J 1 Waiver Tips Photo

Navigating the J-1 Waiver Process

Evan Winter

If you are an international medical graduate (IMG) completing your training in the United States, you are likely aware of J-1 Visa waivers. The waiver program allows IMGs to continue practicing medicine in the U.S. following training, provided they meet certain requirements, the most notable being to practice in a location that is medically underserved.

However, while many trainees know the J-1 waiver program exists, specific information on how to obtain a waiver can be scarce and confusing. There are a few different ways to go about securing a waiver, but by far the most well-known is via the Conrad 30 Program. To be eligible for this program, a physician must meet the following requirements.

  • Agree to be employed full-time in H-1B non-immigrant status at a healthcare facility located in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA), Medically Underserved Area (MUA), or a Medically Underserved Population (MUP).
  • Receive and sign a contract for the previously mentioned facility.
  • Begin employment at your healthcare facility within 90 days of completing your training.

While those are the basic requirements, you may be wondering how to fulfill each step most effectively, what pitfalls to look out for, and how long it will take to complete the process. Here are a few tips to help you along the way.

Start Early

The J-1 job search and accompanying waiver process can take a relatively long time to complete. You start by finding a J-1 eligible job, which can be a feat in itself, but even after signing a contract, the waiver application and approval timeline can amount to nine months or longer. Simply preparing the necessary paperwork to submit an application often takes longer than expected, so plan an extra one to one and a half months for just that. Overall, it is strongly recommended that J-1 physicians start their job search as early as possible, or usually 12 to 18 months in advance of their desired start date. This allows time for you to not only find an ideal job but also accounts for any waiver processing delays, which may be out of your control.

Have Options

Starting early also helps you find a position in your ideal location on the best possible terms. If you give yourself more time to job search, you increase your chances of finding a job in a geography where few J-1 positions are offered. Additionally, you have time to secure multiple offers of employment, which will provide leverage in contract negotiations and help you reach an agreement that fits your unique needs. Keeping these points in mind will set you up for success, but it is important to remember that the Conrad 30 program is still extremely competitive, and you can only have one waiver submitted at a time. A few of the most competitive states include Texas, Florida, Connecticut, California, New York, and Illinois. Don't completely commit to a single state, but instead have an open mind and consider at least a few different locations that interest you. 

Plan Your Steps

To keep everything on track and ultimately begin working a job by your desired start date, it is important to have a plan and be aware of which step of the process you are in at any given time. Finding a job can take around five to seven months or longer, so prepare to set aside time which you will devote to researching practices, completing applications, attending interviews, and more. As a physician in training, you likely have an extremely busy schedule to begin with, so an even better option will be finding someone who can help you with all these tasks. Resolve has team members dedicated to taking that extra work off your hands, and you can find out more about such services by visiting our Job Search page. 

After you find a job and sign a contract, your new employer will usually provide you with an immigration attorney. That attorney will help you navigate complex immigration laws and aid in preparing your waiver application. Once the application is submitted, there is not much which can be done besides wait for approval. However, your immigration attorney should provide you with updates as your application is passed from one government department to another. You will also be assigned a case number which can be used to check your application's status on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website. The timeline below illustrates each of the major steps your job search and waiver application will take.

At Resolve, we help all kinds of physicians find their dream jobs, but we also specialize in navigating the J-1 job search and waiver process. Requirements for a J-1 waiver are always evolving and they often differ from one state to another. Not all states will open and close for applications at the same time, and it can be difficult to find current, accurate information regarding each state's application requirements. If you are a J-1 physician who wants to make sure your job search and waiver submission goes as smoothly as possible, reach out to Resolve for more information and guidance. Visit our Job Search page to learn more or schedule a free consultation.