Accruing Unlawful Presence for J-1 Students

An individual who fails to maintain legal status starts accruing unlawful presence based on the earliest of the following:

  • The day after DHS denied the request for an immigration benefit (i.e., reinstatement), if DHS made a formal finding that the student/scholar violated their nonimmigrant status while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit
  • The day after an immigration judge ordered the student excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision is appealed)

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What can happen if I accrue unlawful presence?

It is possible that an individual will be restricted from entering the U.S. for three years, ten years, or even permanently:

Individuals who have accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence during a single stay, and then depart, may be subject to three-year or 10-year bars to admission, depending on how much unlawful presence they accrued before they departed the United States. Individuals who have accrued a total period of more than one year of unlawful presence, whether in a single stay or during multiple stays in the United States, and who then reenter or attempt to reenter the United States without being admitted or paroled are permanently inadmissible. Those subject to the three-year, 10-year, or permanent unlawful presence bars to admission are generally not eligible to apply for a visa, admission, or adjustment of status to permanent residence unless they are eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or another form of relief. (emphasis added)

What are examples of ways I might lose legal status?

These are the most common situations where we see students lose their legal status, but it is by no means an exhaustive list:

  • Students academically suspended after a semester ends, who do not transfer to a new U.S. school in a timely way or who do not leave the U.S. by the deadline
  • Students who fail to report/update their mailing (residential) address in MyU (this prevents ISSS from submitting a required report to SEVIS that you are registered each fall/spring, and eventually leads to automated termination of your SEVIS record)
  • Students who enroll below full-time without the legally-required Reduced Course Load approval from ISSS.
  • Students who do not extend an expiring DS-2019 before the end date
  • Students who voluntarily withdraw while a semester is in session but who do not leave the U.S.
  • Students who are withdrawn by the school for misconduct or other violations and do not leave the US
  • Students who work off-campus without the required employment authorization
  • Students who graduate, or who complete a period of Academic Training, but do not 1) leave the U.S. by the established deadline, 2) transfer to a new school/program, or 3) change to another immigration status in a timely way (J-1 students have a 30 day grace period  following graduation or the end of Academic Training)
  • J-1 students who fail to enroll in health insurance that meets the Department of State guidelines. The University of Minnesota health insurance meets the Department of State guidelines.

What can I do to avoid losing my legal status?

It is your responsibility to maintain your J status. ISSS advisors and other university staff are here to help you. But you, as the student, MUST take responsibility for ensuring you follow the rules of your immigration status.  

Your best defense against losing your legal status is to:

  • Read your emails from the U of MN and from ISSS.  Many students receive emails from ISSS and do not read them or disregard them.  If you see an email and you think it is in error, do not just ignore it – check with ISSS.
  • Be aware of your own immigration situation.  While ISSS strives to make the best use of technology available to us, and we send reminder emails, sometimes technology fails.  These reminders are a courtesy we provide, but the law holds you responsible for your status. This is why you must remain on top of your own immigration situation – be aware of when your DS-2019 expires, keep your U.S. address updated, and make sure you are enrolled full-time or have authorization from ISSS to drop below full-time.
  • Remember to follow these immigration requirements:
    • Register full-time (12 hours for undergraduates, 12 hours for non-degree students, 6 hours for most graduate students, or check with your department for Professional School Programs) or be authorized by ISSS for a reduced course load
    • Update your U.S. address in MyU within 10 days of any change
    • Do not work illegally (do not work off-campus without authorization)
    • Get an updated travel signature if you need to travel outside of the U.S. and the travel signature on your documents will have expired by the time you return to the U.S.
    • Follow deadlines - If ISSS gives you a deadline by which you need to do something, be sure to follow it. Failing to meet certain deadlines could result in you losing your legal status.
    • Attend class and strive to do well academically.  This does not mean you have to get all A s, but some students do not attend class (or attend sporadically) and eventually receive failing grades.
    • Too many low grades will impact your Grade Point Average, which can cause you to drop below the required minimum GPA of your program.  If this happens, you may be put on probation and given the chance to raise your GPA. Failure to do so will likely result in you being suspended from the University of Minnesota for one full year. If this occurs, you will then need to either leave the U.S. or transfer to another US school. You cannot remain in the US and not attend school.
    • Do not engage in academic misconduct – this may lead you to be suspended or expelled at any point, including while a semester is in session or after/between semesters, which will impact your immigration status.  Examples of misconduct include, but are not limited to, not citing work that is coming from another source, turning in or copying others’ work on assignments, looking at someone else’s test, paying for someone else to write papers for you, and hiring someone else to take online classes for you.
  • If you lose your legal J status for any reason, speak to an ISSS advisor IMMEDIATELY so that we can help you assess your situation and whether you qualify for reinstatement.
  • A word about parents – ISSS fully understands the role parents often play and that the thought of telling parents news that might upset, anger, or disappoint them can be scary.  No student looks forward to telling a parent they are going to be academically suspended and may have to return home for a year. The anxiety of giving parents bad news has sometimes contributed to students avoiding dealing with immigration problems, even to the extent of staying in the U.S. and pretending to still be attending school, which makes the problems grow even worse.  The consequences of avoiding parents can be very serious, so imagine having to tell your parents you cannot come back to the U.S. at all for three or ten years, or perhaps ever. Be honest, deal with your problems immediately, and do not attempt to “hide” your immigration status/problems by staying in the U.S. without legal status in the hopes your parents might not find out.

