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How long you can stay and work in the USA on the J1 visa

Monday, May 16, 2011 by

A scan of passport page with USA visa

U.S. visa

Many people participating in the Work & Travel USA program or the Internship/Trainee USA programs have quite hazy idea about how long they can stay and work in the USA.

You have your I-94 card, your DS-2019 form and your J1 visa, and each of them shows different dates that affect your program in the USA. But how do the play together?

Let’s first have a look at how you get those documents.

The first one you get is the DS-2019 form. It is called “Certificate of Eligibility”, is issued by your program sponsor and has a Start and End date. You need this document to apply for the J1 visa.

Using the DS-2019 form, you get the J1 visa, which shows its expiration date.

Finally, while onboard a plane flying to the USA, you receive the I94 form, which has two parts. One will be kept by the US immigration officer at the airport, and another, a small card which you will keep, says “Admitted until…”

Click on pictures to enlarge.

An annotated scan of the DS-2019 form - how long you can work in the USA

DS 2019 form

USA J1 Visa scan with annotations - multiple entry and expiration date

USA J1 visa

I-94 card scan with annotation - when you must leave the USA

I-94 card

Now, what all those dates mean?

  • Visa expiration date
    This is not the date when you have to leave the USA! This is actually the last date when you can enter the USA. For example, if you want to visit Canada while in America, and you have a multiple-entry visa, the visa expiration date is the latest date when you can re-enter the USA.
  • DS-2019 dates
    They show the beginning and end of your program. So if, for example, your program allows you to work in the USA, you can not work before the start date and after the end date.
  • “Admitted until” date
    That’s the date written in your I-94 card by the US immigration officer who processes you upon arrival. You must leave the USA on or before this date.

As you can see, the commonly shared idea that the visa shows how long you can stay is wrong. Even though we all use terms such as “overstaying your visa”, it’s just a common phrase. You can’t overstay your visa, as your visa has nothing to do with your stay.

In other words:

  1. Visa is for entering
  2. DS-2019 is for working
  3. I-94 is for staying
Travelling outside the USA

Since your flight home probably leaves from the USA, you need to be able to re-enter the USA if you make a trip outside the country. This is usually the case of Work & Travel participants wishing to visit Canada or Mexico. You now know that in order to be able to return to the USA, you must have a multiple-entry visa (this will be your second entry) and you must re-enter the USA before your visa expires. But that’s not everything! Your visa only allows you to enter the USA for the purpose of participating in your program.

If the immigration officer at the port of entry is unsure if you are re-entering in order to continue your program, he may not allow you to re-enter the USA even though your visa is still valid!

This is why your DS-2019 form has several fields for confirmation that you are in good standing and are returning to continue your program. They are in the lower right corner of the front page of the DS-2019 form. What you have to do, is to send your DS-2019 form to your program sponsor to have it signed and stamped in one of these fields.

So if you are planning a trip outside the USA towards the end of your program, call your program sponsor, let’s say two weeks prior to your trip, and arrange for your DS-2019 to be certified for your re-entry. Allow about one week for the postal service to deliver your DS-2019 to your sponsor and and another to deliver it back to you. Also make sure you have multiple-entry visa and plan your trip in such a way that you return to the USA while your visa is still valid.

Comments

63 Responses to “How long you can stay and work in the USA on the J1 visa”
  1. Sarah M says:

    Hi,
    I am going to do a summer camp that starts the 30th of May. But I am wanting to arrive in the US in April and travel around there as well as some parts of Central America. the Camp then ends in the middle of August and I would also like to travel more afterwards. Is this possible with the J1 Visa?

    • admin says:

      Hi Sarah, you should ask these things your visa sponsor. You paid them! Or are they so unresponsive that you are asking elsewhere? Anyway, here are the general rules:

      1. You can enter the USA up to 30 days before starting your program (start date on your DS2019)
      2. You can stay in the USA up to 30 days after finishing your program (end date on your DS2019)

      As for leaving the USA and re-entering, these rules apply:

      3. Your visa must be a multiple-entry visa
      4. You can only re-enter the USA before the end of your program (end date on your DS2019)
      5. Your DS2019 must be stamped and signed by your program sponsor in the re-entry field.

