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Can I Apply for J-1 Waiver Based on Exceptional Hardship?

Hi William:

I am the J-1 visa holder with the requirement of 2-year home country service. My U.S. citizen has medical problem. Can I apply for J-1 waiver in hardship? Is it difficult to get approval?


Many J-1 visa holders are required to return to their home country for two years, or must obtain a “J-1 waiver” before they can change or adjust their status in the United States. If a J-1 visa holder does not want to return home country for the two-year to meet the home country residence requirement, he or she can apply for a waiver of the requirement under any one of following five grounds: 1) request by a designated State Department of Health; 2) Interested Government Agency (IGA); 3) persecution; 4) no objection statement; or 5) exceptional hardship.

A J-1 visa holder who can demonstrate that his/her departure for two years would cause “exceptional hardship” to their United States citizen or permanent resident spouse or child may obtain a waiver of the two-year foreign residence requirement. The benefits of the hardship waiver are that if approved, the applicant can immediately apply for permanent residence (Green Card) or change of status in the United States. The disadvantages include that the outcome of the J-1 exceptional hardship waiver application is difficult to predict.

The typical hardships include medical hardship, psychological hardship, political and social conditions in the home country, and economic and career disruption which would impact the qualifying relatives. Length of marriage, number of children, original nationality of the qualifying relative, and any past separation between the J-1 waiver applicant and the qualifying relatives can also be taken into consideration. Mere separation is not enough to outweigh the public policy objectives of the J1 program.

Because the J-1 hardship waiver is not easy to obtain and it is subject to discretionary considerations by adjudicating officers, the J-1 waiver in exceptional hardship should be submitted with careful preparation.

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