What things will not count toward unlawful presence?

The following are examples of lawful situations that do not count toward unlawful presence, including but not limited to:

  • During the period of up to 30 days before the program start date listed on the form DS-2019;
  • The period of time annotated on Form DS-2019 as the approved program of study
  • While the J-1 is pursuing a full course of study at an educational institution, and any additional periods of authorized pre- or post-completion academic training
  • During annual vacation (summer break) if the J-1 is eligible and intends to register for the next term;
  • During any additional grace period to prepare for departure:
    • 30 days following completion of a course of study or authorized academic training
    • However, there is no grace period if the J-1 nonimmigrant failed to maintain a full course of study without the approval of the ARO or otherwise failed to maintain status.
  • During a period of reduced course load, as authorized by ISSS
  • Any extension of program time annotated on Form DS-2019
  • The period of time a J-1 is out of status if he or she applied for reinstatement under 22 CFR 62.45, provided that the application is ultimately approved;

    • Filing a reinstatement request does not, by itself, place the student into a period of stay authorized and, therefore, does not stop the student from accruing unlawful presence. If the request is ultimately denied, the J-1 nonimmigrant will have begun accruing unlawful presence the day after the student stopped pursuing the course of study or authorized activity, unless he or she is otherwise protected from accruing unlawful presence. If the reinstatement application is approved, however, no unlawful presence will have accrued during the time period in which the student was out of status.

How do I regain my legal status?

If you have lost your status, or think you might have lost your status, it is important that you discuss your legal status issues with an ISSS J-1 Advisor immediately. The advisor can explore whether you are eligible to regain legal status through one of three ways:

  • Correcting the Record
  • Reinstatement of Legal Status Application
  • Reentry into the U.S. with a new "initial admit" DS-2019

What about my J-2 dependents?

  • J-2 dependents (the spouse and children under 21 of an J-1) rely upon the J-1 maintaining their legal status. If the J-1 loses legal status, so do the dependents.
  • Note that dependents under 18 do not typically accrue unlawful presence.

Consequences of Violating Visa Regulations

International students should be aware that it is important to maintain their visa status by complying with the visa regulations. Violation of J-1 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Department of State (DOS) visa regulations results in the loss of legal status in the U.S. Consequences include, but are not limited to:

  • Ineligibility to work on campus
  • Ineligibility to apply for or pursue academic training
  • Ineligibility to apply for or pursue off-campus work permission
  • Ineligibility to receive a Transfer Recommendation to attend a new school
  • Ineligibility to apply to DHS for a change of visa status
Last updated: June 10, 2021