When you’re planning your immigration case, you want details. You want to know what is required, which forms you need, how much it will cost, and, possibly most importantly, how much time it will take. If you are in the process of, or thinking about, applying for an exchange visitor visa, this post will break it down and give you an idea of what you can expect for your J-1 visa processing time.
What is the J-1 Visa?
The J-1 visa for exchange visitors is a nonimmigrant visa that is designed around the use of sanctioned programs that act as sponsors instead of employers. Here is a quick list of some programs you can apply for under the J-1:
- Secondary School Student
- Government Visitor
- University or College Student
- Summer Work Travel
- Professional International Visitor
- Camp Counselor
- Au Pair (Nanny)
There are also some basic requirements that must be met before applying including:
- You must be able to fund your trip and also have adequate medical insurance for you and family members that are coming over on a J-2 visa.
- You have a strong grasp of the English language
- You must maintain an overseas residence and make it clear that you do not intend to abandon it. (This can often be proven by demonstrating that you have family, a car, or some other asset that would incentivize you to return home after your J-1 stay)
If you fulfill the above criteria and have already secured a sponsor, then you can start on the first step along the road to a J-1 visa, which is filing a DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibiltiy for Exchange Visitor Status with the Office of Immigration Services (OIS). This form will be generated and completed by your sponsoring organization.
Once you receive confirmation that your DS-2019 has been accepted, you will have one of two options. You can either:
- Change your status, which will happen automatically if you are already under a different nonimmigrant visa status (such as the F-1 visa) as soon as you submit the DS-2019, or
- Go through consular processing, which involves completing a DS-160 online nonimmigrant visa application and bringing it to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy in your home country for a scheduled appointment. There, you will take part in an interview with a consular officer. When in your interview, be sure to prepare ahead of time as well as answer each question confidently and truthfully. Telling the officer that you don’t know the answer to a question is better than lying.
As a side note, you may need to also submit the DS-157 Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application giving the USCIS info about your travel plans.
What is the J-1 Visa Processing Time?
Now that we know what the steps are, we can get a better understanding of what the J-1 visa processing time will be. The DS-2019 can take between 2 and 3 weeks to be processed by the OIS. Making an appointment with the U.S. Consulate or Embassy can have you waiting 2 weeks to over a month depending on how busy the establishment is. If the interview goes favorably, then it will take about 1 week for them to add it to your passport.
All in all, the the J-1 visa processing time varies from 5 weeks to over two months not including any travel time.
J-1 Extension Processing Time
In order to extend your J-1 visa, you will need to have your program sponsor issue you a second DS-2019 form that shows the granted extension. According to the Department of State, you can only extend your visa beyond the maximum allowance for your program under certain circumstances. Your immigration attorney and your sponsor can give you more accurate information on your extension eligibility based on your unique circumstances.
Once you’ve filed the new DS-2019, you should expect another 2 to 3 weeks similar to that of the first petition. Again, this time frame depends on your particular service center’s caseload.
Can I Use Premium Processing?
Unfortunately, the premium processing service, which would shorten your processing time to just 15 calendar days, is only available for certain visas and green cards that use the I-129 and I-140 forms. Because the J-1 visa requires the DS-2019, it is not eligible for premium processing.
What is the Validity Period for My J-1 Visa?
Your J-1 visa’s validity period is entirely dependent on the program that is sponsoring you. However, there are very few cases in which a J-1 visa holder can stay longer than 7 years. Here are some generalized validity periods based on the more popular programs:
- Teachers, scholars, researchers, professors can stay for a maximum of five years.
- Medical graduate students have a validity period maximum of seven years.
- Professional trainees and government visitors can remain in the U.S. for up to 18 months with some exceptions going up to two years.
- Camp counselors and summer workers have a J-1 maximum validity period of 4 months.
- Nannies and au pairs are generally given a maximum duration of one year.
- One example of a program that allows its participants to stay for more than seven years is the International Communications Agency, whose employees can remain in the U.S. for up to ten years or more.
It is important to contact your sponsoring program to determine the exact extent of your visa validity period. Staying past the departure date on your I-94 could result in serious consequences such as being considered “out of status”, which could bar you from further immigration attempts in the future.
Is There a J-1 Visa Grace Period?
There are two J-1 visa grace periods that should be noted before traveling to the U.S. The first begins 30 days before your official J-1 visa start date. During this time, you cannot work in the U.S.
Likewise, there is also a 30-day J-1 grace period that starts as soon as your program ends. You can use this time to wrap up affairs, travel in the U.S, etc. However, if you leave the U.S. during this grace period, you will not be admitted back without a new visa. This is because you will be past the end date on your DS-2019. You are also not permitted to work during this J-1 grace period.
The important thing is to leave the U.S. before your grace period expires. If you overstay, then you might find yourself “out of status”, which could have serious repercussions on your attempts to get a visa or green card in the future.
