How long you can stay and work in the USA on the J1 visa
Monday, May 16, 2011 by
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.
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:
- Visa is for entering
- DS-2019 is for working
- 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.