Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2004


J-2 nonimmigrant exchange visitor, Foreign residence requirement, Section 212(e), Immigration and Nationality Act, INA, Exchange visitor program, Smith-Mundt Act, Fulbright-Hays Act


Immigration Law | Legislation


We wrote this article to address one question: Should a J-2 nonimmigrant exchange visitor be subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement of section 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) if the J-1 principal is so subject? In trying to answer that question, the authors confronted additional issues that seem to have gone unresolved for close to half a century. If a J nonimmigrant is subject, be it J-1 or J-2, where can he fulfill the foreign residence requirement: in the country of his nationality or the country of his last residence? Does he have a choice? Where does a J-2 fulfill? In her J-1 spouse's country of nationality or last residence or her own? Can she combine periods that she spends in both? And how can she fulfill it? Do any periods of stay in the foreign residence count, or must there be a certain quality to periods spent in the foreign country? If a J-1 fulfills the two-year rule overseas but the J-2 remains in the United States, is the J-2 still subject? If so, why? And finally, who gets to decide if the alien is even subject in the first place?

The article is intended to serve several purposes: (1) to lead to an understanding of how J-2 nonimmigrants became subject to the foreign residence requirement; (2) to sort out where and how the two-year obligation may be fulfilled; and (3) to provide the legal rationale and justification for a new regulatory scheme that would render the J-2 exempt from the two-year foreign residence requirement. Our research found that there is very little in the legislative history and nothing in the INA that compels the conclusion that a J-2 is subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement. In fact, a strong argument exists that the J-2 is clearly not subject. For these reasons, we recommend that the State Department and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) change their current interpretations to exempt J-2s from the two-year foreign residence requirement.

We decided to write this article after listening to the remarks of a senior State Department official at a recent immigration law conference. That official was very clear in his view that the foreign residence requirement should not be imposed on J-2 nonimmigrants.

This article looks at the legal premises and processes we engage in, examines the legislative history of the exchange visitor program, reviews the questions about J-2s that have been raised in liaison meetings between the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Department of State and the United States Information Agency (USIA), provides excerpts from some of the statements about fulfillment issues that have been made by representatives of those governmental agencies at a variety of AILA conferences since 1998, and analyzes case law, legal opinions, and relevant regulations. In so doing, it necessarily takes a long, hard look not just at the J-2 classification, but also the status to which it appends, the J-1.

Publication Citation

Naomi Schorr & Stephen Yale-Loehr, "The Odyssey of the J-2: Forty-Three Years of Trying Not to Go Home Again, 18 Georgetown Immigration Law Journal (2003-04)