      Otherwise you’ll be denied the re-entry. Point 4. is what makes these plans impossible for most people. This doesn’t apply if you are from a Visa Waiver Program country, which allows you to re-enter the USA without any visa, or if you have another visa, such as B2 Visitor’s Visa, which you can use for re-entering.

      • Mary says:

        Hi,
        I won’t be able to enter the US before the start date on my DS2019. How late can I enter the country?

        • admin says:

          Hi Mary, you need to ask your program sponsor. We don’t which J1 visa you will have (J1 is a category, not a specific visa), what program you will participate in, what are the program’s rules, etc. In terms of general visa rules, you can enter the country at any time when your visa is valid. Because entering the country is what your visa is for. But we have no way of knowing what impact may a late arrival on your program. BTW, who is your program sponsor? And what program you are participating in?

  2. Laura says:

    hi,
    I am going to the USA a day before it says on DS-2019 form. is this ok??

    • admin says:

      Hi Laura, yes this is actually absolutely perfect, it suggests to the immigration officer that you want to start your program on time.

      And would you tell us something in return? You are not our participant – what made you ask us rather than the company you applied through?

  3. Eilidh says:

    If my J1 visa start date is the 11th of June, can I enter the USA on the 31st May and visit friends first?

  4. Daniel Lopez says:

    Comment removed, use English for commenting.

    • admin says:

      Hello Daniel – it says “Please use English for commenting”. We don’t speak any other language.

  5. Asneda says:

    My DS-2019 form end date is Sep 30 and my visa exp date is Oct 30. Is it OK, or should the embassy reprint me visa?

    • admin says:

      Hi Asneda, your visa dates have nothing in common with your DS dates and serve different purpose. Re-read the article.

  6. Eilidh says:

    Can I hold 2 J1 visa’s in the same year? Eg, I have one for the summer to work as a camp counsellor and then I apply for another in September to work as an aupair?

    • Misa says:

      Hi Elidh, yes you can. Whether or not will the embassy grant you the second one is a different question, but there’s no set limitation and we’ve seen it before. Can we also ask a question in return? Why are you asking us instead of our program sponsor? We’d like to know.

  7. swaps says:

    Hello,
    My DS2019 is valid till Nov2012 and so is my J1 visa. My employer recently told me that he will not be able to pay me after May15 2012. but due to some pending experiments he has asked me to stay till June 30 2012 as a Guest Associate. I will not be paid but will continue to work. Is my DS 2019 still valid in this case?

  8. Julia says:

    Hello,
    Are the 30 days before and after the dates on the Ds-2019 form seperate or added together? For example if I entered the US 10 days before the date on my form would I still be able to stay for 30 days after or would it only be 20?
    Thank you!

  9. akki says:

    hi,
    i have 5yrs J1 visa with multiple entries & i have completed my 1 internship so can i re enter the u,s if i have a valid ds-2019

    • admin says:

      Hello Akki, this doesn’t make sense. You can’t have 5 year J1 visa based on one year internship. Except by mistake of the embassy, which gives you no rights. You need to contact your program sponsor and find out what your situation really is.

  10. sofia says:

    Hi. If i have to vizit ambassy june 14,and i will get j-1 visa. When i can enter usa?

    • admin says:

      Hello Sofia, we make our articles freely available for public benefit. However, we offer support only to our own participants. If you’d like to receive the level of support and expertise that we can offer in the future, we’ll be happy if you apply to us! The list of most of the available programs is published here: http://www.apex-foundation.org/programs/all-by-country/

  11. Safaa says:

    Hi,

    Is there a limit to how early I can leave before the last date on my DS2019? I.e. the finish date for my placement (which is stated on the DS2019) is 6th September 2013, but the latest date I can change my flight to is 3rd September 2013, so I would be leaving 3 days EARLY. Is this allowed? Of course I will speak to my employer to check they don’t mind me finishing a week early.

