An interview with Rajesh Murali (Emory University) by Ragoo Raghunathan.
A large portion of student immigrants in the US are in academics, usually on a J1 or H1 visa. If you are on a J1 visa you are required to return to the home country for a minimum of 2 years after the visa expires. A waiver can be requested to avoid going back and to continue your stay in the US. Although this seems to be a straightforward process, it can get tricky sometimes.
Rajesh Murali, a friend of mine who is a postdoctoral researcher at Emory University recently went through the entire process and has offered to answer some questions that you may find helpful if you are in such a situation. I interviewed Rajesh and here are some of his responses, tips and suggestions.
What is a J1 Visa? J1 waiver? Who needs to get one and what are the stages one must go thru to get a J1 waiver?
J1 visa is a non-immigrant exchange visitor visa given to individuals approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States. This is a specialized visa provided by the Department of State (DOS) to the exchange of ideas, research, and mutual enrichment. The focus is also to create associations between research and academic institutions in the United States and foreign countries. As a J1 Visa is to promote mutual enrichment, individuals under this visa category are expected to go back to their home country and remain there for at least a period of two years. This time is meant for transferring the expertise that the individual gained in the US to his/her country. The maximum period an individual is allowed to be on a J visa in India is 5 years. If the individual decides against going back to the home country, he/she must get a J1 waiver. This essentially waives the 2-year home country rule and allows the individual to remain in the US and continue his/her research. To get a J1 waiver, an individual must get a No Objection Statement (NOS) from his/her home country and apply for the waiver from the Department of State (DOS). The procedure can be long and it involves 3 stages.
The stages are well explained in this link https://sciwri.club/archives/1188.
How long does it normally take to get a J1 waiver? Is there even something that is considered normal?
The timeline to get the waiver is anywhere between approximately 7 to 9 months. This is if everything goes fine without any delay. But it is very common to run into glitches and its important to start the process ahead of time
What’s a good time to start the process?
A J1 visa can be extended for a period of 5 years. A good time to start the process is after 30 months. I’d get the Stage 1 and 2 done first. Once you get the NORI (No Obligation to Return to India/any other home country) from all 3 offices in India you can take your time to apply for Stage 3. Most of the time, the delays happen in getting the documents from India. There are instances where people had to wait for 18 months to get a document. So, to be on a safer side it’s a good idea to get all 3 NORIs from India. And start the stage 3 when your J1 visa is valid for another 12 months. Or after being on a J1 visa for 3 ½ to 4 years. The stage 3 happens in the US and you have some kind of control on it and you can also track the waiver process. It takes about 3 to 5 months to complete the stage 3. At the end of stage 3 USCIS will send you the final J1 waiver. After this, you and your university will be left with approximately 9 months to apply for Labor Condition Application (LCA) and H1B visa. A premium processing is also available for H1B visa and in that case, getting the waiver before 2 months of the last date will be sufficient.
Is the process required and/or the same if I immigrated from India or a different country?
The process is the same for every individual on J1 visa.
If you are in a time crunch, are there any tips as to how one could fast track the process?
Yes. 1. Be on top of your applications. Contact the concerned Govt. departments in India and insist that they send the documents to you. Having someone going to these offices in person also helps. One of the documents from the (Ministry of Human Resources Department) MHRD is very straightforward. You may run into issues at the passport office and more importantly at the state department. Having some contacts in these offices help!!
2. Make sure all required documents are submitted and pay attention to the application procedures.
3. If you feel there is a delay in getting the NORI, start the stage 3-waiver application for the DOS and keep it ready. You can also contact the Indian Embassy in DC and request them to send the NOS to DOS as soon as they get your application (This happens only if you get all 3 NORIs and your consulate forwards the decision letter to the Embassy). You can also send out the application package (again pay attention to the application process and required documents) to DOS, St. Louis. It takes about 6 weeks for the application to reach from St. Louis to DC. It is possible to get the NORIs in this 6-week period and the Embassy can send the NOS to DOS within this time, you will be saving 6 weeks. However, even if the DOS in DC receives your application package, they will not process your application until they receive the NOS from the Indian Embassy. In some cases the DOS receives the NOS after 2-3 months of receiving the application and this is totally acceptable.
4. You can also expedite the process once the DOS receives all the documents. Please take help from an attorney or a senator or congressman to expedite your application. Pay attention in doing this as once the request to expedite is rejected they will never consider another request to expedite. Get expert advice for this process.
5. In unusual and critical circumstances the DOS will extend J1 visa beyond the 5-year period. During COVID-19 the DOS is offering a 60-day extension and this request should go from the university and should accompany a letter stating that your waiver process and travel has been affected by COVID-19.
6. Request your university to have all the documents ready from H1B application. Tell them to get your Labor Condition Application (LCA). The only document outstanding to submit a H1B petition should be your J1 waiver. Once you get the approval you can immediately file the petition.
Can this be done by ourselves, or do we need to take professional help? What’s a good place to start?
You can do this. You will need professional help only if run into trouble. Refer to point 4 above.
What are some suggestions about setting our expectations while we are in the process?
Expect delays! Especially, in the Indian offices. Be on top of it. Contact them and request them to process your application. Anticipate delays and start the steps mentioned above depending on the delays.
Typically, how much would this process cost, and do you know if employers cover these expenses?
Employer will not cover this cost. It will cost you about $200-$250. This is including the postal charges.
Do you get an acceptable level of communications from USCIS or does one have to keep nudging them? How do you get to talk to a customer support agent?
The USCIS has no control over your application till they receive a favorable recommendation from the DOS. You can email the DOS at firstname.lastname@example.org. They are slow in responding but they will get back to you. Contacting USCIS on the other hand is very easy. They have a customer care number (1 (800) 375-5283). But, this is generally not required.
Once you get the J1 waiver, are there any restrictions one needs to keep in mind?
You cannot avail any J associated privileges after getting the waiver. And that is the reason I have mentioned above to hold on to the NORIs and apply for the final waiver when you have only 12 to 15 months left. And there are also travel restrictions after H1B petition is filed.
I found this site to be helpful, but it is from 2018. Do you think this is still relevant?
Very much relevant. However, if you are stuck in any of these steps, feel free to reach out to us via our email link and we will be happy to put you in touch with Rajesh to help out.