J-2 dependent spouses and children of J-1 visa holders with the two-year home residence requirement are also charged with independently satisfying that requirement. So even if the J-1 visa holder returns home for two years, the J-2 spouse and children must accompany the J-1 to satisfy their own two year requirement.
But not in all cases, and this is where it becomes interesting.
If the J-1 and J-2 spouse were not married at the time that the J-1 was in the U.S. under a program to which the two-year home residence requirement was attached, and in fact were married after the fact, it is possible to argue this to the Department of State Waiver Review office and thereby request a release of the J-2 spouse from the two-year home residence requirement. Similarly, if the J-2 spouse is no longer married to the J-1 spouse or the J-1 spouse has died, the J-2 spouse’s two-year home residence requirement can also be waived. If the J-2 dependent child turns 21 and has not yet satisfied the two-year home residence requirement, he/she is no longer a J-2 dependent under the law, and can request that the Department of State act as an Interested Government Agency to sponsor the J-2 waiver.