    Thanks, Safaa

  12. iva says:

    Hello,
    what i have to do if i want to change my job?( i have DS2019 with a job form and i want to change my job)
    Thanks,IVA

    • admin says:

      Hello Iva, you need to contact your program sponsor with this kind of question. The new US Federal Regulations effective from May 11, 2012 require that all jobs are vetted and approved by program sponsors before students are allowed to start working in them. The sponsors are required to terminate and send home any student that starts working in an unapproved job. Best not play with fire.

  13. michael says:

    Hi i got a job in usa as a classic car mechanic i am from Denmark and have a mechanic licence can i get work visa?

    • admin says:

      Hello Michael, we deal with exchange and student programs visas here, but.. I love classic cars :-) If you are a university/college student and you’d like to do this during your summer vacations, just apply for the Work & Travel USA program. Otherwise, your employer should find an immigration law firm that deals with work visas and they’ll probably end up using either H1B or H2B, depending on how specialized and extraordinary your skills are. It’s a process, good luck!

  14. Katerina says:

    Hello, I work in USA like au pair and I extended from USA for another year and I already got new DS form for another year (but not new visa to my passport which means I will not have a chance to leave USA for a year).. I got chance to go home, to Europe but I am affraid to leave USA few days before my I 94 card expires (it does on 29th of August). I would like to leave on 9th and be back on 18th of August, which should be ok. I am just affraid that I would have problem to go back. I have a new host family and also I work for agency, I just heard I shouldnt leave USA 30 days before I have to. Thank you for your answer!

    • admin says:

      Hello Katerina, you need to contact your program sponsor and ask them to certify on your DS2019 that you are in good standing and returning to continue your program.

  15. Sheena says:

    The date on my I-94 says admitted until May 10, 2012….. That does not tell me how long I’m allowed to stay in the United States seeing that that is the date I arrived here…. My visa expires August 27, 2012 and my DS-2019 expires on that day also.

    I would like to stay until September 2, 2012. Will that be too long?

    • admin says:

      Hi Sheena, like everybody else, you need to consult these things with your program sponsor. We publish these articles primarily for students who applied through us. And although anybody can find them through Google it is against the law for anybody but your program sponsor to offer you support during your participation in the program. If you wish to take advantage of our expertise, we’ll be happy to have you apply throu us in the future.

  16. micheal says:

    Hi i have a 2 years multiple entry visa. i would like to know if i can still use the visa to enter the usa after my program ends.

  17. rita says:

    Hi,

    I have a multiple entry j1 visa that expires on 5 jan 2013, if I have valid DS 2019 can I re-enter US on 4 jan 2013? or would it be a problem as visa is expiring the next day?

    • admin says:

      Rita, J1 is NOT a visa! It’s a category. So saying that you have a J1 visa is completely meaningless. J1 au pairs, J1 university professors, J1 government visitors, etc. are worlds apart as far as the rules and regulations are concerned. Moral of this being, any time you have a question about “J1 visa”, ask instead about the exact J1 program that you have in mind. Otherwise it’s impossible to answer.

  18. Carlos says:

    hello Admin,
    I have 5years J1 visa work and travel, and my ds2010 expire in sep 3, 2012 and my visa in may 2017. So could I stay in usa just traveling untill ends of Oct or earlies Nov without problems when I want to come back to USA in the future?

    • admin says:

      Hi Carlos. 5-year work & travel visa doesn’t exist. If it was issued like that, it’s a mistake, we’ve seen that before. In any case, to participate, you need valid DS2019. You can only participate between the dates shown in the DS2019. How long you can stay is explained in the article – read again.

  19. Carlo says:

    Hello I came to us with J1 i stayed illegal for 1 year but i been out of the usa for 3 years can i still go back ?

  20. Edon says:

    Hi, I read your article and it was pretty helpful but the thing is that on my I 94 the date shown is the day that I entered US (25th of May) while my visa expiration is 14sept. Thank you in advance!

  21. Edon says:

    So my question would be until what date am I allowed to stay in the US?

    • admin says:

      It usually shows the date you entered and either the date until which you are admitted, i.e. before which you must leave, or in especially in the case of J1 visas, it sometimes shows just hand-scribbled something like “DS”, meaning “duration of status”. Which means that you can simply stay until the end of your program. This is helpful for instance when you are a student and you fail an exam and have to repeat it. If your school extends your program in SEVIS, to allow you to retake the exam, you don’t need a new I94.

