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I may need to go to the US for a job as postdoc at a university. I would like to start the job ASAP and my professor would like that as well. I have an old O-1 visa from my previous employer, but my contract has ended more than 60 days ago, so the O-1 should not be valid anymore (right?).

I was thinking of going there soon with an ESTA and then get the visa (probably a J-1), but I have read that I can only get it at a US consulate outside the US.

What would you recommend to do to start working ASAP?

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    Note: do not work for a US company with ESTA, risk for a deportation and ban is high. In any case the best way it is to ask your university: I do not known how many people in this site had a recent PostDoc in US. (and write an answer when your university answer you) Jul 25 at 14:10
  • FWIW You do need to go to a consulate to get the actual visa. Years ago I was (not) working the US and needed to receive my L1 visa. I had to do a visa run to Toronto as that was the closest consulate to where I was.
    – Peter M
    Jul 25 at 15:24
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    USCIS `You may not apply to change your nonimmigrant status if you were admitted to the United States in the following categories [...] Visa Waiver Program'
    – Tomas By
    Jul 25 at 15:28
  • Thanks for the info. So basically I cannot enter with an ESTA and then get a visa. I need to exit and re-enter. And I may not work with the ESTA. I am going to ask my university and write the answer here. Thanks!
    – Simon
    Jul 25 at 15:32
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    @Simon Given that there are no US consulates within the US, it sort of implies that you need to leave the US in order to receive the visa /s
    – Peter M
    Jul 25 at 15:37

1 Answer 1

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As you've said, it is not possible to apply for a visa whilst in the US. All visa applications have to occur at US Consulates, and there are no consulates within the US.

It is likely that you will be able to apply for your visa by mail (under special rules that run through until the end of 2022), however one of the requirements for this policy is that you must be physically present in the country where you applying. ie, it's not possible to mail your application from the US to your home country to apply, so again you can not do this whilst you are physically in the US.

It is possible to "change status" whilst inside the US (eg, changing from B-1 status to J-1 status), however it is not possible to change status if you've entered the country under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP, aka ESTA), so that's not an option for you.

The possibility of travelling to a nearby country such as Canada to apply for a visa was mentioned in the comments, however be aware that there is a significant backlog at most US consulates at the moment, and even getting a visa appointment could take months or more. This is especially true for Canada, which has a longer wait period for non-Canadian citizens/residents which can often be 6 months or more (potentially much more at the moment).

The simple answer is that you should talk to the International Students office at the university that you're looking to work at. They will be able to advise on the best course of action, including whether you can commence working whilst visiting on the VWP/ESTA program (very unlikely, although it can depend on the exact situation), as well as the best course of action for obtaining a visa and how to get that process started. They are also the ones that will need to provide the relevant paperwork for the visa, so the sooner you get that process started the sooner you'll be able to obtain a visa.

Whatever you do, do not plan to work (or even enter the US) without the relevant documentation/visa/etc. If you do, and if you are caught, then you will likely be barred from entering the US for a period of time which will affect any future visa applications. It's simply not worth it.

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  • FYI I didn't apply for my visa in Canada, my company applied from Australia. I only went to Canada after the visa had been approved in order to collect it.
    – Peter M
    Jul 25 at 16:25
  • @PeterM That's not how US visas work. You applied for your visa in Canada. You may have had all the paperwork required for it in advance, but the visa application (and corresponding DS-160) would have occurred in Canada.
    – Doc
    Jul 25 at 17:53
  • Technically correct, but the process was make an application for the visa outside of the US, receive the letter of approval to receive the visa, make an appointment at the consulate, travel there, fight through the cattle call of everyone else there on teh same day, present the approval letter, receive the visa.
    – Peter M
    Jul 25 at 17:59
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    @PeterM The I-797B isn't a "approval to receive the visa". It's an "approval of a noncitizen worker petition". The consulate can still deny your visa application even with that form (yes, it's rare, but it happens). This might seem like semantics, but when it comes to visas, the system lives on semantics.
    – Doc
    Jul 25 at 18:12
  • Trust me, I do know the difference (but I was talking in terms of process, not semantics). The Toronto consulate almost kicked me out, and literally said "don't ever come back here again".
    – Peter M
    Jul 25 at 18:15

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