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August 29th 2019

Guide: How to obtain a J-1 visa extension

Visiting scholars and skilled professionals in the U.S. under the J-1 program will experience an unfortunate situation when their visas expire. However, many J1 holder may be eligible for an extension.

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Visiting scholars and skilled professionals who are in the U.S. under the J-1 program will experience an unfortunate situation when their DS-2019s expire. In most cases, visitors must make plans to return to their home countries before this has the chance to occur. This situation can be very regrettable if the visitors have not completed everything that they need to accomplish before leaving the country, but the terms of the J-1 Visa requires them to return home for at least two years.

The remedy for this problem is for visitors to obtain a second visa, such as the H1-B visa or an F-1 visa. However, a holder may simply desire to remain in the U.S. for a longer period of time to finish their work. A J-1 extension would allow them to remain in the country so that they can complete their unfinished business.

What Is the J-1 visa?

The J1 visa is a non-immigrant visa category that is also known as a "J-1 Exchange Visitor" program. It is a means to give people outside of the U.S. the opportunity to engage in a cultural exchange. J1 visa participants may study at educational institutions in the US as they learn about the North American culture and master the English language.

You need to enter into the exchange program to extend your J-1 visa if you are unable to complete the work that you have to do before the end date that is marked on your DS-2019.

What Is a J-1 extension?

The U.S. Department of State stamped the starting date of the original J1 visa and the end date on the DS-2019. The original dates were intended to give the visa holder enough time to complete his or her work in the United States in most cases. People can apply for a J-1 extension if this cannot be done.

A J-1 extension increases the time that visitors may remain in the U.S., but they must apply for the extension before their J1 visas expire. The applicant's sponsor organization is responsible for submitting the new DS-2019 before the original expires. The best plan is to request an extension of the visa on the day that you learn that you are going to need to be in the country for a longer period of time. It doesn't matter if your J1 visa isn't going to expire until after several months have passed, it is much better to be on top of it.

Those who do not request an extension at least 10 days before their expiration dates will not be able to apply. It is important not to allow this time to pass you by because you will be in violation of the law if your J1 visa expires and you haven't requested an extension. You will no longer be allowed to apply for the J1 extension at this point, but you will be welcome to apply for J-1 reinstatement. This will not be the optimal course because applying for a J-1 reinstatement is a much more arduous process.

What are the requirements?

Applicants' current visa status must be valid to apply for a J1 extension, and the program sponsor must be available to fill out the new form DS-2019.

Documents Required for a J-1 Visa Extension

The J1 visa extension requires that you submit the following documents:

  • You must be able to demonstrate that you can pay your fees, tuition and living expenses for at least one year if your sponsoring program cannot do so.

  • Fill out form DS-2019 and form IAP-66.

  • Present your passport.

  • Fill out the form I-94.

  • Provide proof that you have J1 visa health insurance. The policy is required to cover you throughout the extension period as well as any dependents visiting with J-2 status.

  • The extension requires a full explanation of the reason that you need an extension. You may also have to submit supplementary documentation.

  • You will not have to pay a SEVIS fee at this time.

Whether or not you can apply for an extension will depend on the maximum duration of the program. An officer at your sponsoring organization will be required to send a request to the U.S Department of State. The official will have to justify the need for an extension and send the supporting documentation to the aforementioned agency. You will also need to include a fee that will not be refunded to you in the package.

The J-1 visa extension application process

An officer examines the documentation that you send him or her to ensure that you are eligible for an extension after he or she is informed that you are seeking a J1 visa extension. You will need to fill out another DS-2019 form. This one will have your new end date, and SEVIS will record the new expiration date. This form is all that is required to also extend your dependent children and spouse if they are on J-2 status. The processing time for your dependents is usually one week, but it has been known to vary.

