Dear Sophie: Is there a way to keep working in the US after my J-1 visa expires?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

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Dear Sophie,

I’m a Fulbright scholar on a J-1 visa. I’ve been told that after my J-1 ends, I’m required to return to my country for two years.

Is there a way I can stay in the U.S.? Can I apply for an O-1A or green card even if I have to go back to my country?

— Seeking to Stay

Dear Seeking,

Congrats on joining the ranks of the Fulbright scholars! This is a great accomplishment that will likely bolster an eventual green card application!

However, being a Fulbright scholar also comes with a cost: I have never seen a Fulbright scholar get a 212(e) waiver for the J-1 two-year foreign residency requirement. (If you are a Fulbright scholar who got the waiver approved, please message me!)

I recently spoke with Anthony Pawelski, the senior international adviser at Mass General Brigham, which consists of 16 institutions including Harvard- and Tufts-affiliated teaching hospitals. In that role, Pawelski prepares thousands of J-1 and other non-immigrant visa applications each year, but he says he has only seen waivers granted to Fulbright scholars a few times. Even waiver requests for Fulbright scholars that were filed by NASA and the National Science Foundation have been denied.

Pawelski also notes that India will not support J-1 waivers for medical doctors educated in India, and that Thailand and the Philippines are very strict about supporting waivers.

Before I share more about your visa and green card options to work in the U.S. after your exchange visit ends, here’s a primer on the J-1 two-year home residency requirement, and the process to seek a waiver for those who are eligible. A word of caution: The J-1 is a non-immigrant intent visa, so people who intend to seek a green card or live permanently in the U.S. are denied J-1 visas.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Two-year home residency requirement

As you probably know, the J-1 educational and cultural exchange visa has several benefits, such as being open to individuals in a range of fields, and allowing a J-1 visa holder’s spouse to apply for a work permit. While its benefits can far outweigh the drawbacks, the biggest limitation of the J-1 is the one you’re facing: the two-year home residency requirement.