J1 to H1B and J1 to F1: How to Change Your J1 Visa Status

Updated on August 14, 2023
At a Glance: A J1 visa is a non-immigrant visa for individuals participating in work- and study-based visitor exchange programs in the U.S., primarily focused on promoting knowledge and skills in fields such as education, sciences, and arts. J1 visa holders, including students, au pairs, teachers, and physicians from abroad, may be able to change their visa status, but some may be subject to a two-year foreign residency requirement. Waivers for this requirement can be granted in certain circumstances, such as receiving a “no objection letter” from the U.S. embassy, demonstrating fear of persecution, or showing exceptional hardship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or child. Changing from J1 to H1B visa status can provide job opportunities, while changing to F1 status allows for pursuing education in the U.S. The process for changing visa status involves meeting eligibility criteria, finding an employer sponsor or SEVP-approved school, completing necessary applications, and attending an interview. Stilt offers personal loans to help finance the costs associated with changing J1 visa status.

You have been in the U.S. now for a while and your J1 visa has served you well. But, you are pursuing new avenues and are looking to get another type of visa. What are your options and how can you change your visa status? More importantly, how will you cover the costs involved?

Below we take you through the steps on how you can apply for a J1 to H1B change of status or even change your status from J1 to F1. We also show you how you can finance these changes with a personal loan from Stilt.

What is a J1 Visa?

J1 visas are only for a specific group of non-immigrants who are mainly in the U.S. to take part in work- and study-based visitor exchange programs. J1 visa holders are in the U.S. for programs that regard the promotion of knowledge and skills or for exchange in the fields of education, sciences, and arts.

Typical fields of work and study include the following:

  • Students
  • Au pair and EduCare
  • Teachers
  • Physicians from abroad
  • Government academic program participants

Can a J1 Visa Holder Change Their Visa Status?

Generally, a J1 visa holder can change their status, provided all the requirements are met. Your unique situation and your efforts will, however, determine your success. The biggest obstacle you might face is the two-year foreign residency requirement.

Two-Year Foreign Residency Requirement

Before you go apply for the change of visa status you need to understand the following requirements with changing a J1 visa. There are some categories of J1 visa owners who need to fulfill a cumulative two-year foreign residency period before they can apply for any other visa. This means you need to stay outside of the U.S. for two years (preferably in your home country) before you can apply for a change of status, for example, a J1 to H1B change of status.

Who is Subject to the Two-Year Foreign Residency Requirement?

Here is a short list of the groups of people who need to fulfill the two-year requirement before being able to change status:

Can The Two-Year Foreign Residency Be Waived?

There are special circumstances under which a J1 visa owner does not have to fulfill the two-year foreign residency period before being eligible to change the status of their visa.

You need to fulfill one of the scenarios below to be eligible for a J1 status change two-year foreign residency waiver:

  • No Objection from the U.S. Embassy in Your Home Country – The U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country gives consent through a “no objection letter” granting you permission to change your visa status.
  • Request by an Interested U.S. Government Agency – A U.S. government agency lays claim that you are an integral part of a program and can not leave it for two years.
  • Fear of Persecution in Your Home Country – You can prove beyond reasonable doubt that you will be persecuted in your home country and you would like to seek asylum in the U.S.
  • Exceptional Hardship to Your U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident Spouse or Child – Your spouse or children are citizens or permanent residents (with a green card) in the U.S. and they will experience exceptional hardship if you have to leave for two years. The USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) would like to see hardship beyond emotional, economic, or language difficulties. An example can be that your child or spouse will be persecuted in your home country.
  • Request by a State Department of Health – Foreign medical graduates who have been granted a job offer from a state-owned health care facility that will start within 90 days of them receiving a waiver. The areas must be in need of doctors and the applicant needs to show a willingness to work for 3 years.

These requirements for a waiver need proof. You need to work with the USCIS and government authorities in your local area to get the necessary information or proof captured to state your case.

Benefits of Changing Your J1 Visa Status

You probably already thought about some of the benefits of changing your J1 to H1B status. Or you would like a J1 to F1 change of status. Here are some more benefits of a J1 to H1B or J1 to F1 change of status.

Prolongs Your Stay in the U.S.

A J1 visa completes as soon as your visitor or exchange program has ended. Your J1 visa has a grace period upon the completion of your program. The grace period usually lasts for 30 days which will give you time to return home. But, changing your J1 to F1 visa (for instance) will allow you to stay in the U.S. for much longer. Your new visa is no longer bound to the exchange program that got you into the U.S. in the first place.

Opens New Job Opportunities (H1B)

A J1 to H1B change of status will open up many job opportunities. H1B visa owners are in the U.S. because of their specialized skills. There is a large need in the U.S. for the skill set that makes an individual eligible for an H1B visa. Naturally, you should be able to find great job opportunities when you are eligible for a J1 to H1B visa change.

Allows You to Get an Education (F1)

A J1 to F1 change of status will allow you to get a U.S. education. F1 visa holders are in the U.S. with the main purpose of studying. But F1 visa holders may also work on their campuses for 20 hours or less per week. They do not need permission from authorities to work those 20 hours per week. During holidays and recess, the F1 visa holder can work full-time on campus (40 hours per week). After the first year of studies, the F1 visa holder can apply at the USCIS for permission to work at other jobs off-campus. This visa will help you to get an education and it will allow you to get some work experience in your field of studies as well.

