J-1 visas and statuses can be extended in the U. S. to enable you to complete your particular exchange visitor program. However, since j-1 statuses are usually granted for the period of time considered reasonable for the type of exchange visitor program in which you are participating, extensions are not easy to get. usCIs has the right to reconsider your qualifications based on any changes in the facts or law, and will want to hear a compelling reason why you have been unable to complete your exchange visitor program within normal time limits. As always, however, good cases that are well prepared will ordinarily be successful.
When you enter the u. s. on a j-1 visa, your I-94 card will be stamped to indicate that you can stay in the u. s. for the duration of your status (D/s), limited by the time period on your Certificate of Eligibility. However, if you come from a country where j-1 visa time privileges are especially limited, your visa may expire before your I-94 card does. In such a situation, if you wish to leave the u. s. and then reenter to complete your exchange visitor program, you will have to extend your visa. To extend the visa that is stamped in your passport, you must apply at a u. s. consulate abroad.
Whether and how you can extend your j-1 stay depends on whether you were admitted for the duration of your
status (with a “D/s” mark on your I-94) or until a specific date. It’s easier with a D/s mark—in that case you can simply explain the situation to the Responsible Officer (RO) at your school or program (most of them like you to give them at least 30 days notice) and ask the RO to prepare a new Form Ds-2019 showing the new expected completion date. The RO then notifies the state Department, and your extension becomes official.
If, however, you were admitted until a specific date, you must not only get a new Form Ds-2019, but also seek actual approval from usCis (if you don’t want to leave the U. s.) or the state Department (if you’re willing to leave and either reenter or reapply through a U. s. consulate).
To apply within the U. s., you would use Form I-539 (the form used for changing status, which you may have used once already—it’s on the usCIs website). You’ll also need to enclose the appropriate fee, your new Form Ds-2019, copies of your old Ds-2019 and your I-94 (and those of your family members, if any), and a letter from your program sponsor stating how long the extension is needed for, and explaining in as much detail as possible why you are unable to complete your program within the expected amount of time. Mail your package to the usCIs regional service center indicated on its website at www. uscis. gov. It may take several months to get an answer from usCIs, so plan ahead so that your permitted stay doesn’t expire while the application is pending.
To apply from outside the U. S., your procedure depends on whether not only your I-94, but also your J-1 visa has run out. If only the I-94 has run out, but your visa is still good, you can simply arrive at the airport with your existing J-1 visa, your new DS-2019, your old DS-2019, and, to be safe, all the supporting materials you used to get your J-1 visa in the first place. You will be given a new I-94 showing your new departure date.
If not only your I-94 but also your J-1 visa has run out, you’ll need to reapply for everything through a U. S. consulate. In addition to your new DS-2019, you’ll need to gather all the materials you used to apply for your original visa, as described in Section G, above.
If you file your application for extension of J-1 status before your authorized stay expires, you are automatically authorized to continue working for up to 240 days while waiting for a decision. If, however, your authorized stay expires after you have filed for an extension but before you receive an approval, and more than 240 days go by without getting a decision on your extension application, you must stop working.
You may be participating in the type of exchange visitor program that makes it mandatory for you to spend two years residing in your home country after completing your program before you are eligible to apply for a green card or other U. S. visa. If you wish to escape this obligation and apply for a green card immediately, you will first have to apply for a waiver of the home residency requirement. You cannot get around the requirement by spending two years in a third country or by switching to a different visa status within the United States.
To apply for a waiver, you’ll have to show that you deserve it under one of the following five grounds:
• No objection from your home government. Unless you are a foreign medical graduate, the easiest way to obtain a waiver is by having your home government consent to it through a "no objection letter." In this letter, your government would assert that it doesn’t mind your staying in the U. S. to apply for a green card—despite the fact that it may have helped finance your exchange
program participation. Contact your home country’s embassy in Washington, DC to request such a letter.
• Request by an interested U. S government agency. If you’re working on a project of interest to an agency of the U. S. government, and that agency decides that your continued stay is vital to one of its programs,
it may support your request for a waiver.
• Fear of persecution in your home country. If you can show that you would be persecuted upon return to your home country based on your race, religion, or political opinion, you can apply for a waiver. Note that, unlike applicants for political asylum, you cannot qualify if you fear persecution based only on your nationality or membership in
a particular social group. Also, the standard is higher than in ordinary asylum cases, in which applicants need only prove a "reasonable fear" of persecution—you, by contrast, must show that you "would be" persecuted upon return. If you meet this standard, you’d probably be better off skipping the waiver process and submitting a separate application for political asylum.
• Exceptional hardship to your U. S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or child. If your spouse or any of your children are U. S. citizens or
permanent residents, and you can show that your departure from the U. S. would cause them exceptional hardship, you may be granted a waiver. However, USCIS will demand a greater showing of hardship than the "mere" emotional pain of separation, or economic or language difficulties. The classic exceptional hardship case is one in which your family member has a medical problem that would be worsened by your departure or by traveling with you to your home country; or where the family member would be persecuted if he or she departed with you.
• Request by a state department of health. If you’re a foreign medical graduate with an offer of full-time employment at a health care facility in an area that’s been designated as having a shortage of doctors, and you agree to begin working there within 90 days of receiving the waiver and to continue working there full-time for at least three years, you may be granted a waiver.
As you might guess, the waiver application process is complex and often depends on persuading reluctant government officials that you fit into a category whose boundaries are not clearly defined. We do not cover the waiver application process in this book, but strongly advise you to get help from an experienced immigration lawyer.
Special rules apply for you to be able to work while you’re in the United States.