Until recently, J-1 changes of category were difficult to acquire. While requests to change category from “Research Scholar” to “Alien Physician” have been routinely approved, few other types of changes were successful. But since March 2020, the Department of State Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) has been regularly approving other category changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of this, the ISS RP Exchange Visitor Program Subcommittee developed a quick review guide of the regulatory basis, sources of authority and procedures for advisers to use when submitting a change of category (COC) request.

Sources of Authority and Resources

Regulation: 22 CFR 62.41 Change of category.

(a) The Department of State may, at its discretion, permit an exchange visitor to change his or her category of exchange participation. Any change in category must be clearly consistent with and closely related to the participant's original exchange objective, and necessary due to unusual or exceptional circumstances.

(b) A request for change of category along with supporting justification must be submitted to the Department of State by the participant's sponsor. Upon Department of State approval the sponsor shall issue to the exchange visitor a duly executed Form DS-2019 reflecting such change of category and provide a notification copy of such form to the Department of State.

(c) Requests for change of category from research scholar to student will be evaluated recognizing the fact that, in some cases, research skills can be substantially enhanced by doctoral study.

(d) An exchange visitor who applies for a change of category pursuant to these regulations is considered to be maintaining lawful status during the pendency of the application.

(e) An exchange visitor who applies for a change of category and who subsequently receives notice from the Department of State that the request has been denied is considered to be maintaining lawful status for an additional period of 30 days from the day of such notice, during which time the exchange visitor is expected to depart the country, or for a period of 30 days from expiration of the exchange visitor's Form DS-2019, whichever is later.

NAFSA Adviser’s Manual 360

  • Change of different J category, AM 4.G.1
  • Paying EVP fees through Pay.gov, AM 16.A.6.1.1

SEVIS User Manual for R/AROs: see pages 104-108 for Change of Category SEVIS instructions

Procedures

What follows are common practices but institutional procedures may vary.

Requesting a change of category requires a request in SEVIS, paying a fee through Pay.gov, and submitting documentation by email to EVP.

  1. Set up a Pay.Gov account if institution does not already have one. Since redesignation also requires a Pay.Gov account, your program likely has one.
  2. Discuss COC with the exchange visitor (EV) and outline the needed supporting documentation
  3. Collect documentation
  4. Submit COC request in SEVIS before expiration of EV’s program
  5. Submit payment through Pay.Gov**
  6. Email [email protected]  all supporting documentation for COC request***

**Pay.gov Details: Have ready the following: Program name and number, EV’s current category, Date of submission in SEVIS, Request type (Change of Category), Details about EV (SEVIS ID, last name, first name, change of category from X to X). Prepare to say you did something in SEVIS even if you’re working on a Datafix in order to proceed with the payment.

***Documentation Details: Email [email protected] and cc your Program Analyst the following:

  • Cover letter from A/RO or host department
  • Copy of Pay.gov receipt
  • Documents supporting the COC request (confirming relation to original program objectives, as well as the unusual or exceptional circumstances necessitating the request):
    • Statement from EV explaining their objectives and intent to return home at end of EV program)
    • Letters of support from supervisor, funding agency, home institution, etc.
  • Copies of DS-2019, visa, passport and most recent I-94

            (If you’re unsure of who your current program analyst is, please ask [email protected].)

After Submission

Pending decision

  • “An exchange visitor who applies for a change of category pursuant to these regulations is considered to be maintaining lawful status during the pendency of the application.” 22 CFR 62.41(d).
  • Sponsor may receive an email from SEVIS or DOS when approved

Once Approved

  • Sponsor must provide the EV a new DS-2019 reflecting the COC and advise the EV of the new category

Denial

  • “An exchange visitor who applies for a change of category and who subsequently receives notice from the Department of State that the request has been denied is considered to be maintaining lawful status for an additional period of thirty days from the day of such notice, during which time the exchange visitor is expected to depart the country, or for a period of thirty days from expiration of the exchange visitors' Form DS-2019, whichever is later.” 22 CFR 62.41(e).

Category Notes

Eligibility:  Categories ineligible to pursue COC: Teacher, Alien Physician, Intern (note: standard Intern category, not Student Intern), Trainee, Secondary School Student, Au Pair, Camp Counselor and Summer Work Travel; changes for EVs in any other category are not prohibited and are up to the discretion of DOS

Not to be Confused With:  Some changes do not require a change of category. Switching between Professor and Research Scholar categories can be facilitated through the Alternate Between Professor and Research Scholar function in SEVIS (22 CFR 62.20(h)); Students advancing in educational levels are facilitated through the Matriculation function in SEVIS (except the categories of Non-Degree Student and Student Intern are ineligible for Matriculation and would have to pursue a change of category)

Program Analysts & Datafixes are our friends:  SEVIS and/or pay.gov do not always have the functionality to facilitate your particular request. Don’t give up! Due to the exceptional circumstances of COVID-19 and DOS’ discretion, Program sponsors are reporting the favorable review of change of category requests, even in instances where SEVIS or pay.gov will not allow for the request. Program sponsors are encouraged to reach out to their Program Analyst and/or SRC for assistance.