  22. Pepi says:

    My expiration date on my J-1 visa is 29th September, but I have a booked holiday on Bahamas from 1 to 6th oct…Do you think that I’m gonna have a problems when i returning in Usa, cause my flight to my country is from NY…Thanks

    • admin says:

      You’re not mentioning where you’re from. If you are from a visa-waiver country, you can simply re-enter on ESTA. If you are from a visa country, then you – logically – can’t enter without a valid visa. Not sure if Bahamas have any special status, i.e. that you legally never leave the USA. Best to check with the ICE or an immigration attorney before you leave.

  23. Natalie says:

    I am planning to work in a usa summer camp and the program says to apply for the j1 program I was planning to travel in the USA for 6-7 weeks before hand but reading about the j1 program it says you can only enter the country 30 days before the starting date. Is there another visa or program that I could apply for that will allow me to travel for more than 30 days before I start the camp….thanks

  24. Vitaliy says:

    I am resident of Finland coming to USA for 6 month internship. If I obtain J1 intern VISA via your company can I apply for a student VISA to Australia while in the USA in J1 intern?

  25. stella says:

    Hi! Im extended au pair and Im about to finish my au pair year. My DC is valid till Feb 27th and Im going to Canada Dec 28, coming back to US Jan 2nd. I ve been already in Canada few times during my second year and never had any issue to re-enter US. My agency says that its risky to go during last 2 months since I might have a problem to come back to US. What do You think, why should I have problem if Im coming back to finish my au pair year and can have a proof like my ticket booked by CC to my home country.. Any concerns?

  26. Sudheer says:

    Hi,

    I have a J1 visa. My visa expires on 02March 2013 and my exchange program also ends on 02 March(also mentioned in DS-2019) form. I received a card with my visa saying I can stay up to 30 days after the end of the program. So, would I be allowed to stay in the US until 14th march or do I have to return on 02 March itself?

    • admin says:

      Dear Sudheer, this is slightly more complicated, so read carefully. Your visa is irrelevant – as explained in the article above (re-read if you’re not sure that you understand). What is relevant is your “Program End” date in your DS2012 and your I94 card. You can stay until the date shown on your I94 card…unless you finished your program early. Because you can’t stay longer than 30 days after the end of your program. That’s if you finish your program early, but in “good standing”. If, however, your program is “terminated” that means you broke some rules, you must leave the USA “without delay”, that generally means within a few days. So if you finish your program on March 2nd as planned, and your I94 shows that you can stay extra 30 days (i.e. not cutting the normal 30 days shorter), you are perfectly fine to stay till March 14, as that’s just 12 days past the end of the program.

  27. Shanae Gordon says:

    i went in the work and travel program last summer. I got 5 years visa. Can a J1 visa be a 5 year or its a mistake?

    • admin says:

      Hi Shanae, you’re guessing right, it is a mistake. On the other hand, you can’t participate in the program without a valid DS2019 form anyway. And once you get a new one, your SEVIS ID won’t match the one with which your previous visa was issued. So the 5 years mistake makes no difference anyway.

  28. Pamelyn says:

    I would like to visit the us in April, however only start working at the end of may. That is about a month and a half before I start working, would I be able to enter the us on a visitors visa, and then leave the country ( go to Canada) and re enter on a j1 visa?

    • admin says:

      Hi Pamelyn, quite possibly. But you need to turn to your J1 visa sponsor with these questions, not to the wild wild Internet.

  29. peter says:

    Hi,

    I’m applying to enter the USA on a h2b visa, can I enter the USA before the start date on my visa and travel? I know you have 30 days before on a j1but unsure of the h2b status

    Thanks!

    • admin says:

      Peter, you need to ask whoever handled your H2B visa petition or your employer’s Labor Certification. Presumably an immigration law firm. If you find the answer, do share it here with others.

  30. Stephanie73 says:

    Hi Guys,

    I am not with your program but you have alot of great information here that applies to me so i was wondering if it would be ok to ask a question. You guys came at the top of the google search.

