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I am a visiting researcher at a US university on a J-1 visa. In the end of November, I left the US for an extended period in my home country. Due to a misunderstanding on my part, I did not notify the university's international office. When they realized my error a few days ago, they allowed me to file this notification after the fact, such that my SEVIS record has now been updated to record authorized absence starting from early February until my planned return to the US. However, since SEVIS cannot be updated retroactively, there is still a gap in my SEVIS record of around 40 days. I am aware that this could potentially be a very big problem. What should I be prepared for?

I have not been able to find many resources addressing my situation. Searching around suggests that I am likely not out of status, since that would require me to accrue unlawful presence within the US, while my situation is effectively the opposite: I left the US 'too soon', and am currently still outside the US. If I were out of status, it seems that I could regain status by obtaining a new SEVIS record. But I am really not sure which of the scarce resources I found really apply to my situation.

Am I at risk of losing my J-1 program? I can imagine many possibilities, but I am not sure what to prepare for while I wait to hear back from the international office.

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  • Not looking good: ap.washington.edu/ahr/visas/scholar-resources/j1/j1-travel
    – mkennedy
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 15:57
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    I presume you are referring specifically to "If the Out of Country Request is not completed and approved, your exchange activity may be considered ended"? That seems like an overcomeable issue, since the absence was approved until a much later date, showing that the exchange activity will be continued. I found ispo.ucsd.edu/advising/visa/current-returning-students/… which includes a specific category of "SEVIS violations", which may apparently be resolved by getting a new SEVIS ID and DS-2019. Does that perhaps match my case? Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 19:47

2 Answers 2

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An unusual aspect of J-1 is that the program sponsor's Responsible Officer(s) (RO and AROs) have significant discretion in determining what is and isn't acceptable. This means there isn't any automatic answer to "how bad is it" when "it" is a gray-area violation like late reporting of time outside the US.

In general, immigration-related consequences of unintended violations of J-1 rules can range over the following:

  1. No immigration-related consequence at all
  2. Correction of a minor or technical infraction, which is recorded in SEVIS but is unlikely to cause any problem by itself
  3. Shortening the program in SEVIS, so your J-1 status ends earlier. Whether you could get a new SEVIS ID, DS-2019 and new J-1 visa right away depends on whether you're subject to 12 or 24 month rules
  4. Terminating the program, reported in SEVIS, indicating a more serious violation of the J-1 regulations or program rules. You might still be able to return later but will likely be questioned about it. (Unlike F-1 where some terminations are benign, with J-1 all SEVIS terminations indicate a serious violation.)

From your description that your RO or ARO allowed you to file the notification later, it sounds like your case is either at 1 or 2 on this scale of consequences, but only your RO or ARO can say for sure. It depends on your institution's policies and many possible mitigating or aggravating factors, particularly evidence of your overall responsible or irresponsible demeanor depending on the totality of circumstances.

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For some reason, I am unable to accept @krubo's excellent and helpful answer. For those wondering about the aftermath: nothing else happened, and I was able to reenter the US in J-1 status without any issues. The end result thus seems to match krubo's 'option 1', with perhaps an internal note at my school's international office, or maybe even one in SEVIS that just happens not to cause a problem ('option 2'). I know better than to approach the international office to ask about the details. I hope this is useful to anyone who may find themself in a similar situation in the future and come across this question.

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