A J1 visa holder can stay in the US for a maximum stay of 5 years as long as they maintain a valid DS-2019. If your visa has already expired, the J1 visa grace period is 30 days.
Many of us wonder how we can extend our stay beyond 5 years in order to continue our work in the US or for any other reason. In this article, I'm sharing my personal experience and observations from people I've known.
In most cases, the J1 visa holders are also subjected to a 2-year home residency rule, often referred to as the 212(e) rule. If you have the 2-year home residency requirement, it won't stop you from coming back to the U.S. as a student (F-1 student visa) or tourist (B1/B2 visa) in the future.
However, it will stop you from getting a work visa (H-1B) or becoming a permanent resident (green card), unless you meet this 2-year home residency requirement or get a waiver.
Also, those with J status who are subject to 212(e) two-year home country physical requirement may not change status from J1 to F1 or B1/B2 visa in the U.S. unless a waiver has been granted.
Table of Contents: How to Stay in the US After J1 Visa Expires
Please note that I am not a lawyer, and I'm providing this information to offer assistance based on my experiences. I'd be happy to answer any questions you have in the comments section below.
If someone wants to stay beyond 5 years after their J1 visa expires the first thing they should do is to obtain a J1 visa waiver from the Department of Homeland Security. One has to start applying for a waiver before their 5-year period ends on a J1 visa.
Related: How to get a J1 waiver?
How long can I stay after the J1 visa expires?
If someone is unable to obtain the waiver before their five-year period expires on a J1 visa, they must leave the US and return to their home country, where they are required to spend two years to fulfill the home residency 212(e) requirement.
Alternatively, they can apply for a J1 waiver from their home country if they don't wish to wait for two years. However, if you have already obtained a J1 waiver, you are eligible to apply for a change of status to other types of visas.
Related: How to expedite a J1 waiver?
How to stay in the U.S. after a J1 visa expires?
Firstly, by obtaining a J1 waiver, you become eligible to apply for other visa types like H1B, L1, O1, Green Card, etc. Have a discussion with your employer before your J1 visa expires to ensure that they initiate the process of filing for your new visa (I-539 or change of status) prior to the J1 visa's expiry.
J1 to H1B
To convert from a J1 visa to an H1B visa, if you are working at a university or institute as a postdoc, you can consult with your professor and the international office to determine if they are willing to sponsor you for a new visa. Typically, they can provide support for an academic H1B and can initiate the filing process six months before your J1 visa expires. Remember that either you need a waiver or you have to fulfill a 2-year home residency to convert from a J1 to an H1B visa.
Related: How to apply for J2 EAD?
The good thing about the academic H1B is that it's not part of the regular H1B lottery and can be filed at any time during the year. It's crucial to stay on top of everything because falling out of status can result in an illegal stay in the US, which could impact your future visa or green card applications.
H1B can be filed through premium processing, which means you should receive a response from USCIS within 15 calendar days. It's essential to discuss all of this with your employer. Similarly, if someone is willing to sponsor you for an O1 visa, it's advisable to plan well in advance.
J1 to Green Card
Secondly, a J1 visa holder can apply for a green card (EB1a or EB1b) within the 5-year timeframe of a J1 visa. This was my journey as well. I began my J1 waiver process when I entered my fourth year on the J1 visa, and it took nearly a year to obtain the J1 waiver.
Simultaneously, I initiated my green card application, and by the end of my fifth year on a J1 visa, I had received my green card. You can read about my green card journey here.
I understand that obtaining a green card while on a J1 visa can be challenging and may not be feasible for everyone. Therefore, it's important to maintain any type of legal visa status while your green card application is pending with USCIS.
In my case, I pursued the EB1a green card application. However, if your employer is willing to file for the EB1b category, it could save you a significant amount of money and potentially increase your chances of approval. This is because you would have your employer's support for your case. I highly recommend discussing the possibility of EB1b with your boss, manager, or employer.
J1 to B2
Lastly, if you can't find a sponsor in time and are still looking for a job when your 30-day J1 visa grace period is ending, you can talk to a lawyer (or do it yourself) and apply for a B1/B2 visa.
This way, you can stay in the U.S. legally while you continue your job search. When you get a job offer, your future employer can start the process for an H1B or another type of visa. But be aware that this option has a drawback, as it may require you to spend all your savings on living expenses.
However, if you're on a J-1 visa and have to fulfill the two-year home country requirement, you can't change your status from J-1 to F-1 or B-1/B-2 within the U.S. You have to leave the country and apply for F1 or B1/B2 tourist visa from outside to re-enter the US.
Thank you! Please feel free to comment if you have any questions, and I will do my best to assist you.
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