J-1 classification was designed as a public policy tool to facilitate international education and cultural exchange. This nonimmigrant classification is not administered by Citizenship and Immigration Services but rather by the Exchange Visitor Program of the Department of State. The two year home country physical presence requirement was established to prevent "brain drain" in other countries. For some individuals, J-1 status carries with it a requirement to return to their home country after they finish their J-1 exchange program. This requirement is often referred to as 212(e) and is named after the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act in which the requirement is found.

Without either fulfilling this obligation or obtaining a waiver of the two year home residency requirement, individuals subject to this requirement cannot do the following:

  • change their nonimmigrant classification from J to anything else (other than A or G) inside the U.S.
  • apply for an H or L visa
  • become a permanent resident