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Traveling Outside the U.S. During Your J-1 Program

A frequent question we receive (and a frequent issue that arises when travel occurs without notifying us and/or your program sponsor) is:

“Can a J-1 Exchange Student (and J-2 dependents, if applicable) travel outside the U.S. during their J-1 Program?”

The short answer is “Yes”, however, there are a number of factors a J-1 traveler must consider before they make international travel plans:

Did you notify your J-1 Program Sponsor of your intended travel?

To avoid a myriad of issues, including termination of your J-1 program. J-1 visa holders must notify their J-1 Program Sponsor well in advance.

Has your DS-2019 been travel-endorsed?

  •  The validation on the DS-2019 form(s) will let U.S. customs officers know that your J-1 Program Sponsor is aware that you will be traveling outside the United States during your J-1 Program.
  • Obtaining the signature will help you avoid delays at the port of entry when you return from traveling abroad.
  • A travel-endorsement can be applied to all travel within 12 months from the date of the endorsement.

How long will you be away from the U.S.?

  • Generally, a J-1 visa holder may not travel outside the U.S. for more than 30 days without being considered to have “abandoned their program”. Any exceptions must be approved, in advance, by your J-1 visa sponsor.
  • Generally, absences from the U.S. of more than 30 days must be for a purpose that is consistent with the purpose and goals of the Exchange Visitor’s J-1 program.
  • There is no limitation of duration of absences from the U.S. for J-2 dependents.

Where are you going?

  • If you are travelling to a U.S. territory, such as Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, you do not need a U.S. visa, to return to the continental U.S. however you should always travel with your passport, as well as your valid DS-2019 and I-94.
  • If you are visiting other countries, you should contact their consulate to determine if you need a visa to enter those countries.
  • Visitors to Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands except Cuba, may be eligible for automatic visa revalidation of an expired visa (see below).

Where are you from?

  • If you are Canadian, you do not receive a J-1 visa stamp in passport and therefore do not need a J-1 visa to re-enter the U.S., you will simply need a travel-endorsed DS-2019.
  • Your need for a visa to visit another country may be dependent upon your nationality and citizenship. You should contact that country’s consulate to determine if you need a visa to enter those countries.
  • Citizens of Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba are ineligible for automatic visa revalidation.

When does your J-1 visa expire?

  • Your J-1 visa must be valid at the time you intend to return to the U.S. (unless you are eligible for automatic revalidation of an expired visa, see below). It is important to note, even if you have a valid, approved DS 2019, issuance of a new U.S. visa by the U.S. Consulate is never guaranteed, so it is important that you consider the following:
    •  Usually, the J-1 Visa in your passport expires when the J-1 program you last entered the U.S. for ends (this may be different for some nationals, depending on reciprocity rules). If you are taking a break between programs, even if you have an approved DS-2019 for your next program (unless you are Canadian, see below), you will need to apply for a new visa as a U.S. consulate in order to return to the U.S.
    •  Canadian nationals, currently, do not receive a J-1 visa stamp in their passport, but rather use their valid DS-2019 in lieu of a visa to enter the U.S.
  • If your visa is expired, or expires during your travel, you MUST make arrangements to visit a U.S. consulate and obtain a new visa before you will be permitted to re-enter the United States. If you need to obtain a new visa in order to return the U.S., you will need to:
  • Make an appointment, well in advance, at the nearest U.S. Consulate. Any delays in obtaining this appointment can cause delays in your ability to return to the U.S. If you are absent from your J-1 program for more than 30 days, you may be considered to have “abandoned your program” and be unable to obtain new J-1 Visa; and,
    Bring the following:
    • DS-2019 Form, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status
    • DS-7002 Form, A Training/Internship Placement Plan (only for J-1 Trainee or Intern categories)
    • Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application
    •  A passport valid for travel to the U.S with six month validity past the intended period of stay in the US
    • Receipt evidencing payment of the SEVIS fee
    • Documentation of the source and amount of financial support
  • Unless you are eligible for automatic revalidation of an expired visa:
    • Under certain circumstances, persons with expired visas are allowed to return to the US without having to obtain new visas. This is known as “automatic visa revalidation.” To qualify, exchange visitors must be applying for readmission to the US after a temporary absence of not more than 30 days in Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands except Cuba and have a valid Form I-94, DS-2019, and passport with an expired visa stamp. The visa will be considered “extended” to the date of re-entry, eliminating the need to obtain a new visa at a US consulate before that particular re-entry. Persons who apply for a new visa while in Canada, Mexico, or islands in the Caribbean are ineligible for automatic visa revalidation.

Are your J-2 Dependents travelling?

A J-2’s status is valid only while the J-1 is in the U.S. J-2 dependents may not remain in the US while the J-1 is outside the U.S.

For initial entry to the U.S., each J-2 dependent needs his or her own DS-2019, a valid passport valid for at least six months beyond the date of expected stay, and a valid J-2 visa stamp (Canadian citizens are visa-exempt). J-2 dependents may enter the U.S. at the same time as the J-1, or after the J-1 has arrived in the United States. Dependents who leave the U.S. temporarily must provide the following document at the U.S. port of entry:

  • DS-2019, endorsed for travel by the J-1 Program Sponsor. The travel endorsement is valid up to 12 months. Travelers should carry all DS-2019s ever issued, not just the most recent one.
  • Valid passport
  • Valid J-2 visa. If the visa has expired, request a new visa at a U.S. Consulate prior to returning to the US. Be sure to make an appointment in advance and anticipate delays due to security reviews.