    I am planning to go to the USA for a Semester of College in Jan 2014. My question is, if the course ends first week of may and i want to travel for 6-8 weeks after, do i need to have my DS2019 edited to end the first week of June, so i can stay 30 days after that, or can i apply for a tourist visa strait away so i can keep travelling. I want to be able to leave the USA and go to mexico, canada for tourism before, during and after my course. So does the DS2019 have to say mulitple entry on it for me to be able to leave and come in when i want to travel, or does the visa say multiple entry.

    • admin says:

      Hi Stephanie,

      We don’t normally reply to long questions unrelated to what we do. But you told us how we do in Google (pretty cool!), you wrote a nice post (as opposed to “i wanna dis, u write me info”) and you appear to have actually read the post. In other words, you have earned it :-)

      Second, let’s make it clear that we are neither immigration attorneys, educated in the ways of US laws affecting foreigners, nor are we visa advisers, or anything remotely like that. So there’s no guarantee that what we’re saying is not actually a complete nonsense! We’re just sharing here what we think, based on common sense and on what our past participants shared with us. Keep that in mind!

      Sooooo, with that out of the way..

      The logic is actually the same for all J1 programs. So the start and end date on your DS2019 still show the start and end of your program. It makes no difference if the program is Work & Travel, college study, or being a university researcher, it’s still shows its beginning and its end. There are all kinds of opportnities for students of certain specific fields, so you will eventually end up discussing this with your adviser at your school anyway, but the general rule for the J1 programs is that you can stay inside the USA for up to 30 days after the end of your program. If you want to stay up to 8 weeks, that’s too long. If your school updates (fakes?) your DS2019 and adds a later date as the end of your program, you’re fine. It’s the school that has to figure out if it’s legal. But you’d once again have the program + 30 days.

      Now comes the most misunderstood part – reread the article! **VISA IS FOR ENTERING** Read it aloud: “for ENTERING”. It has nothing to do with remaining inside the country. So if your J1 visa is no longer valid, you are perfectly fine to remain inside the USA, so long as, you are in “legal immigration status”. How long you can stay is shown in your I94 card (again, discussed in the article). If the card says “DS dates” as it often does in the case of the J1 programs, and your school extends your DS2019, there’s nothing else you need to do to remain in the US longer. For instance to travel. BUT, if your visa is no longer valid you can’t enter the USA again, if you leave it. Remember? We mentioned that visa is for entering, didn’t we?! So if you wish to visit also Canada or Mexico after the end of your studies, and your flight home leaves from the USA, you won’t be able to re-enter the USA without a new visa. And even if your J1 visa is still valid, your school would have to mark in your DS2019 that you will be re-entering the country to re-join the program! There are fields for it on the DS2019. If you are from one of the visa waiver countries (you didn’t mention what country you are a citizen of), you can re-enter the US using the ESTA, of course. But only do it for re-entering to fly home, you can’t study if you enter on ESTA! Your immigration status would be wrong.

      Now, if your school doesn’t extend your DS2019 and you want to stay longer, you’ll need to change your immigration status. Say, from J1 Exchange Student, to B2 Visitor. Visitor is what’s commonly referred to as “tourist visa”. To do that, you need to approach the “immigration” (ICE) and apply for a change of status. We had students who did just that, to be able to stay in the US for a few more months. They mentioned that it cost them $100 and they had to apply for the change of status at least 30 days before their previous status expired – but that’s really just what we heard from them. You seriously need to talk to the ICE about this to make sure you won’t end up “out of status”! After all, if you’re going to study in the US, you’ll probably want to visit there again in the future, and you don’t want to be refused for having been an “illegal alien” for a period of time.

      Best of luck and enjoy both your studies and your travels!

  31. Alonso says:

    Hi!, Thank you for giving this information.

    Just one question, my exchange program will be from January til May 2014 (as it’s written on the DS-2019) and the J-1 visa I received expires in 2018.
    This means I should leave the USA in May and then I won’t be able to visit the USA in the future with the same J-1 visa right?

    What about if I’d like to stay for any kind of summer job and after that comin back to my home country (Italy)?

    Thank you again.

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