As a J1 visa holder in the US, new opportunities for studying or working in the US are easier to find. Moreover, since J1 visa holders are known to have experienced the US culture beforehand, they get easily accepted for employment and higher studies in the US. However, a J1 visa cannot be used to fulfil these purposes.
In order to make the most out of these opportunities, J1 visa holders need to apply for a change from J1 to H1B or F1 visa. Even though both these visa types are non-immigrant visas like J1, the conversion process is anything but easy.
Let us help J1 visa holders get an in-depth understanding of the conversion processes. They can explore the factors affecting the conversion process, waiver in conversion conditions and step-by-step instructions to get a J1 visa changed into an F1 or H1B visa.
Before applying for J1 to F1 change, you will need to get a college acceptance letter from a US university, which our study abroad experts can help you with.
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What is a J1 Visa?
The J1 visa is a US non-immigrant visa issued to foreign nationals for skill and knowledge exchange. J1 visa holders are sponsored by US government-authorised exchange programs for education, teaching, professional visit, etc.
All J1 visas are issued for a limited period of time which is required to complete the exchange program schedule. Hence, the J1 visa is also identified as a visitor visa. It is designed to support the exchange programs aimed at promoting the interchange of persons, skills, and knowledge in fields of education, arts, and science. Generally, J1 visa holders can be identified as students, professors, trainees, research assistants, specialists, counselors, etc.
Why Change J1 Visa to F1 or H1B Visa?
As evident, the US J1 visa is a respectable and strong visa, so why should anyone apply for a change? Here are some of the benefits that can be unlocked on a change of J1 visa to F1 or H1B visa:
Longer Stay Back in the US: Though there is no limit on the length of stay back period for J1 visa holders, it is limited to the sponsorship period of the exchange program under which they have gained their visa. The change of J1 visa to F1 or H1B visa will help the visa holder to extend their stay back in the US.
Chance to Study in the US: The change from a J1 visa to an F1 visa will allow the visa holder a chance to pursue full-time degree courses in the USA. While a J1 visa also allows a chance to study in the US, its scope is limited to exchange programs.
Chance to Work Permanently in the US: J1 visa holders can work on a permanent basis in the US if they decide to change it into an H1B visa, also known as a work permit. The change will allow them a chance to ensure that they file for an extension of the visa limit as well.
Chance to Get Green Card: The J1 visa hampers the holder in many ways to fulfil the eligibility requirements to get a US PR visa, commonly known as the Green Card. The H1B visa and F1 visa, along with their purposes, help the visa holder to set the ground for the switch.
More Visa Rights: The visa rights of J1 are limited in comparison to F1 and H1B visas, in spite of all three being non-immigrant visas. Apart from the roles and rights allowed by the exchange program, J1 visa holders cannot do anything else, that is the activities that shall require their authorisation.
Factors Affecting J1 Visa Change
Although switching from a J1 visa to H1B or F1 visa will lead to many benefits for the visa holder, the process would not be as easy as on paper. There are certain factors that heavily affect the conversion of J1 visa to H1B visa or F1 visa. The factors affecting J1 visa change have been discussed below. These factors may also lead to delay in the conversion process or rejection of the conversion application.
2-Year Foreign Residency Requirement
It is the most important factor in determining whether the visa holder’s application for a J1 visa change shall be approved or not.
The 2-year foreign residency requirement is a mandatory condition attached to the J1 visa, that the holders cannot use the visa to apply for PR, change in visa type, or any other conversion in status, until they have completed a cumulative stay of two years in their home country or previous country of permanent residence. In simpler words, the condition requires J1 visa holders to return to their PR country for a period of at least two years before they use J1 as a basis of change in visa type.
The cumulative aspect of the condition makes it more complicated. The word implies that on completion of a J1 exchange program, the holder has to return to their home country and then stay there for at least two years, cumulatively. This means that if the holder travels out of their PR or home country during this period, then that shall not be counted as in their two years.
For instance, a visa holder completes a J1 program and returns to India. After a period of 18 months, they apply for a French tourist visa, and when they go to France on the same basis, they have stayed for 20 months in India after their J1 program. They stay in France for the next four months and apply for a change of J1 to H1B visa. This application will get rejected due to non-fulfillment of the 2-year foreign residency requirement. Though they were not in the US for a period of two years, their cumulative stay in their PR or home country is of only 20 months, which is short of four months. Hence, the application can get rejected.
Additionally, the 2-year foreign residency requirement may also get reapplied if the visa holder returns to the US on a J1 visa for a different exchange program. Then on their return, their 2-year foreign residency requirement shall start afresh.
This condition is attached to the visa holding of the applicant, and hence, more hampering than the following factors.
There is an annual cap applicable on all US visa types. Though this cap is often revised and is set on the basis of country of origin, if the application fails to make it within the cap, then the application is not approved for the said year.
For instance, if the visa holder files an H1B visa application in the year 2022, the annual cap of H1B visas for India has already been achieved, then the application shall get rejected, and the holder will get a notification to try next year.
This process is much easier for J1 to F1 visa cases. There is no limit on the number of F1 visas to be issued. It is dependent on the number of international students accepted by the US universities, and whether they have cleared the visa issue processes or not. Hence, if the eligibility criteria are met, the holder can easily gain a US F1 visa.
When applying for aUS visa change, the visa holder needs to submit proof in favour of the eligibility criteria of the visa type they are applying for. For instance, if they are applying for J1 to H1B visa change, then they need to submit evidence that makes them eligible to stay in the US as an H1B visa holder.