You will have to have a valid visa stamp on your passport if you are granted an extended J1 visa and you want to travel to your home country. You must ensure that you have a new one before you leave the country because visa stamps expire. You will not be allowed into the US if you try to come back to the country without a valid visa stamp.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS gives each applicant permission to travel outside of the country after the program is complete. This time is called the "grace period." Your status changes at this time from being under J-visa status to being under the USCIS. They give you this time so that you have four weeks to prepare to finalize your affairs in the US and return to your home country. If you were undergoing an exchange process, this activity will need to end now. You are not allowed to work at this point either. You can travel anywhere you like within the US, but immigration officials may not let you in again if you leave the country during this time.

The processing time begins when an official with your sponsoring organization examines your documents and ensures that you are eligible for an extension. You will receive your new form DS-2019 with a new expiration date after your approval.

Change of category

You cannot change your category on a whim. You can only change your category if you can demonstrate that your new purpose is closely related to your original exchange objective. It must also be necessary because of extraordinary circumstances. The first person you need to consult about a change of category is your program sponsor. Then, he or she can submit a request to the U.S Department of State electronically.

Other extensions

The J1 program entitles you to remain in the U.S. for a specific period of time. This will depend on the program under which you will be entering the country. People can stay in the U.S. for a maximum of seven years in most cases. For example, the program for research scholars, teachers and professors provides five years to complete their work in the US.

Medical graduate students have permission to remain the longest, so the program end date for med students is usually seven years. Government visitors and professional trainees may be here for 18 months. Some people can even stay for a two year period. Those with summer jobs and positions as camp counselors can remain for four months. An au pair or a nanny has the option of being in the US for 365 days.

One exception to the rule is International Communications Agency employees. They may be able to remain in the US for as long as 10 years under J1 status.

Research scholars do not have to follow the protocol listed here for applying for an extension in most cases. Research scholars and professors entering the country under a J1 visa have permission to request a 6-month extension with the approval of the applicant's program sponsor rather than the U.S. Department of State. This would keep the applicant in the country for longer than three years, so the extra time must be needed to finish a research program or a specific project. However, this will not automatically ensure that your request is granted.

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What if more time is needed?

You may find out that the extra time you requested was insufficient to finish everything that you had to do in the US. You can ask to remain in the country for even longer, but remember that these requests are rarely granted. You must be able to prove that the circumstances behind your need to remain in the country for a longer period of time must be exceptional and remarkable. You can move the process forward by asking your sponsor to request an extension at the U.S. Department of State.

Be prepared to fully explain the reasons that you need to prolong your stay in the country. You also need to offer sufficient documentation that will help bolster your claims. Another $246 fee will be required, and it will not be refunded to you.

The above are "special extensions," and they are only for research scholars and professors currently on the J2 visa program. You must wait until the three-month maximum duration period is over to apply for an additional 6-month stay if you have not completed your research or other program. The U.S. Department of State will be the entity that determines whether or not you will receive permission to stay.

Travel guidelines for J-1 visa holders

You can leave the country any time that you need to do so, and this includes travel to Canada, Mexico and the adjacent territories if you aren't going to stay longer than 30 days. If so, a valid J-1 visa will need to be stamped in your passport. When your stamp expires, you must ensure that you obtain a new visa because you will be unable to return to the US otherwise.

J-1 visa waivers

Some applicants must be in their home countries before they apply for a J-1 extension, but if you are currently in the country on a J-1 visa and are seeking to extend it, you must request a waiver for the previously mentioned statute. This rule applies if you plan to request a change in status with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. You can ask for this waiver under the five following circumstances:

  • The State Health Department or other agency makes a request for you.

  • Your government offers you a "No Objection Statement."

  • A governmental agency requests a waiver for you.

  • You can request a waiver if you can demonstrate that you will be persecuted due to your political affiliations, religion or race in your home country.

  • You can request a waiver if you claim that you will have an exceptional hardship if your child or exchange visitor is forced to leave the US.

