The U.S. exchange visitor immigration program helps the U.S. and the visitor’s home country exchange culture. Before an exchange visitor can get a Green Card, USCIS sometimes requires them to go back to their home country to live for two years. This is the “foreign residence requirement,” or “two-year rule.”

The rule

The 2-year rule doesn’t apply to all exchange visitors. It applies to visitors who got J-1 visas for at least one of these culture-based reasons:

  • A government helped pay for your exchange program, directly or through an international organization.
  • Your study is needed for your home country’s development and is on the U.S. Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Skills List.  
  • You received graduate medical education or training in the U.S.

Exceptions

You can apply for a waiver of the two-year rule if you can show any the following:

  • Your home country certifies that it doesn’t object to you not returning home. (This isn’t an option if your visa was for medical education or training.)
  • A U.S. agency asks for you to stay.
  • You’ll be persecuted based on your race, religion, or political opinion if you return home.
  • You have a U.S. citizen spouse or child who will suffer extreme hardship (more than separation) if you leave.
  • The public health department in a state in the U.S. contracts with you to work there for at least 3 years, beginning within 90 days of the waiver.

Your family

The 2-year rule also applies to your spouse and kids who have had J-2 visas because you’re an exchange visitor.

While in the U.S., your spouse can apply for a work permit. Temporary U.S. residents who don’t have permission from USCIS to work for a specific employer use Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization to ask for an Employment Authorization Document (work permit).