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Foreign Medical Graduates: A Brief Overview of the J-1 Visa Waiver Program

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The Educational and Cultural Exchange Visitor program has become a gateway for foreign medical graduates (FMGs) to gain admission to the United States as nonimmigrants for the purpose of graduate medical education and training. The visa most of these physicians enter under is the J-1 nonimmigrant visa. Under the J-1 visa program, participants must return to their home country after completing their education or training for a period of at least two years before they can apply for another nonimmigrant visa or legal permanent resident (LPR) status, unless they are granted a waiver of the requirement.

To qualify for a waiver, a request must be submitted on behalf of the FMG, by an Interested Government Agency (IGA), or a state Department of Health. In exchange, the FMG must agree to work in a designated healthcare professional shortage area for a minimum of three years. The ability of states to request a waiver is known as the "Conrad State Program," and was added temporarily to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) 1994. The "Conrad State Program" has been extended by the past several Congresses. Most recently, the 109th Congress extended the program through 2008. Legislation is expected to be introduced in the 110th Congress to address the program's expiration. This report will be updated as warranted by legislative developments.