President Obama Signs 3-Year Conrad 30 Program Extension for Foreign National Physicians as J-1 Waiver Filing Season Opens October 1 in Many States

By: Sarah J. Baker, Esq.

Each year, the H-1B "season," which commences when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) begins accepting H-1B visa petitions on April 1 for an October 1 employment start date, receives significant attention. However, there is another much less publicized, yet vitally important, immigration season that also deserves special mention: the Conrad 30 J-1 waiver program season.

On October 1, following the federal fiscal year, numerous state departments of health will begin accepting applications filed on behalf of foreign medical graduates (FMGs) to waive the J-1 two-year foreign residence requirement. This requirement attaches to all FMGs who come to the United States in J-1 status to pursue graduate medical education, requiring them to return to their home country for a minimum of two years before applying for certain non-immigrant visas, including the H-1B, or seeking permanent residence in the United States.

On September 28, 2012, President Obama signed into law H.J. Res. 117, S. 3245, which includes a three-year extension (to September 30, 2015) of the Conrad 30 J-1 waiver program. The program requirements were set to expire on September 30, 2012.

Pursuant to the Conrad 30 J-1 waiver program, state health departments and agencies can recommend up to 30 J-1 waivers each fiscal year for FMGs who have agreed to practice medicine in designated Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs), mental health HPSAs, Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs), or serve Medical Underserved Populations (MUPs) for 40 hours per week for a minimum of three years. Some states consider waivers for what are known as "flex slots" for FMGs who will be serving patients from a designated area at a worksite location in a non-designated area. States are allowed to grant up to 10 flex slots per fiscal year. If recommended, the waiver is then considered by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) and finally, USCIS.

Below are some practical hints for FMGs to consider when evaluating their Conrad 30 J-1 waiver program options:

  • Some states, such as South Carolina, require site approval, pre-authorization, or a slot pre-assignment before a waiver application can be filed on behalf of an FMG. FMGs interested in relocating to or remaining in such states are therefore advised to begin the process early to make sure they do not experience a time crunch as they near completion of their training - if DOS does not recommend approval of the waiver within 30 days of the DS-2019's expiration, the physician will likely be required to leave the country.
  • Many states express a preference for primary care physicians under their Conrad 30 J-1 programs, and will not accept waiver applications for specialist physicians. For example, California will only consider J-1 waiver applications filed for primary care physicians, which are defined as "internist, family practice, pediatrician, psychiatrist, and OB/GYN."
  • If the state to which you are applying does not accept flex slot applications, check and double-check (or have your attorney verify for you) that the practice site at which you will be working is located in a HPSA, mental health HPSA, MUA, or MUP.
  • While many states do not, some states, such as Ohio and Texas, charge an application fee to process J-1 waiver applications. Ohio's application fee is a whopping $3,571.00 and Texas' is $2,500.00.
  • Not all states consider J-1 waiver applications on a "first-in-first out" basis. Some states prioritize applications based on the state's need for particular types of physicians, or based on the merits of each application submitted.
  • Obtaining a J-1 waiver is just the first step in fulfilling the terms of the waiver application. Employers of FMGs who are granted J-1 waivers will need to file an H-1B visa petition on behalf of the FMG so the physician can fulfill the three-year waiver service period in H-1B status.
  • H-1B petitions based on Conrad 30 J-1 waivers are exempt from the annual H-1B "cap" and allow for the physician to change status within the U.S. rather than applying for the H-1B visa abroad.

For additional information and more practical tips on state Conrad 30 J-1 waiver programs, please view: "Practical Guide to Conrad Waivers: Thirty, ... Two, One, Gone!"

Please also do not hesitate to contact a Wolfsdorf Immigration Law Group attorney for assistance evaluating your J-1 waiver options. 

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Comments

Anonymous
Anonymous
  • 10-12-2012

These waiver programs can be complex. It's best to consult with an immigration attorney throughout the application process to ensure that applications are complete and nothing is missing to slow it down.

Anonymous
Anonymous
  • 07-18-2013

The J-1 Visa viewer program is complex required experienced <a href="http://www.immigrationquestion.com">Immigration attorney</a> to deal it.