Changing Status to J-1

If you are already in the United States in another nonimmigrant status, you may be allowed to apply for a change of status to J-1 by submitting an application to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). However, because of the processing time involved with the USCIS change of status application, this option is generally not recommended. It is typically much faster for new J-1 exchange visitor applicants to return to their home country and apply for a J-1 visa to enter the US, rather than applying for a change of status to J-1 while remaining in the US.

In general, the steps involved in the USCIS change of status process are:

  1. Exchange visitor applicant and sponsoring MUSC department complete the J-1 sponsorship application process with CGH
  2. If approved, CGH issues Form DS-2019 and sends form to J-1 applicant
  3. Exchange visitor applicant pays SEVIS I-901 fee
  4. Exchange visitor applicant completes and submits USCIS Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status and pays the USCIS I-539 filing fee (currently $370)  
  5. If approved, USCIS sends exchange visitor Form I-797 Approval Notice indicating change of status to J-1

Please be aware that MUSC cannot assist you with completing the USCIS Form I-539 application to request a change of status to J-1. You may wish to hire an experienced immigration attorney if you think you need assistance with this application. In addition, you are responsible for paying all fees associated with the I-539 change of status application.

It is important to understand that you cannot begin the J-1 program at MUSC until you receive the official approval notice (Form I-797) from USCIS, indicating that USCIS has approved the I-539 change of status application and granted you a change of status to J-1.

USCIS processing times for I-539 change of status applications (requesting change of status to J-1) are highly variable and are subject to change at any time. In general, applications requesting a change of status to J-1 can take anywhere from 9-15 months to be processed by USCIS. USCIS does offer premium processing service for the I-539 application. Premium processing is an optional service that will expedite the processing of the application for an additional fee (currently $1750). Premium processing will ensure that the application is processed within 30 calendar days, in most cases.

Again, the change of status to J-1 option is rarely used and is typically not recommended. If you have been offered an Exchange Visitor Program at MUSC and you are considering pursuing a change of status to J-1, please contact the Center for Global Health to discuss your individual circumstances.