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I am from the Netherlands and I know that similar questions were frequently asked but unfortunately, it seems like no one is in the exact situation I am. I went to New York last year, just for a week, so I had to apply for an ESTA and got one. An ESTA is valid for 2 years and for 90 days at a time.

Now, I got an J-1 visa to study one semester in California (January - May). There's a 30 days 'grace period' after the J-1 expires but I wonder if I'm allowed to stay longer (just a few days actually) because I already have an ESTA. I feel like I won't need to go to Canada (like other people do to apply for an ESTA and re-enter the US) but I want to be 100% sure that I'm not obligated to leave within that 30 days, before I book my return ticket.

Does anyone know the answer?

Warmest regards, Jascha

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  • Just to be clear, you're planning to start studying in January, 2020 and end studying in May, 2020, and then immediately after you finish your studies, you want to stay in the United States as a visitor for your 30 day grace period, as well as several days after the grace period as a visitor? – Matthew FitzGerald-Chamberlain Dec 21 '19 at 16:41
  • Yes that is correct, and I have an existing valid ESTA already. – Jascha Dec 21 '19 at 17:03
  • Does this answer your question: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/102140/… Basically, you can leave to Canada or another country or file Form I-539 to change your status – Matthew FitzGerald-Chamberlain Dec 21 '19 at 17:30
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    Do you have the two year home residency requirement? – Michael Hampton Dec 21 '19 at 18:23
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No, you cannot stay beyond the expiration of the grace period just because you have valid ESTA authorization. ESTA (and your visa, for that matter) are necessary only for entering the US. Your continued presence in the US depends on the immigration status you were granted when you entered the US, and on the period of admission that was authorized by the immigration officer.

It is possible to change from some nonimmigrant statuses to others without leaving the country. This requires an I-539 form with an application fee of $370. You cannot change into or out of any visa waiver program status (WT or WB), but you can change from J-1 status to B-2 status (even though you do not have a B-2 visa), provided you are not subject to the two-year home residency requirement.

Your current status and period of admission are reflected on your most recent I-94 form. These days, I-94 forms issued to people by CBP on entry into the US are not issued on paper but as electronic database records. If you do not have a paper I-94, which most people do not, you should be able to find your I-94 record online.

Without filing the I-539 form, you can also leave and re-enter the country, but this does carry a risk that you won't be readmitted. Since you're in California, it might be more convenient to consider going to Mexico instead of Canada. Any other destination outside the US (for example, Central America or the Caribbean) would also do.

For just a few days' extra stay, it seems like it might be better to change your plans.

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    I can't correct it because it's too short, but it should be I-539, not I-549. – Matthew FitzGerald-Chamberlain Dec 21 '19 at 18:35
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    Also note that you are not allowed to do Change of Status from J to non-J status if the J1 is subject to the 2-year home residency requirement. – user102008 Dec 21 '19 at 19:07
  • Thank you! I'm not subjet to the 212-E (home residency requirement) but I haven't booked the return ticket yet, so the easiest option seems to be to book it within the 30 day period. Thanks for the clear explanation, but it won't be worth the money to risk it for a few days (even though we will go to El Paso, which is very near the border, it sounds not convenient to do so) – Jascha Dec 22 '19 at 16:53

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