I’m planning on leaving the USA pretty early on into my J1 visa to France for a two week holiday. I plan to start my j1 visa in the middle of December and then depart at the end of December to France. I’ve been advised by my programme adviser that they might not sign off on this as it’s too early into my programme even though my visa is multiple entry. Would it be possible to come into the US under the visa waiver, then off to France and activate my visa when I get back?

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    When does your program start? You cannot participate in your program if you are in visa waiver status. Whose sign off are you expecting? The schools? You do not need US government sign off to go on vacation. – phoog Sep 7 '18 at 23:43
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    You will need a travel signature by your school on your DS-2019 in order to be able to return on a J1 visa, after the first entry. Check with your school's international office how long it takes to get this signature (might be 1-2 weeks). Also, at the end of December many offices are closed, so they might be able to give the signature only afterwards. – mdd Sep 8 '18 at 9:01
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    What is the purpose of your first travel to the US in December? – Michael Hampton Sep 8 '18 at 13:01

In general, as a J-1 exchange visitor, you have to follow the requirements of your J-1 program sponsor (the school or organization that issues Form DS-2019). If your J-1 program sponsor agrees, either of the options you mentioned could work:

  • Enter the US in December as J-1 (with December start date on DS-2019), start J-1 activities for ~2 weeks, get travel signature on DS-2019, go to France for ~2 weeks, return to US and resume J-1 activities in January.

  • Enter the US in December as a tourist (B-2 or VWP) but don't do any J-1 activities, then go to France, then enter the US in January as J-1 (with January start date on DS-2019) and begin J-1 activities.

On the other hand, neither of the above will work if your J-1 program sponsor doesn't agree to it. In the first case, you need them to issue a travel signature on your DS-2019. In the second case, you need them to issue an updated DS-2019 with January start date. Furthermore, if your J-1 program sponsor determines that you aren't following their rules, for example by being absent from required activities, they could end your program. As a result, your flexibility to set your schedule depends on how much flexibility your J-1 program sponsor will allow.

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