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Many people who come into the U.S. on the Exchange Visitor Program have a great experience and decide they’d like to pursue further opportunities here.

In fact, if you’ve built great friendships and see additional excellent educational and work options available in the USA, you are wise to confirm what your options are.

Yes, I’d Like to Foster Global Understanding but That Doesn’t Mean I Have to Leave, Right?

If you’re already here on a J-1 visa, you know that the purpose of the program is to “foster global understanding through educational and cultural exchanges.”

You also probably know that after the standard period of time is up, you’re expected to head back home to share the exciting things you’ve learned and thus spread some positive goodwill about how wonderful the U.S. is.

But if you’re convinced that staying in the U.S. as a student is a great choice for you, you understandably want to know what to do.

If You’re Going to Stay Longer You Need to Carefully Monitor the Dates

Keep in mind that you need to carefully monitor the dates you’re authorized to stay in the U.S. You may not stay beyond the time listed on your Form DS-2019 – plus a period of 30 days to give some time to do a bit of domestic travel and get ready to leave.  If you end your program earlier than the expected ending date on your Form DS-2019, your period of authorized day under J-1 visa will end on that date. It is very important to notify the responsible officer listed on your Form DS-2019 of any changes in your program.

If you don’t leave when you’re supposed to – and you haven’t extended or changed your status as we describe below – then some undesirable things will happen: you will be “out of status,” your visa could be voided, and you might start accruing unlawful presence.  You probably will find it difficult to apply for another visa in the future and can even be barred from coming back to the U.S. for a certain number of years.

Many J-1 Visa Holders Have to Return Home for Two Years

The U.S. government set up this exchange program with the requirement that most participants return to their home country for two years after the program is finished. If this applies to you (look on your Form DS-2019, J-1 visa, and also at the “Exchange Visitor Skills list” amongst other places) then you will need to seek a waiver.

The Two-Year Home Residency Requirement Does Not Prevent You From Applying For Certain Visas

Even if you are subject to the two-year home residency requirement, you can come back to the U.S. as a B-1/B-2 visitor, or can apply for an F-1 visa to study in the U.S.  However, you are not allowed to change your status in the U.S. from J-1 to visitor visa or student visa, and you must go back to your home country first to apply.

You May Have Some Great Options Awaiting You at a Stellar U.S. University

Overall, there’s a good chance you may be able to stay in the U.S. after your J-1 stay is up as long as you meet the government’s criteria and carefully follow the rules.

If you want to study in the U.S. after your J-1, here are some key steps to take:

  • Apply for a full-time program that is definitely certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)
  • Receive an I-20 form from the school or university.
  • Apply for an F-1 visa from a U.S. consulate.

The steps are complex and keep in mind that the explanation above has been greatly simplified and doesn’t account for any of your unique circumstances.