Help help help -- Can a J1 visa holder travel out of US w/o a DS-2019?
August 13, 2018 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Bit of an emergency here. Can someone holding a J1 visa in the US (academic fellow) legally travel out of the US (and then come back in) without a travel validation signature on his DS-2019 form?

My SO entered the US 2 weeks ago to start a new job at a university. Due to a bunch of university systems not working smoothly, his new-job paperwork was delayed. He is due to give a talk at an out-of-country conference this week, but the university admins say they can't process his stuff and get the DS-2019 signed until Friday, which will be too late.

Is there any way through which he can legally travel out of the US, and then back in, without that signed DS-2019? Or any way to somehow expedite this process? (Univ admin guy handling this situation says there's no way they can alter the process for him.) He's already had to push back his flight, and we are quite stressed about it all.

Thanks in advance, mefites.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico to Law & Government (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You need the stamped DS-2109 to get back in to the US, but I'm pretty certain you don't need it to leave. With that in mind, does your partner need to appear in person at the university on Friday to pick it up? Or would it be possible for you to pick it up and overnight it to him overseas?

For what it's worth, I reentered on a J-1 several times and, as far as I can recall, I was never asked for the DS-2109. I was warned to have it with me though.
posted by caek at 2:07 PM on August 13, 2018

I am not an immigration lawyer, but based on friends' experiences in similar situations, the results vary widely, and are often (unsurprisingly) influenced by the traveler's nationality/which passport they hold, their race/ethnicity/appearance, and where they're re-entering from. Best-case (particularly this time of year, with lots of traveling students), the CPB officer just glances at the paperwork and doesn't even notice. Average-case, the CPB officer hassles the traveler and gets super-grouchy but eventually relents. Worse-case, this ends up being a multi-hour (or multi-day) headache.

In the current political climate, I'd be pretty cagey about traveling without the DS-2109. More than likely, it will be okay, but it is a gamble. Can the university admin fax him a copy of the DS-2109 at the conference, in time for his re-entry to the US?

Just as a note, for this trip and for any future trips: make sure your SO always arrives at passport control (or at the airport, if it's a pre-clearance airport) with a *lot* of spare time for processing. Secondary inspections are not uncommon and can take hours, sometimes leading to missed flights.
posted by halation at 2:13 PM on August 13, 2018

I was on a J1 visa for the full five years, and from what I can remember, nobody ever even looked at the DS 2019. That said, I wouldn't want to travel without it.

I did have to return to my home country once suddenly without having time to get the travel validation signature. My university had one signed and sent it to me by courier in time for me to return. If your SO can extend his stay so that he can get the DS-2019 before he returns, I feel like that would be the best option.

It looks like if CBP asks to see your DS-2019 and you don't have the validation signature, they may issue you temporary admittance until the paperwork gets sorted out, but this is completely at the discretion of the CBP officer and is personally not a risk I would be willing to take.
posted by Shal at 3:23 PM on August 13, 2018

I know from personal experience in a very similar situation that you cannot re-enter without that travel validation signature. As in, when I came back, they took me straight from immigration to that room without door handles on the inside and called my university until they were able to talk to the person who should have given that signature. Fortunately I was travelling during business hours. This was ca. 5 years ago and I'm white. However, you do not need the form to actually leave. So, as others said, an overnight courier would be an option if you can pick up the form for your spouse. Also, your spouse should remember that he himself needs to sign the form as well - easy to forget when you get a fresh one.
posted by CompanionCube at 4:03 PM on August 13, 2018

I deal with this situation at work occasionally when someone needs to leave the US abruptly before the form can be signed. (IANAL, IANYL)

Here's what we recommend to our clients:
1. Client (J-1 visa holder) leaves the US
2. Visa sponsor will sign the DS-2019, sends to Client at their overseas location
3. Client enters US with signed form

If you (general) try and enter the US without the travel validation, as mentioned above, there's a lot of red tape if they ask for it and you don't have it. There is the possibility of being allowed to enter with Form I-515A, however:
posted by lesser weasel at 2:06 AM on August 14, 2018

Thank you all! The idea of having the form sent to him while he's out of the country hadn't occurred to me. That definitely would have been the best thing to do, except he had a 2nd international trip lined up right after his return to the US from this trip. My SO was worried that the form wouldn't get signed in time, or that it wouldn't be approved for some reason, and then he'd be messing up the 2nd trip as well.

Oh, but miracle of miracles: his advisor emailed someone as a last ditch effort, and suddenly my SO was asked to go in this morning to sign the form, which means he can leave tonight for his conference after all!

Thank you again for all your very helpful answers! Lesson learned -- next time we're in this kind of situation, we'll be sure to check all the international travel requirements.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 8:07 AM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

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