How to Change from J1 to H1B

Let’s say you want a J1 to H1B change of status for your visa. That’s great! Here are a few important things that you need to understand and comply with to get your visa status changed.

H1B Eligibility and Job Eligibility

There are eligibility criteria in place to govern H1B visa grants. You need to meet one of the following:

  1. You must have a completed Bachelor’s degree or higher in the field of your specialized skill set. The qualification must be obtained from an accredited U.S. institution or a recognized foreign school.
  2. You must be the owner of an unrestricted state license, certification or registration that allows you to hold a job in the field of your specialized skill in the state you will be living in.

Your job also needs to be eligible to grant you an H1B visa. It needs to meet one of the following criteria:

  1. The job needs a minimum entry requirement of a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  2. The nature of the job’s requirements and tasks need a skill level of someone with the aforementioned degree or experience equivalent to it.
  3. The employer requires a degree or equivalent to fulfill the job.

Annual H1B Cap

Every year there are more people applying for H1B visas than the total H1B visas granted by the government. The 2019 cap is 65,000 with an additional 20,000 for Master’s degree holders.

How to Apply for a J1 to H1B Change of Status

Let’s look at how to apply for your J1 to H1B visa change.

1. Find an H1B Sponsor

Your H1B visa is dependent on a job offer from an employer who is willing to be your sponsor. There are many ways to find an H1B visa sponsor. Get yours and move on to the next step in the process.

2. Employer Submits Labor Conditions Approval (LCA)

Your employer will file an LCA to start the application process after you have been hired. The LCA is filed at the Department of Labor (DOL). The LCA filing states details about your employment like salary, working conditions, and location. Basically, the DOL would like to know that you will be treated fairly and equally as residents in your field of work and state of residence in the U.S. would be.

The processing time of an LCA approval may differ but you can read more about LCA approval in our guide.

3. Employer Submits Form I-129

Once the LCA has been approved your employer will file the petition for a non-immigrant worker (form I-129).

This Application Needs:

  • The application fee
  • Documents stating your education and experience evaluation
  • Training certificates
  • Professional membership documents
  • Your resume
  • Employment Agreement
  • And the letter of support from your employer

4. Applicant Completes Application at a US Embassy or Consulate

You need to wait for the petition to be approved. Then you need to go to the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country to process your new visa. It should take between 2-3 days but it may differ in your home country.

Cost of a J1 to H1B Status Change

The law requires an employer to pay the cost involved with filing an H1B visa application. The DOL actually does audits to confirm if only the employer paid the fees (even if the employee offered to pay themselves). This is put in place to protect the American workforce.

How to Change from J1 to F1

As we explained above, you can also change your status from J1 to F1.

You might have been in the U.S. on your J1 visa for a while and in the meantime, you’ve been admitted to a U.S. based academic program that is an SEVP -approved school. Below we show you how to get a J1 to F1 change of status.

Prove Financial Eligibility

A J1 to F1 change of status will allow you to study in the U.S. as a full-time student. You are only allowed to work under very special circumstances mentioned above. You need to prove that you have the financial means to pay for a full year’s worth of tuition, living expenses, insurance and all support for your dependents.

The Two-Year Residency Requirement

As we also mentioned before you need to either fulfill the two-year residency requirement in your home country or you need to have a successful application for a waiver. The USCIS will need sufficient proof of this before you are allowed to change your status.

J1 to F1 Change of Status Application

Now for the practical part. How do you get the J1 to F1 application done?

Pay the SEVIS Fee and Receive an I-20

Once you are accepted, you need to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee to be enrolled into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Your school will then provide you with an I-20 form that you need to present at your consular office visa status change interview. All of your dependents also need individual I-20 forms but they don’t need to be enrolled into the SEVIS.

Complete Your Online Application

Complete the online application and DS-160 form. Upload a photo in the explained format, pay the application fee (which should be around $160), get your payment receipt and store all this documentation to bring along to your J1 to F1 visa change interview.

Schedule and Prepare for Your Interview

You must schedule your interview early because waiting periods may vary per country and embassy.

You will need the following at your interview:

  • Valid passport
  • Your completed DS-160 form
  • Application fee payment receipt
  • Passport photo
  • The I-20 form issued to you by your school

Additional information that will be of value during the interview is any proof and eligibility for your studies like previous degrees and qualifications. Proof of your financial stability will be needed as well. Making use of immigration attorneys can help you in this process (but it will, of course, come at a cost).

Attend Your J1 to F1 Change of Status Interview

Attend the interview with the consular officer at which your application, eligibility, and proof of intent will be examined. The officer will determine the success of your visa application.

An F1 visa may be granted more than 120 days before your semester of studies start, but your visa is only valid 30 days before the start of your course.

Cost of a J1 to F1 Status Change

The fees which you will need to pay for an application are as follow:

  • $160 – Application fee
  • $200 – SEVIS fee

That makes a total of $360, but you still need to prove your financial ability to finance your studies for a full year as well. The cost of this will be determined by your tuition fees and living expenses. Loans for international students have helped many people cover all these extra upfront costs.

Please note the following, you are not required by the government to have medical aid insurance. But, many schools require international students to have medical insurance. You will be forced to accept the schools sponsored medical insurance (which can be expensive) if you don’t have a recognized plan of your own. Shop around and find a solution that suits your needs as well as the requirements of your school.

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There are great benefits to changing your status from J1 to F1 or J1 to H1B. Don’t let the cost involved hold you back. Apply for a non-resident personal loan from Stilt today to help you finance your status change

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.