Congress created the "J" Exchange Visitor Program to bring foreign nationals to the United States to gain new knowledge and ideas and to then return to their home countries to share that knowledge with their fellow countrymen. Ideally, the program develops better understandings and closer ties between participants from other countries and US citizens. To ensure that exchange occurs and to carry out this goal of the program, Congress included in the law a two-year home country physical presence requirement. The precise section of the law is the Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 212(e). Full text of the law is available on the DHS web site (see "LINKS" below). For convenience people often refer to the requirement by its legal reference as "INA 212(e)" or as just "212(e)." Persons to whom the rule applies are referred to as being "subject to 212(e)." It is an important characteristic of the J status that all of those in this visa class should understand, even if they are not currently subject to 212(e).
INA 212(e) makes certain J visa participants ineligible for an H, L, or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status until they have returned to and been physically present in their last country of citizenship or permanent residence for a minimum of two years after completion of their J exchange programs. This means that a person in either J-1 or J-2 (dependent) status subject to 212(e) cannot reenter the U.S. in H, L, or immigrant ("green card") status until the two-year requirement has been fulfilled. Furthermore, these persons cannot change to another visa class while in the U.S., other than A or G, without first fulfilling this requirement. INA 212(e) does not affect eligibility for other visa classes such as a B tourist, an F student, or an O outstanding scholar. Nor does it prevent a person from entering again in J status. It only prohibits H, L, or LPR. For example, a person subject to 212(e) may leave the U.S. and return in F status to pursue a course of study. However, the F-1 remains subject to 212(e) and remains ineligible for an H, L, or LPR visa.
Two organizations commonly make determinations regarding 212(e), the Department of State (DOS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Usually, the DOS consular officer makes a preliminary determination of whether someone is subject and notes that determination on the bottom left corner of the DS-2019 and/or on the J visa stamp in the passport during the visa application process. The DHS immigration officer makes a similar assessment if the individual applies for any immigration benefits while in the U.S. Sometimes the determination made by the consular or immigration officer is wrong because of the limited information available to the officer regarding the particular program. Final authority to determine whether one is subject to 212(e) belongs to the Exchange Visitor Program and the Bureau of Consular Affairs at DOS. Consular and immigration officers may ask for Advisory Opinions from DOS regarding 212(e). (See "LINKS" below.)