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Changing Your Status to J-1

If you are already in the U.S. in a nonimmigrant status other than J-1 (e.g. F-1, H-1B, etc.), you will need to apply for a change of status to J-1 in order to participate in a UH exchange visitor program. Your UH sponsoring unit should initially consult with FSIS to determine whether a change of status is possible.

If a change of status is not possible, you will have to leave the U.S., apply for a J-1 visa at a U.S. consulate, and then reenter the U.S. in J-1 status. See the J-1 entry procedures for more information.

If you are eligible to change your status to J-1, please follow these procedures:

STEP 1: Obtain Form DS-2019

STEP 2: Prepare & submit Form I-539 to USCIS

STEP 3: Pay SEVIS fee

STEP 4: USCIS approves Form I-539

STEP 5: Register with FSIS

STEP 1: Obtain Form DS-2019 [top]

Important: If you were previously a J-1 exchange visitor anyhwere in the U.S., you may be subject to the 12-month bar and/or 24-month bar on repeat participation as a J-1 research scholar or professor. See the 12-Month and 24-Month Bars Chart for more information.

Your UH sponsoring unit should submit a DS-2019 initial request to FSIS. FSIS will issue a DS-2019 which will be sent to you by your UH sponsoring unit. You will need to attach the original DS-2019 to your change of status application.

When you receive the DS-2019, be sure to carefully read both sides of the form and sign and date the form at the bottom of Page 1.

Your J-2 dependents should sign their own DS-2019s at the bottom of Page 1. However, you should sign the DS-2019s of any J-2 children who are under 14 years of age.

FSIS will attach additional information to your DS-2019(s). You will be required to download and read the Pre-Arrival Information for J-1 Exchange Visitors booklet. This booklet contains very important information on procedures you will need to complete before you begin your J-1 program. If you cannot access this booklet online, contact your UH sponsoring unit to send you a printed copy of it.


STEP 2: Prepare & submit Form I-539 to USCIS [top]

USCIS Electronic Immigration System (ELIS)

If you are eligible, you may file your I-539 change of status application online using the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's Electronic Immigration System (ELIS). Please review USCIS's ELIS website for more information.


Mailing an I-539 application to USCIS

If you are not eligible to use ELIS or if you would rather mail your I-539 application to USCIS, download Form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status from the USCIS website. Click on “Forms” and scroll down to the I-539 link. Be sure to review the I-539 instructions and then complete these procedures:

  1. Complete the I-539 and sign and date the form with blue ink in Part 5.
  2. If your spouse and/or minor children under the age of 21 are in the U.S. and need to change to J-2 dependent status, also complete Supplement 1 of Form I-539.
  3. Prepare a cover letter for your application. Explain the reason for your request to change your status to J-1, including why you did not originally enter the U.S. in J-1 status and the changes in circumstances which led to your change of status application.
  4. Include your original signed DS-2019. Also include each dependent’s original DS-2019.
  5. Include proof of each dependent’s relationship to you (i.e. marriage certificate for your spouse and birth certificates for your children).
  6. If you are in F-1 status: Attach a copy of your Form I-20 (and copies of each dependent’s I-20).
  7. If you are in H-1B, TN, or other nonimmigrant status: Attach a copy of your current I-797 approval notice (and copies of each dependent’s I-797).
  8. Attach evidence of financial support (e.g. a letter from your financial sponsor or a certified bank statement).
  9. Staple a filing fee check/money order, payable in USD to the “Department of Homeland Security,” to the bottom right corner of the first page of the I-539. The fee amount is currently $300, but will decrease to $290 on November 23, 2010.
  10. Attach a copy of both sides of your I-94 card (if you have one) OR copies of your J-1 admission stamp and I-94 printout from CBP's I-94 website on top of the I-539 and supporting documents. Also include any dependents' I-94 records and admission stamps.
  11. If you would like FSIS to review the application before you mail it, please make an appointment with an FSIS International Scholar Specialist.
  12. Make a copy of the entire application for your records.

Mail the entire application by one of these methods:

USPS Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested:

USCIS Dallas Lockbox
P.O. Box 660166
Dallas, TX 75266

Non-USPS Delivery (FedEX, UPS, etc.):

USCIS Dallas Lockbox
ATTN: I-539
2501 S. State Highway 121 Business, Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067
Phone: (800) 375-5283


STEP 3: Pay SEVIS fee [top]

You must pay a Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee of $180 before your change of status application can be approved.

How to pay the SEVIS fee: Payment can be made by yourself or another person, either in the U.S. or abroad, by one of two ways:

  • By using the SEVIS I-901 Fee Processing website to complete an electronic Form I-901 and pay the fee using a credit card; or
  • By mailing a paper Form I-901 with a check/money order drawn on a U.S. bank and payable in US currency.

SEVIS fee receipt: The Department of Homeland Security will mail you an official Form I-797 paper receipt acknowledging that you paid the SEVIS fee. If you submit the fee using the SEVIS fee website, you can print out an electronic receipt at the time of payment before the I-797 receipt arrives in the mail.

The SEVIS fee does NOT have to be paid by:

  • J-2 dependents
  • Individual who paid an initial SEVIS fee when seeking a J-1 visa from a U.S. Embassy/Consulate, was denied a visa, and is applying again for a visa in the same J-1 exchange visitor category within 12 months of the first visa denial
  • J-1 exchange visitor applying for a visa to return to the U.S. as a continuing participant of an exchange visitor program. This applies only to J-1s returning to the U.S. to resume participation in a program that began previously, in which he/she has maintained status, and which has not completed
  • J-1 exchange visitor transferring to UH in the same exchange visitor category, except from a federal government-sponsored program (with G-1, G-2, or G-3 program codes)
  • J-1 exchange visitor requesting/applying for an extension of stay in the same program

STEP 4: USCIS approves Form I-539 [top]

You may not receive UH payments or begin UH employment while the I-539 is still pending UNLESS you have some other valid work authorization (e.g. F-1 OPT authorization that has not expired). If you do not have prior work authorization that is still valid, you must wait until USCIS approves your I-539 in order to begin UH employment.

When USCIS approves your I-539 change of status application, you will receive an approval notice (Form I-797) in the mail. USCIS will also return your original DS-2019. Please provide copies of the approval notice and the returned DS-2019 (both sides of each form) to your UH sponsoring unit’s Administrative/Personnel Officer and to FSIS.

If USCIS denies your I-539 and your previous nonimmigrant status (e.g. F-1, J-2) has expired, you will begin accruing unlawful presence unless you have a legal basis to stay in the U.S. If you have no legal basis to remain in the U.S., you should leave immediately.

STEP 5: Register with FSIS [top]

You must schedule a mandatory registration/orientation appointment with FSIS within 10 business days of receiving the USCIS approval of your change of status to J-1.