Moreover, the visa holder’s evidence is seen as the reason for visa change application, hence, it must be such, that it makes it important for the visa type to get converted. That is the reason must not be resolvable by visa holders return to their home country. For instance, when applying for an H1B visa, the holder must have a permanent job offer that requires them to be present in person to fulfil their work duties. Similarly, for an F1 visa, the course program they have been accepted for must require their in-person attendance at the university’s campus.
Is it Possible to Waive 2-Year Foreign Residency Requirement in the US?
Yes, it is possible to waive the 2-year foreign residency requirement applicable on a US J1 visa. Visa holder will need a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the government funding their exchange program. Hence, if their exchange program has been funded by their PR or home country’s government, then they need a NOC from the respective country’s International Affairs department.
Alternatively, if they have received funding from the US government, then they need the same NOC from The Office of International Affairs of the US. Since 2-year foreign residency condition is a US government policy it is nearly impossible to get a NOC from them.
When applying for a waiver of the 2-year foreign residency requirement the J1 visa holder needs to keep the following in mind:
The waiver application should be timed to not hamper the ongoing J1 processes. That is if the visa holder requires their J1 visa to be active in upcoming months, then they must avoid applying for a change, since if the application review starts then they can no more use their J1 visa to enter the US.
The waiver application also hampers the J1 visa holder to transfer or apply to exchange programs. That is once the application process is set in motion, even if selected for a different exchange program the visa holder shall not be able to go to the US for the same, and so they cannot apply for ongoing or upcoming transfer programs.
Since for every exchange program the J1 visa holder has to complete a 2-year foreign residency requirement, the holder can use the latest stay period towards their previous program. For instance, if an Indian J1 visa holder returned from an exchange program in September 2019, went again for another program in August 2021, and returned in February 2022. They applied for a waiver on the 2-year foreign residency requirement in September 2022, then the requirement shall be considered complete for September 2019 J1 exchange program, as the stay on second return shall be counted for the condition.
Lastly, the J1 visa on which the 2-year foreign residency requirement is applicable is subject to a skills list. Only the skills mentioned in this list are subject to this condition. Hence, if the J1 visa holders’ exchange program was based on a skill not listed then they do not have to complete 2-year foreign residency requirement. If they are still asked to its fulfillment, then they can apply for a waiver under “unfair requirement subjection”. Visa holders can use a DS-2019 form to enquire whether the condition is applicable to them or not.
How to Change J1 to F1 Visa?
In order to apply for a change from J1 to an F1 visa, J1 visa holders need to fulfil the eligibility criteria of the F1 visa. Although there is no cap on the number of F1 visas, there is still a certain clarity maintained by the representative offices on how many applications they can successfully process. Moreover, a J1 visa holder has to successfully clear the F1 visa process as well, such as appearing for an F1 visa interview.
F1 Visa Eligibility Criteria
For the application for a change to an F1 visa, the eligibility criteria are as follows:
Possession of a college acceptance letter for an in-person attendance academic program from a recognised US university or educational institution.
The non-immigrant status remains valid.
There should not have been any violation of the terms of entry and residence in the US as attached with the original J1 visa.
There must have been no undertaking or engagement in illegal crimes, unlawful acts, or other inappropriate actions by the J1 visa holder during their stay in the US.
How to Apply for J1 to F1 Change?
To apply for a J1 to F1 change, J1 visa holders need to undertake the following steps:
Step 1: Get a college acceptance letter from a US Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified school.
Step 2: Get an I-20 form from the university. Fill out the same and submit it.
Step 3: Pay the I-901 SEVIS fee.
Step 4: If applying from within the US, file an application to USCIS with Form I-539 for application to extend or change non-immigrant status.
Apply for an F1 visa with the US Mission in India, or respective PR or home country.
If applying from a country where no visa is required to enter the US, then fly to the US and at the US pre-clearance or pre-flight station apply for entry into the US as an F1 visa holder student.
How to Change J1 to H1B Visa?
Similar to J1 to F1, changing J1 to H1B visa also has its own technicalities. There are eligibility criteria to be fulfilled and an application process to be followed. When applying for an H1B visa, the annual cap factor is highly prominent, and the application must be made to avoid getting at the narrow ends of this cap, that is to avoid getting rejected due to the cap.
H1B Visa Eligibility Criteria
The J1 to H1B visa change requires the fulfillment of the following conditions:
The J1 visa holder must have at least a bachelor’s degree in a specialised skill or field relevant to their employment.
The employment which is being used as a base for conversion must have been obtained by applying due to specialised skills or talent, and a license or certification must support the same.
Other eligibility criteria must be met and the job offer must be for a permanent and full-time position.
The J1 visa holder must either present a NOC or have completed the 2-year foreign residency requirement if they are a subject of the same.
How to Apply for J1 to H1B Change?
To apply for a J1 to H1B change, the J1 visa holder needs to fulfil the steps below:
Step 1: Find an H1B sponsor, that is get their employer to nominate them for the visa.
Step 2: Get the employer to submit a Labour Conditions Approval (LCA) request with the US Department of Labour. They will certify the existence of equal working conditions and opportunities according to the information provided by the employer.
Step 3: Get the employer to submit an I-129 form, for the petition of a non-immigrant worker.
Step 4: After the petition is approved, the J1 visa holder can visit the USCIS office if they are in the US, or the US Embassy office in their PR or home country to apply for and get their H1B visa.
The visa change process of J1 to F1 or H1B can be quite hectic, hence, it is advised that the visa holder approaches US visa process experts or their PR or home country immigration consultants. They must also ensure that their conduct and reasoning are all properly documented and evidenced to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding during the entire process.
You can connect with our study abroad experts to understand more about F1 visa process and J1 visa change. You can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for any queries.
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