How long can I stay in the U.S. on a J-1 visa?

The permissible duration of stay for exchange visitors in the United States varies with the category in which the visitor is admitted. There are two main categories of J-1 visas for students. The first is for high school students; these are commonly referred to as exchange student programs. The length of stay authorized for a high school student is generally one academic year. The second student category applies to college students. How long you can stay as a student with a J-1 visa will depend on the purpose of your studies. If you are enrolled in college full-time and pursuing a degree, you will be allowed enough time to pursue and complete your degree program. If you are enrolled in a college full-time, but you are not pursuing a degree, then your authorized time period is 24 months. 

Every J-1 visa is limited by its category and defined objectives. Namely, a student visa is for someone to go to school. A J-1 visa for a teacher limits that person to teaching. A sponsoring agency may terminate your participation in the program before the time your J-1 student visa was set to expire. For example, if the college that sponsored you requires that you maintain a certain grade point average to attend, but you consistently fail all of your course work, the college may make the decision to discharge you from the program after your first year. Although your J-1 visa was not due to expire for another 12 months, the purpose of the program was effectively ended by the sponsoring agency. As such, you would be required to leave the United States despite the 12 months still remaining. You must leave the United States at the time the program ends. If you are accepted and successfully complete the program, you are required to leave within 30 days after the program ends. You do not get this grace period if you are discharged from an exchange visitor program (as described in the example above). Upon notification of discharge, your student visitor J-1 visa expires and you must leave the U.S. at that time. Remaining beyond the length of time authorized by your particular J-1 student visa will result in your status being changed to illegal status, thereby potentially limiting your re-entry into the U.S. at a later date.