The U.S. Department of State will recommend you for a waiver after you submit an application. The Department of State's visa department can provide you with more information about these waivers. You can also call (202)663-1225 to learn more from the public inquiry line. You can also learn more details from the Exchange Visitor Skills List to find out whether or not the two year residence requirement applies to your situation. This requirement would mean that you would have to return to your home country for two years, but the waiver would eliminate this need.

Feel free to read our article about how you can obtain a J1 waiver here.

You may not be granted permission to obtain a program extension even if you obtain a waiver, but you have other options for gaining permission to remain in the U.S. You are welcome to consult with an immigration attorney to learn about the programs that you have at your disposal.

You may have entered the country on a J1 visa for the purpose of attending college, and you may be able to apply for a work permit if your university wants to hire you as a teaching assistant. This would change your temporary J1 status to "extended," but it will still be a legal status.

Your status will change from legal to illegal if you do not return home when your end date arrives. You must not allow yourself to fall into illegal status because you wouldn't be able to change your status from illegal to legal in the future. This will be the case even if you are only in illegal status for one day. Make sure that you are well aware of your deadlines so that you never have a chance to fall into illegal status.

Family members of J-1 visa holders

Children under the age of 21 and your spouse may come to the U.S. with you on J-2 visas. They will be authorized to work in the U.S. if they desire to do so, but you are not allowed to support yourself on the income that your children and spouse earn. Your spouse or your children are required to submit the form I-765. This is the Application for Employment Authorization.

Rules and regulations that can lead to minor infractions

You must follow the rules and regulations of the J1 program to ensure that your legal status is not revoked. Some of the minor rules include the following:

  • Extend your program if you need to remain in the country beyond the date printed on your DS-2019.

  • Transfer your program before the end date on your DS-2019.

  • Obtain the necessary approval and your amended DS-2019 before you accept payment or an honorarium.

Substantive rules that can lead to serious infractions

You also have more substantive rules to follow for your program that will subject you to even greater penalties if they are broken. Some of these are the following:

  • Ensure that your status is not invalid more than 120 days after your program ends.

  • Remain in school full time unless you obtain permission from a responsible officer, your sponsor or your academic advisor to decrease your studies.

You will need to be reinstated if you fail to follow the guidelines listed above. This will require that your responsible officer applies to the U.S State Department for your reinstatement. You will need to submit all of the following documentation to do this:

  • Copies of all of the DS-2019 forms that you have completed so far.

  • A copy of the new form DS-2019 that contains your new end date, proof that you paid the fee and a written document justifying the reason for the reinstatement.

The written document that you need to present will need to demonstrate that you are pursuing the activity for which you entered the US. You must also explain that you were unable to keep your status valid because of circumstances that were beyond your control or because you failed to complete this action in a timely manner. You must also claim that not reinstating your status would cause an unusual hardship for you.


Your infraction will be classified as minor or technical and will require that you have your record corrected. Your responsible officer may be able to correct your record without bringing this matter to the attention of the US Department of State. Substantive infractions do require authorization by the US Department of State before your status can be adjusted. This process will require you to pay a $367 reinstatement fee to the Department of State that will not be refunded to you.

There will be times when a J-1 visa cannot be reinstated. This occurs when you commit the following infractions:

  • Failing to comply with the insurance requirements of your program.

  • Working without authorization.

  • Being suspended or terminated from your exchange visitor program.

  • Failing to maintain valid status in the program for more than 270 days.

  • Neglecting to pay the fee for the Public Law 104-208.

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More from Nova Credit:

The ultimate guide to the J-1 visa

A complete guide to health insurance for J-1 visa holders

Everything J-1 visa holders need to know about taxes

Everything you need to know about the J-1 visa waiver for physicians

J-1 to H-1B: A guide to changing your J-1 visa status

J-1 visa employment options: Do you need work authorization?

What is a J-1 Advisory Opinion? Why it matters to J-1 visa holders

Is it possible to transition from a J-1 to a Green Card in the U.S.?

What is a J-1 visa waiver, and what does it take to get one?

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