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I am a French National and currently working in the US under a J1 visa. This visa will expire in May 30. I intend to leave the US to travel to central America and Mexico, then to reenter the country on June 28 to take my baggage and leave the US on June 30. I know this is a risky situation, as I am not supposed to leave and then reenter the US during my 30 days grace period after the J1 expires.

My question is: would an ESTA solve my case at immigration? Can I apply for an ESTA being in possession of a J1 visa? And then reenter using the Visa Waiver Program?

(It is specified on the ESTA website that you can apply for a new authorization if, "You are currently not in possession of a visitor's visa.") Thank you!

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Note that a US visa is only for entry and the visa's expiration date only means the last day on which you can use the visa to enter the US. It has nothing to do with your ability to stay in or leave the US. Your ability to stay in the US is determined by your status, which for J1 is generally determined by your DS-2019. – user102008 Apr 25 at 21:59
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Simple answer : Yes!

The 30 day grace period exists to give you time to relocate out of the US - it allows you to stay in the country for up to 30 days, but without being able to work/study/etc as technically you are out of status as your J1 has finished/expired. If you leave the country during this period then you can not reenter using your J1 as it is no longer valid. In effect, once you leave the country, your grace period ends (even if it's less than 30 days).

However, you can re-enter the country using another means at any time after you leave - even if it's within the 30 days. This could be by applying for another type of visa (eg, B1/B2), or if you are from a VWP country, then by getting an ESTA.

You should have no issue obtaining an ESTA even through you have a current visa. If you do have any issue, you can simple re-apply after your J1 has expired as at that time you will not hold a valid visa.

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Thanks Doc for your prompt response. – Jack May 27 '14 at 14:42

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