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Federal law requires that non-U.S. citizen International Medical Graduates (IMGs), defined as individuals who are not United States (U.S.) citizens but are accepted to pursue graduate medical education or residency training in the U.S., shall obtain a J-1 exchange visitor visa or an H-1B visa. The J-1 visa allows the IMGs to remain in the U.S. until they complete their studies. Upon completion of their studies, the IMGs on J-1 visas (the “J-1 Physicians”) must return to their home country for at least two years before they can return to the U.S.

Under certain circumstances, the J-1 Physician may request, of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), to waive the “two-year home country physical presence requirement.” The waiver may be requested under any one of the following circumstances:

  1. Extreme hardship to his/her spouse or children who are citizens or permanent residents of the U.S.;
  2. Persecution if forced to return to his/her home country;
  3. A U.S. government agency may request a waiver on the basis that the J-1 Physician’s work is in the national and/or public interest; and/or
  4. A state department of health requests a waiver on the condition that the J-1 Physician agrees to practice in an area having a shortage of health care professionals. This provision allows state departments of health to sponsor up to thirty (30) J-1 Physicians per federal fiscal year (October 1 to September 30) under the Conrad 30 Waiver Program.

The North Dakota Primary Care Office (NDPCO) is managed by the North Dakota Department of Health and contracts with the Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences to manage the J-1 visa waiver application process. The NDPCO provides coordination and oversight of the North Dakota J-1 Visa Waiver Program and is the first step in obtaining a J-1 visa waiver for J-1 Physicians to work in North Dakota.