You may enter the U.S. in initial J-1 status up to 30 days before the program start date on your DS-2019. While you may be aware of individuals who have succeeded to enter the U.S. sooner than within that 30-day time frame, we urge you not to attempt this. The inspectors at U.S. ports of entry have the authority to refuse you entry into the U.S., which means that you would not be able to leave the airport. Rather, you would have to return to your country at your own expense.
If you find it necessary to visit the U.S. between now and your earliest possible J-1 entry date, you may do so with a tourist visa or under the Visa Waiver Program, depending on your home country. This allows you to visit, then return home, and re-enter the U.S. in J-1 status within the proper time frame.
Also, you should enter the U.S. no later than 30 days beyond the program start date on your DS-2019 form. If this is not possible, please communicate this to your department as well as the Office of International Affairs as soon as possible.
Port of Entry Inspection
The next step in the visa-related process will be to actually enter the U.S. which involves an inspection at the port of entry. Most often, this is the airport where you first land in the U.S., but it could also be a sea port or a land port of entry, depending on your mode of travel.
If you will initially land in the U.S. and will then connect to Chicago from there, you should allow plenty of time between your arrival and connecting flight, as you have to go through immigration and customs inspection at the first point of entry to the country.
Regardless of where you enter the U.S., be prepared to provide the following documents at the port of entry to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer NOTE: This takes place before you collect your luggage, so you must have these documents on your person. If you were given a brown envelope at your visa interview, it will contain several of these documents:
- Visa stamp (if applicable)
- SEVIS Form DS-2019 (J-1)
- SEVIS fee receipt
- Supporting financial documentation
Upon inspection of your documents, you may be sent to "secondary" which is an additional inspection of your documents. Often this is done on a random basis and may have nothing to do with your specific circumstances. If there is a question regarding your documents, inspectors at the port of entry will attempt to contact us to verify that you should be admitted. Generally speaking, it is important that you remain calm during the process. Even if there are delays and your patience is tested, it will ease the process to be cooperative. It will also help to have the telephone number of our office with you (in a place such as your wallet). It is (773) 702-7752.
When you arrive in the U.S. you will be provided with a Form I-94 Arrival-Departure Record which you must complete. The form is brief and easy to fill out; you should make sure to write your name exactly as it appears in your passport and on your I-20/DS-2019, and it is important that you write very legibly. This is important because the document will be scanned into an electronic system. If the system misreads your spelling or if the name on this card does not match the name in your passport, you will encounter significant problems. It is important to show exactly the same name on ALL immigration documents.
When you are at the port of entry the officer will place a stamp on the I-94 and then write the visa status you are being given (F-1 or J-1) and the expiration on it. For students in F-1 or J-1 status the expiration in noted with "D/S" which stands for duration of status. You should keep the I-94 stapled in your passport as it is an extremely importation document. The I-94 card is the only proof of your legal status and entry into the U.S.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection website provides additional information about the arrival procedures for students and exchange visitors.
We recommend that you carry the contact information of our office with you, so that in the event you encounter any difficulties we can assist you. Our telephone number is (773) 702-7752.