I am a J-1 physician in my last year of residency. I finish my training on June 30, 2015 and have a job offer in an underserved area. I know I need a J-1 waiver of my two-year home country residence requirement but how soon should I apply to the Conrad 30 program?
To work with your new employer after residency, you will need a J-1 waiver from a state or federal agency program and an H-1B visa from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The short answer to your question is apply as early as possible. Why? Because the time it takes to get a J-1 waiver and an H-1B visa depends upon many factors beyond your control:
Conrad 30 Program Limits. All states have 30 J-1 waiver slots available each fiscal year, starting October 1 and ending September 30. Most states will open for applications on October 1. However, some will accept applications earlier. Because a state can approve only 30 J-1 waivers, you should determine how quickly your state fills up. Some states are fully subscribed within a week of opening while others never use all of their allocation. Of course, if the competition for your state is high, you need to apply as soon as the program opens.
Alternatively, you could apply under federal programs such as the Delta Regional Authority, the US Department of Health & Human Services, or the Appalachian Regional Commission if your job meets their criteria. There is no limit to the number of applications these agencies can approve.
J-1 Waiver Processing Timelines. Although federal requirements of the Conrad 30 Program are the same regardless of state, each state can have additional criteria that may prolong the processing time of the application or delay your ability to apply for the waiver. For example, some states can take two or three months to review and approve or deny applications while others process within a month or less. And many waiver state and federal government agency sponsors require that your employer advertise for the position over a three or six month period. If your employer cannot meet this requirement, it will need to advertise for the required period before your application can be submitted.
Even if your federal or state agency sponsor approves the J-1 waiver application at lightning speed, the process can slow to a crawl at the Department of State (DOS) or the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Both agencies must approve the waiver before it becomes final. The DOS can take 6 to 8 weeks to send its endorsement to the USCIS. Once the USCIS receives the DOS recommendation, it can take another 6 to 8 weeks to process the J-1 waiver application and issue the final approval (I-612 waiver).
Medical licensing and prevailing wage delays. You need to apply for your medical license as quickly as possible. Most J-1 waiver sponsors require proof that you applied before your J-1 waiver can be approved. In addition, you must hold a medical license in the state where you will work before the H-1B petition can be filed with the USCIS. Some states have extended processing times for medical licensing so early application is best.
The H-1B petition also requires that you are paid the going rate for the practice location, or the “prevailing wage.” Typically, the prevailing wage can be found in the federal online wage library. However, the government often fails to publish a wage for a location. In that case, your employer must request a prevailing wage determination from the federal Department of Labor, resulting in a delay of several months to file your H-1B petition. For this reason, our attorneys check for the prevailing wage before submitting the J-1 waiver application, thereby avoiding unnecessary delays because of lack of wage data.
As you can see, pitfalls abound in the J-1 waiver process that can derail your plans to start work on schedule. Consult an experienced immigration attorney early in your job search so you can steer clear of these time traps.
The information provided in this article is intended to help you understand basic issues involved in the immigration process, and are offered only for general informational and educational purposes. This information is not offered as, nor does it constitute legal advice or legal opinions. You should not act or rely upon the information in this article without first seeking the advice of an immigration attorney.