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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

Release No. fsj-1visa.02

J-1 VISA WAIVER PROGRAM

Most aliens admitted to the United States on a J-1 Visa to participate in educational exchange programs are required by section 212 (e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1182) (e) to return to their home country or last permanent residence for two years before they are eligible to apply for an immigrant visa, permanent residence or another nonimmigrant visa.

The Attorney General can grant waivers to overcome this requirement allowing them to practice primary care medicine in medically underserved rural areas of the United States. Congress authorized federal and state agencies to act as an Interested Government Agency (IGA) to request a waiver of the two-year home residence requirement if granting the waiver would be in the public interest.

In 1994, USDA became a participant in the Waiver of Recommendations for Foreign Physicians program administered by the Department of State. USDA’s role as an IGA has been to provide recommendation letters on behalf of the foreign medical doctors and their employers to the Department of State for consideration of a J-1 visa waiver recommendation. USDA does not approve applications for J-1 Visa’s. Approvals are granted by the Department of State.

USDA’s participation as an IGA in the J-1 Visa Waiver programs has been entirely discretionary. USDA has not been granted any special authority or additional funding to serve as an IGA supporting waiver applications. In fact, the number of applications for such waivers has steadily declined since 1997.

Following the incidents of Sept. 11, 2001, USDA and other federal agencies began extensive reviews of programs and services in light of new security concerns. At the time, the Office of Inspector General recommended that the USDA review its participation in the program and make a determination whether to continue as an IGA. On Sept. 26, 2001, USDA suspended its processing of applications pending the outcome of a review. The review, which is still ongoing, has shown that USDA has no specific authority to conduct adequate background checks on applicants or on-site compliance reviews of the physicians and their employers. As part of this review, USDA forwarded seven pending applications to the Department of Justice for security screening. It was found that three of those applications were considered to be security risks. In addition, the USDA Office of Inspector General has a number of ongoing investigations concerning fraud and other criminal conduct involving the J-1 Visa program.

Due to these important reasons, particularly the heightened security concerns following Sept. 11 and lack of authority by USDA to conduct appropriate background checks on potential candidates prior to forwarding applications to the Department of State, USDA withdrew from the program as an IGA.

However, USDA will act as a temporary IGA and process the pending 86 applications for IGA sponsorship. Prior to sponsoring a candidate, USDA will receive from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of State a review of that specific individual to ensure the candidate meets the appropriate criteria, including security concerns, pertinent to the alien’s admissibility to the U.s. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human services will assist USDA by verifying the doctor’s credentials, verifying the facility at which they are to serve, confirming that the criteria for the waiver are met, and conducting periodic monitoring to assure that the service is being provided as proposed.

The Bush Administration remains committed to ensuring that, to the maximum extent possible, physicians are available to provide service to medically under-served areas. J-1 Visa participants can help meet these needs. For that reason, the White House has formed an interagency task force to review the J-1 Visa program for foreign physicians.

Updated: April 16, 2002


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