if the government of the J-1 holder’s home country issues a "no objection" letter. This letter should state that the home country’s government has no objection if the J-1 holder decides not return to the home country to complete the two-year foreign residency requirement. The difficulty in receiving this type of waiver depends on the applicant’s home country and what position they are engaged in.

2) Interested Government Agency (IGA) Waiver. This type of waiver is often pursued if the government of the J-1 holder’s home country fails to issue a “no objection” letter. An IGA waiver is granted if an exchange visitor is working on a project of interest to a U.S. Government agency, and that agency has determined that the visitor's departure for two years to fulfil the foreign residence requirement will be detrimental to agency's interest. In order to obtain an IGA waiver, the employer of the J-1 holder must sponsor it and the interested agency must recommend it.

So in summary, a J-1 holder who is subject to the two years requirement has the following three options to obtain a Green Card:

1) File the immigrant petition and the J-1 waiver at the same time;
2) File the J-1 waiver first and then file the immigrant petition after J-1 waiver is approved; or
3) File the immigrant petition first and then file the J-1 waiver or stay in his / her home country for two years.

To further illustrate this procedure, the following example is provided:

Jenny is a J-1 holder. Jenny simultaneously files an I-140 immigrant petition and applies for a waiver of the two-year residency requirement. If her immigrant petition and waiver application are both granted, she may adjust her status without leaving the U. S. However, if her immigrant petition is granted but her waiver application is denied, she must stay in her home country and reside there for two years in order to apply for an immigrant visa. After two years, she is eligible to apply for an immigrant visa to enter the U. S.

Please keep in mind that this is a brief summary of the immigration procedure for people on a J-1 Visa. During the process there is always potential for problems to come up. For this reason, it is highly recommended to consult a qualified immigration professional before applying for either a J-1 waiver or a green card.


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