You may currently be in the U.S. on a F-1 Visa, and have been accepted into a J-1 Visa Exchange Program. You are unsure if you should go back to your home country and apply for the visa from there or stay in the U.S., and do a change of status. This article will help you to strategize and decide which option to pursue based on 4 considerations: 1) Time, 2) Costs, and 3)Travel.
If you are already in the U.S. on an F-1 visa, you can stay in the U.S. and do a Change of Status application, or you can return to your country, or a country that does third-country visa processing, and apply for a visa through the consulate.
- Time Considerations
- Change of Status: To apply for a Change of Status, you must have sufficient time before the start of your J-1 program in the U.S. for a decision to come. It may take several months to process the Change of Status application. You do not want to risk not having the visa before the start of your program.
- Consular Processing: You can usually apply for a J-1 Visa in your home country or a country that does third-country processing like Canada or Mexico, get scheduled for an interview, and have the visa issued within a week or two. This is a much faster option. Many countries will also have expedited processing for J-1 visa applications.
- Change of Status Application Costs v. Visa Application and Related Costs
- Change of Status: The current USCIS Change of Status Application fee is $370.
- Consular Processing: The DS-160 fee is usually $160 but you must confirm with each country’s embassy (https://www.usembassy.gov/). There may be additional processing fees and also factor in costs of travel back to your home country and returning to the U.S.
- Travel Considerations
- Change of Status: You do not have to leave the U.S. while the application is pending but can stay here until a decision is made. However, if you leave before a decision is made, the application will be abandoned. Additionally, once the Change of Status is approved, you will get J-1 status but to get the visa stamp, you will need to return to your home country at some point, or a country that does third-country processing, and re-enter into the U.S.
- Consular Processing: You will have to leave the U.S., filed for a visa at the consulate, and can return to the U.S. after you have received the J-1 Visa.