What Could Delay My Visa?
To avoid having an unnecessarily long J-1 processing time, there are some things that you should adhere to. For one, you should have an immigration attorney look over the DS-2019 sent by your program in order to ensure that all of the information is complete, correct, and accurate. A failure to do so could result in a petition rejection or even a denial.
If you receive a rejection, that means that there is likely only a simple error or omission that needs to be fixed before refiling the petition. However, if your petition is denied, the USCIS officer did not deem your case worthy of a J-1 visa and you may have to find other means of working in the U.S.
Also, you will need to make sure that each payment is made in the correct amount to the correct department. A mistake in the fee payments could seriously delay your J-1 visa processing time.
Ultimately, however, an accurate processing time frame is difficult to obtain due to the fact that it heavily depends on your service center’s caseload.
How Long Would It Take to Go from a J-1 Visa to a Green Card?
The first step toward a green card once you have your J-1 visa is to find a sponsoring employer. This could be the program that sponsored your J-1 visa or it could be a different employer. You will also need to decide which green card is the most suitable for your situation. If you have an advanced degree or exceptional skills, you may qualify for the EB-2. If you are a skilled worker, the EB-3 may fit your qualifications.
It is very important to note that the J-1 visa is not a dual intent visa. Meaning that you cannot legally pursue a green card while under J-1 status. You will need to return to your home country for your home residency requirement or change your status to a different nonimmigrant visa that is dual intent. To avoid the home residency requirement, you will need a J-1 visa waiver.
Once you are either in your home country or under a dual intent visa status, your sponsor will need to obtain a PERM Labor Certification on your behalf. This is a significant and lengthy step in the transition from J-1 visa to green card, as your sponsor will need to run an ad campaign for your position to ensure that no qualified U.S. workers are available for your job.
This entire process can take up to nine months provided that your sponsor is not audited by the Department of Labor. If they are, then it could delay the processing time up to a year and a half.
After you have your PERM, your sponsor will file an I-140 for you. This form can be expedited to 15 calendar days through premium processing. However, you will still be subject to your petition’s priority date, which may render premium processing useless for your case.
Your priority date is the day that the USCIS obtains the petition sent by your employer. You and your employer will need to compare that date with the “final action” dates given in the Department of State’s monthly visa bulletin.
When the dates match, your priority date will be considered current and a visa number will become available to you. This can take several years or no time at all, as it heavily depends on which green card you are pursuing and which nation is your country of origin.
Then you can choose to either adjust your status from J-1 to your new green card by filing the I-485 application (only if you are in the U.S.) or you can travel to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy in your home country to take part in a one-on-one interview with an immigration officer. Should this interview work out in your favor, you will be able to enter the U.S. as a legal permanent resident.
While adjusting your status may seem like the simpler option, it may also be the lengthiest, as it often takes an average of six months to process the I-485 and premium processing is not available. On the other hand, the U.S. Consulate or Embassy might be able to schedule your interview within a few weeks, depending on the caseload.
J-1 Waiver Processing Time
As we stated earlier, in order to transfer to a different nonimmigrant visa or to a green card from a J-1 visa, you need a waiver to avoid the 2-year home residency requirement. Overall, there are five main statutory bases that will qualify you for this waiver:
- Obtaining a “no objection” statement from the government of your home country.
- Having an agency of the U.S. federal government (Interested Government Agency, or IGA) request that you stay in the U.S., usually because you are working on a project that greatly benefits from your participation.
- Being able to prove that you may experience persecution should you return to your home country.
- Proving that a spouse or dependent would endure hardship if you were to be required to return to your home country.
- Being a physician who has received an offer for a full-time position in an area that lacks medical professionals.
The J-1 visa waiver processing time begins with you filing an online application for your waiver recommendation. The amount of time your waiver application will take depends on the caseload of the USCIS service center that has received your petition and the type of statutory basis you are applying under. For example, an IGA waiver or a Persecution waiver may take longer than a No Objection waiver. Overall, you can expect a minimum J-1 waiver processing time of 3 to 4 months.
Keep in mind that you can file multiple applications simultaneously if you qualify for more than one. That way, in case one is processed faster than the other, you can take action as soon as the first one is approved.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
Whether you’re only thinking about getting started on your J-1 visa or you already have one and you’re ready for the next step toward your green card, it’s always best to have an expert on your team. Immigration law is a field that takes years to master and navigating around pitfalls that cost both time and money is best done with the help of an immigration attorney.
To get a much better idea of your unique J-1 visa processing time and what the optimal process is, you can fill out this form and schedule your consultation with our office. At SGM Law Group, our attorneys have helped countless others obtain their J-1 visas and even become lawful permanent residents afterward. From start to finish, your case will be in the best hands.