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I have a J-1 to start mid June 2016. I entered the USA to travel 28 days before its start date and had to get an ESTA. At the border they wouldnt do anything with my j1 as I am visiting at the moment. How do I get the authorisation for my J-1 while I am in the USA?

  • Are you close to a border? Could you bus out and in again, maybe a day in Vancouver/Tijuana/Toronto, for example? – Mark Mayo May 21 '16 at 10:00
  • So are you saying I have to leave and re-enter? Can it not be done within the USA. I got my j-1 in Toronto (was studying in Canada but I am British) so all ok and I understood I could enter the USA within 30 days of the j-1 starting – suel May 21 '16 at 10:07
  • I don't actually know, otherwise I'd have posted an answer. But generally the easiest way is to exit/reenter for changing visas, in my experience, even my Vancouver flatmates went to the border on a Monday night, 'left' and reentered on their new visa. There may be other easier ways, but it was more to open options. – Mark Mayo May 21 '16 at 10:09
  • Thanks for the advice. It's so confusing. When you are told you can enter within 30 days but it's not made clear what happens about the j-1! – suel May 21 '16 at 10:19
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    "I had got a different visa on for visiting": what does that mean? What kind of visa was it? It sounds a bit like the border agent may have screwed up. What are the program dates on your DS-2019 and what are the dates on your J-1 visa? – phoog May 22 '16 at 3:57
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The procedure you are referring to is called a Change of Status (CoS in us-immigarion speak). It is explicitly forbidden to do a CoS, when admitted via visa waiver (ESTA) (see previous link as well).

The best way would be go out of the country for a short while (Canada, Mexico, most of the Caribbean islands), obligatory surrendering your I-94W (if you are given any) and reentering on J-1 in time. When entering U.S. you will have to specifically request being admitted as J-1. They will likely send you through a secondary inspection (if entering by land), talk to you, and issue you a paper I94w (if entering by land). Remember to keep it with you and surrender upon leaving the U.S.

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