Most immigrant physicians trying to come to the United States on visas do so under the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program. This program is administered by the Educational Commission on Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). Another type of J-1 visa is the Professor and Research Scholar Program, which is managed directly by higher education institutions, such as universities and medical schools.
J-1 Exchange Visitor Program Documents
The ECFMG has an exclusive designation to administer the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, which means the Commission directly issues the DS-2019 Form to qualifying foreign nationals. Immigrant physicians must obtain a “home country concurrence” statement from the Ministry of Health of their home country before the ECFMG will issue a DS-2019 form. The home country concurrence statement explains that particular country’s need for physicians to be trained in the medical discipline in the U.S.
Foreign physicians also have to file a written letter stating they will return to their home country to serve in the medical field for at least two years. The ECFMG must also approve an overall description of activities that the Exchange Visitor will be performing when they come to the U.S.
Can Exchange Visitor Status Be Reinstated?
If an Exchange Visitor fails to keep program status for more than 120 days after DS-2019, it is considered a violation. To reinstate Exchange Visitor status, the physician must prove the following:
- The violation of program status resulted from circumstances beyond their control
- Failure to receive reinstatement of status would result in unwarranted hardship
J-1 Exchange Visitor Program Duration Guidelines
Physicians must participate in the J-1 Exchange Visitor program for either seven years of progressive training or the period of time that is required for specific training purposes. Although extensions are available for Exchange Visitors, they must meet the “exceptional need” requirement by having the home country demonstrate how the extra time training in the U.S. will satisfy crucial practice needs in the home country. Immigrant physicians must also show they intend to leave the U.S. at the conclusion of the training. Extension requests can’t be filed until the physician is in the final 30-day grace period of their status.
Immigrant physicians can also choose to file a J-1 waiver extension request while their initial waiver is still pending. The Department of State authorizes J-1 extensions up until the waiver application receives favorable recommendation. It is important to note that the Department of State doesn’t consider a pending waiver as a negative factor for J-1 extension purposes, but physicians are required to disclose on the extension application that they filed a waiver.