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“Duration of Status” Explained

Updated on March 6, 2024

At a Glance

  • Duration of Status pertains to the time certain visa holders, like F-1 students and J-1 exchange visitors, are permitted to stay in the United States, determined by the length of their program and recorded on Form I-94.
  • Proposed changes to the duration of status could pose challenges for students and exchange visitors, potentially making it harder to complete programs and obtain visa extensions.
  • Under the new regulation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers would determine the duration of status, possibly limiting stays based on various factors.
  • This change may impact the reliability and flexibility of program dates, potentially having long-lasting effects on international involvement.

In some visa categories, such as ambassadors, students, and exchange visits, the foreigner may be allowed into the United States for as long as the individual is still engaged in the purpose for which the visa was granted, rather than for a set period. This is referred to as “duration of status” admittance.

What Does “Duration of Status” Mean?

The duration of status for students is defined as the period spent in a full term of study plus any approved practical training, followed by the period allowed to leave the country. The degree program determines the duration. This is usually four years or eight semesters for an undergraduate degree.

Generally, an immigration officer will allow a student to stay in the United States for a “duration of status.” On Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record, the Duration of Status (or D/S) is documented.

When international visitors or all non-U.S. citizens come to the United States, an Arrival-Departure Record is a small white card given to them by a Department of Homeland Security immigration officer at the port of entry. The visa category and permitted length of stay in the United States are both included on this card. This is either a date or an entry, or D/S.

The I-94 card is also essential to preserve since it states how long you are allowed and approved to stay in the United States by the Department of Homeland Security.

Which Visa Holders Does Duration of Status Impact

Two categories of visa holders are affected by Duration of Status.

In the J visa category, exchange visitors are authorized non-immigrants who participate in employment and study-based activities. F-1 students are nationals of other countries who come to the United States to study full-time.

Foreign individuals applying for an F or J visa are given a predetermined “duration of status,” which can range from a few weeks to several years, depending on the duration of the program.

Proposed Changes to Duration of Status

The Department of Homeland Security has released a new regulation that impacts the “duration of status” and will make it harder for those seeking J-1 exchange visitor or F-1 student visas to finish their programs, request extensions, and get their visas.

The proposed regulation eliminates the previously established “duration of status” admissions. The law sets a maximum of four years for those from certain nations and two years for those from other nations, which is insufficient time for some to complete their studies.

Many students and exchange visitors would have to file for extensions of status, which are costly and may still not give them enough time to finish their program.

Before any final report is issued, this proposal must go through the usual APA public notice and comment process. It is unclear whether or not, and to what degree, this regulation will be finalized.

DHS’s decision is based on an oversimplification of these programs, particularly the J-1 visa program. Various changes will happen if the regulation is implemented:

Duration of Status Will Be Determined By A CBP Officer

The duration of status is determined by reviewing an applicant’s program by an officer from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). As of now, a consular official makes such a decision at an applicant’s visa interview.

This new assessment will be based on several variables. If an applicant is a citizen of a nation with a student or exchange visitor visa overstay rate of more than 10%, CBP agents will restrict their stay to a term of two years. These limitations would adversely impact Africa and the Middle East.

According to research, the Department of Homeland Security’s assessment of visa overstays has been shown to be highly inaccurate. Half of all students reported of overstaying are eventually discovered to have stayed lawfully in the nation.

Officers can also check whether or not a school or program sponsor uses the E-Verify system. The Department of Homeland Security has also indicated that it would be taken into account if a J-1 applicant’s country of citizenship or birth is on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, irrespective of whether they are participating in such acts.

The freedom of international exchange visitors and students to stay in the United States will be limited under this new law if their current training or educational plans get altered.

No Guaranteed Dates for J-1 and F-1 Visa Holders

Applicants would have to wait until they get a stamp from DHS to certify the term of their programs as a result of this proposed amendment to how and when “duration of status” is established. This can influence people’s plans since it makes their programs less dependable.

Applicants are now also required to submit a training plan form that breaks down the length of their program (DS-7002). This document is submitted at the time of the applicant’s visa interview and details how long the program is expected to run, depending on the information provided.

Applicants would no longer be permitted to specify particular dates or lengths for their program or course under the new regulation.

Sponsoring host organizations may opt to stop a program for a visitor or student before starting if the length of stay is less than what is necessary to finish the required material for a training program.

Shortening programs would limit candidates seeking training under an exchange visitor visa’s capacity to get the requisite expertise. Even among visa classifications, program durations might vary. The length of a J-1 physician’s program compared to a J-1 intern’s program would be vastly different.

Officers from CBP would lack the expertise and knowledge needed to determine how long each tailored training session should be.

Host Organizations May Re-evaluate Sponsoring Applicants

Even if each CBP officer attempts to understand every applicant’s situation, the unpredictability of program dates and lack of flexibility may deter host organizations from supporting these non-immigrant candidates.

The exchange visitor visa category, which was designed to enhance and link international involvement overseas, might be harmed for years due to the regulation. If this regulation goes into force, the current limitations that have halted the arrival of most non-immigrant visas would be part of the problem.

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Conclusion

The J-1 and F-1 non-immigrant visa programs are designed to promote a worldwide exchange of information, ideas, education, and culture. The programs provide educational experiences for non-immigrant candidates. Still, they also inspire Americans to learn about other cultures and explore new and improved ways of thinking about the world surrounding them. This new regulation could very well jeopardize these visa programs.

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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.

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