Exchange visitors (J-1 and J-2 visas)can usually leave and return to the US, but in most cases they must first leave the US and live outside the US before they can re-enter the US. However, this residency requirement can pose some challenges for exchange visitors and their families. For example, the visitor may have created a family in the US during their stay and leaving that family could pose a hardship. In some cases, as well, exchange visitors are reluctant to return to their country of origin because they fear persecution and other hardships upon their return.
In cases where unusual circumstances or compelling reasons exist, exchange visitors may be able to have the foreign residence requirement waived. This is usually done by filing Form I-612 (Application for Waiver of the Foreign Residence Requirement) with the USCIS. There is a $585 filing fee for this immigration form.
Form I612 is two pages long and contains four pages of instructions. It is important to follow these instructions carefully. Form I 612 will require you to explain and even prove why you want or need a waiver for the foreign residency requirement. Depending on why you are applying for the waiver, you will need to file USCIS Form I-612 in a different location. The most common reasons for filing Form I-612 include:
1) The applicant has a spouse or child who a permanent resident of the US or a US citizen and if the exchange visitor left the family due to the residence requirement this family would face undue hardship.
2) If the exchange visitor were to return to their home country, they may face persecution due to political affiliations, race, or religion.
3) A US government agency has requested that the exchange visitor remain the US
4) The home country of the exchange visitor has submitted a letter advising the USCIS and the US that the country does not object to the exchange visitor seeking such a waiver. This is in fact one of the most common reasons for filing Form I612. Even if an exchange visitor cannot prove that leaving the US will be detrimental, sometimes a simple non-objection is enough to secure the waiver.
5) A state has submitted a request for the exchange visitor to work in an area as a medical professional due to shortages of qualified medical workers in that area. This is a type of waiver possible through the Conrad Waiver Program and is available to medical professionals only.